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Online Exhibit: Great Smoky Mountains: National Park Campaign

Great Smokey Mountains National Park, photograph featuring the Chimneys.

Despite a stereotype of Appalachia that often continues today, neither the history nor the culture of western North Carolina has been stagnant. Kephart arrived at a critical period of change for the region. Railroads had pierced the mountains of western North Carolina in the 1880s alongside large scale industrial development, especially in the logging and mining industries. And by 1900 business leaders were moving to further capitalize on the long-standing tourist industry. As he became more involved in the economic and political future of the region, the idea of placing a National Park in western North Carolina emerged among tremendous controversy. Several areas were competing for the federal investment. And the companies and communities residing in the proposed park area were understandably opposed.

Kephart became instrumental in guiding the planning process through the controversy and into creation. His combination of reputation and literary skills supported many aspects of the movement to create a National Park in the Great Smoky Mountains through personal letters to public officials and published writings. As a unique and recognized personification concerning cultural and natural studies in the region, he was influential in convincing individuals on both a local and national level to support the park. Kephart's arguments for the park were thoughtful and pragmatic as well as appealing to a love of nature, and an opportunity for man to return to a more natural and healthy state. Suggesting that the Great Smoky Mountains contributed to his mental and physical recovery after 1904, he campaigned vigorously to preserve the last major stands of forests in the East. Working for the Swain County Chamber of Commerce, he also carefully noted the economic potential of the proposed park and related tourism.

Letter from Congressman Zebulon Weaver to Horace Kpehart, December 19, 1924, page 1.

Letter from Congressman Zebulon Weaver to Horace Kpehart, December 19, 1924, page 1.

December 19, 1924.

Mr. Horace Kephart,
Bryson City, N. C.

Dear Mr. Kephart,

I am enclosing you a bill which I have introduced for the proposed National Park in the Smoky Mountains. While the Committee designated by the Secretary of the Interior to report on this matter recommended the establishment in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, I find that this was done largely because of what they term accessibility, but that their minds are friendly to the Smoky Mountains area and that they really consider this place as the best area for a park. I do not know just when this matter will come up for a hearing before the Committee on Public Lands but probably it will come up sometime in January.

I know that you are familiar with the area and I would be glad if you could perhaps give me some sallent facts relating to the topography and the flora and fauna of these mountains. I want to be able to state as far as possible the reasons why this area should be selected. I know how much you love these mountains and I feel sure that you are greatly interested. If possible I would be more than glad to have you come here and be heard before the Committee. You might take this matter up with the friends of the proposition in your section and advise me fully as to their desires.

With my sincere personal esteem, I am,

Sincerely yours,

Zebulon Weaver

Letter from Kephart to Zebulon Weaver, January 9, 1925.


January 9, 1925

Hon. Zebulon Weaver
House of Representatives,
Washington, D.C.

Dear. Mr. Weaver:-

Your letter of the 5th is received. I will try my best to get to Washington in time for the Committee's hearing of the National Park project.

Those interested in the Linville and Blowing Rock section are spreading a report through newspapers that the Smoky Mountain region is unsuitable because it would prevent water-power development here. That is most unfair. There is no waterpower site of an consequence in the territory under consideration in the Smoky Mountains. The contemplated boundary would take in none but small streams: for instance, nothing on the Lufty below the forks, nothing on Deep Creek below Indian Creek. On the other hand, the perpetual preservation of the Smoky forests would be the best thing possible for the waterpower interests, because it would preserve the stream flow of the river feeders. If those forests are all cut off, there will be droughts alternating with disastrous floods and immense deposits of silt in the dam basins. Ask the waterpower people themselves if this is not so.

Sincerely yours,

Letter from Horace Kephart to Zebulon Weaver, January 13, 1925.


January 13, 1925.

Hon. Zebulon Weaver,
House of Representatives,
Washington, D. C.

Dear Mr. Weaver:-

The enclosed message from Col. Chapman, of Knoxville, refers to a newspaper report that you and the other two North Carolina representatives who, respectively, stand for the three sites: Smoky Mountain, Linville and Blue Ridge, have agreed among yourselves to unite on either of the three that Tennessee will agree to. I hope that is so.

Regarding the waterpower interests.-- Bob Barnett told me yesterday that Mr. Penn, of the Aluminum Co., said it would have been worth a million dollars to them if they had been far sighted enough to buy up the whole Nantahala watershed and prevented any timber being cut there.

As far the lumber interests:-- I assume that they would be paid a fair price for such primitive forest as they have left; but most of their acreage now is almost worthless, as they have converted it into a desert of briars and thicket. Many of our people fear to antagonize them lest they lose the slight income still derived from lumber operations here; but these folks do not see beyond their noses. The taxes that our counties derive from the lumber companies will soon be dwindling to nothing. And then-- the desert. But the opening of the country to millions of tourists would do for it what much trade has already done for Asheville, Hendersonville, etc., only on a larger scale, and this income would be perpetual.

What made Asheville and the other flourishing towns of western North Carolina? How much did the lumber trade do for them? Was is not the climate and the scenery that attracted wealthy outsiders, first as tourists, then as residents, then as investors? There is a great commercial asset of this country. It lasts forever and forever grows in value. Consider the rise of Asheville real estate, and its future; then turn and consider what our mountain land is worth when the timber is all cut off.


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