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Great Smoky Mountains National Park

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<i>A National Park in the Great Smoky Mountains,</i> by Horace Kephart and George Masa, 1925 Add to Scrapbook

A National Park in the Great Smoky Mountains, by Horace Kephart and George Masa, 1925

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At the suggestion of a New York publicity firm, the group called itself the Great Smoky Mountain Conservation Association. Soon, the mountains themselves were referred to as the Great Smokies. Boosters published a promotional booklet with photographs by George Masa and text by Horace Kephart.

In 1926, with the support of National Park Service director Stephen Mather, Congress authorized the creation of three new southern parks, in Virginia and Kentucky as well as in the Smoky Mountains. However, Congress insisted that the money to buy the land come entirely from the states or private donations.

In Tennessee and North Carolina, the fund-raising goal was set at $10 million, a seemingly impossible figure for one of the poorest sections of the country. But people from all walks of life – from churchgoers to bellhops to children raiding their piggybanks – rallied to the cause.

The logging industry fought back, arguing that a national park would ruin their business and eliminate the jobs that went with it. They also continued to cut down the old-growth forests, hoping to extract everything they could before the land was closed to them.

George Masa photographing Great Smoky Mountains Add to Scrapbook

George Masa photographing Great Smoky Mountains

George Masa landscape of the Mitchell and Linville ranges, Smoky Mountains Add to Scrapbook

George Masa landscape of the Mitchell and Linville ranges, Smoky Mountains

By the spring of 1927, $5 million in cash and pledges had been raised, but it was only half of what was needed to save the Smokies. Logging continued at a frenzied pace and it was uncertain whether all the money could be raised before the Smokies were stripped bare.

As alternative sources of funding were desperately sought, philanthropist John D. Rockefeller Jr. came to the rescue. When he was shown some of Masa's photographs and told about the impending destruction of the old-growth forests, Rockefeller initially pledged $1.5 million – then reconsidered, and offered the entire $5 million.

But the timber companies were ruthless. As owners of most of the land in the proposed park, they asked for exorbitant prices and kept cutting trees, sometimes even on land they'd just sold. Finally, the cutting stopped and the lumbermen left.

The people living within the borders of the proposed park – mostly whites and Cherokees – would also have to leave. Some of them happily sold their land. Others fought to keep their homes and lost the battle in court. "Their hearts were broken," one resident remembered, and "most of them left crying."

Hiker on Appalachian Trail, Bigelow Mountain, Maine Add to Scrapbook

Hiker on Appalachian Trail, Bigelow Mountain, Maine

Death of Horace Kephart, April 3, 1931 Add to Scrapbook

Death of Horace Kephart, April 3, 1931

Horace Kephart was not comfortable with the notion that his beloved mountains would soon be crawling with tourists. He realized, however, that only the creation of a national park would save the forests. He and George Masa threw themselves into creating the Appalachian Trail, a hiking route that would start in the Smokies and go all the way to Maine. But on April 2, 1931, Kephart was killed in a car crash on a mountain road.

George Masa was devastated by the death of his friend. In 1933, after organizing a hike to commemorate the second anniversary of Kephart's death, George Masa became sick. Having lost his money in the stock market crash of 1929, he could not afford his own doctor. He died in the county hospital on June 21, without enough money to be buried next to Kephart as had been his wish.

By then, the Great Depression was devastating the country, and the people of Tennessee and North Carolina were unable to fulfill many of the pledges they had made to create the park. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt decided to intervene and allocated $1.5 million in scarce federal funds to complete the land purchases. It was the first time in history that the United States government had spent its own money to buy land for a national park.

Within the park a 6,217-foot peak now bears the official name of Mount Kephart. On its broad shoulder is another, somewhat shorter peak, now called Masa Knob.

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THE NATIONAL PARKS: AMERICA'S BEST IDEA is a co-production of

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