By Valerie Polk
Growing up in Townsend with parents who loved the outdoors, I have lots of childhood memories of picnicking and hiking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Of course, life was busy even then, and my parents were spending every moment they could building our future house. The chance to leave the work behind and escape away to the park was a real treat, even for someone who grew up here. My mother would load up a picnic basket or a big backpack with fried chicken, tightly wrapped sandwiches, a thermos of coffee, snacks, a tablecloth, and every imaginable need we might require for the day. My father would make sure we had a canteen of water and a camera, and off we’d go!
|I was about one and a half years old when my parents took my sister and me on our first hike to the Walker Sisters cabin in 1977. My father's grandmother grew up in this cabin. That's me sitting on a log or pole of some kind next to my mom next to the cabin.|
My father's family came from the Little Greenbrier area, near Metcalf Bottoms. His great-aunts were the Walker Sisters. When I was about one and a half years old, my parents took my older sister and me on our first hike to the Walker Sisters cabin. In the years that followed, we made many more trips to the cabin and hiked and picnicked in other areas of the park as well. We took visiting family members along for the fun, tackled Abrams Falls Trail with our Girl Scout troop, spent countless hours in Cades Cove, and ate many a fine meal cooked over a blackened grill grate in one of the park's picnic areas.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park was a very special part of my childhood and part of my family history. In fact, the National Park Service has been a constant throughout my life. I can't recall a family vacation that did not involve a visit to a national park unit, whether it was Chickamauga Battlefield (a convenient stop on the way to the beach in my parent's minds), Fort Sumter (always a favorite when we visited Charleston), Mammoth Cave (another great place that's not too far away), Petrified Forest (just hop on I-40 and go), or Yellowstone (on the way to visit family in Washington State, so how could we miss it?).
But, for me, it all started with Great Smoky Mountains National Park. So, for National Park Week, I'm sharing some of my old photos from the Smokies and asking you to do the same! Find our #WaybackWednesday post on Facebook and respond in the comments—we look forward to seeing and reading about some of your favorite Smoky Mountain memories.
|Later in 1977, we hiked Abrams Falls Trail. Look at how happy my sister and I were enjoying the sights and sounds of the outdoors! I'm the little one in the red pants.||An early ’80s family hike to Alum Cave Bluffs. My mom took this photo at the bluff of my dad (red backpack, hiking in overalls!), my uncle (blue backpack), and my sister and me. This is a familiar spot for many of you Smokies lovers who have trekked to Mount Le Conte!||Another Abrams Falls hike, this time with my Girl Scout troop, mid-’80s. My mom and I are on the far right, with me peeking out from behind another girl.|