May 19th, 12:04pm
We’ve heard a few ways to tell of the founding of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, that differ when told by the locals or by park officials. Both stories start with the desire to create the national park, despite families that lived throughout the mountains.
1. The federal government could not directly negotiate the 6000 individual land leases, so Tennessee and North Carolina took the lead. After all park lands had been acquired, the states deeded them to the federal government. But since the main roads were highways, the states stipulated that the federal government could not charge a toll for road use, which in effect guaranteed the park would remain free.
2. The mountain families gathered to discuss the park idea. They decided that their land, if it was to be ceded, should remain free to the general public forever, nor should they have to pay to visit their family cemeteries. The community helped raise the funds to acquire the lands for the government, and added the clause that the park shall remain free.
3. Five or six mountain families owned the land. The federal government came in and asked for the land for the national park. The families discussed and came back with only one demand. The federal government was overjoyed, until they saw that demand - that they should never charge a fee to enter the park.
Each version has different heroes, espouses different values, and these three versions reflect the slippery nature of truth. When introduced another origin story, the teller often shrugged their shoulders. Because as we’re learning, you should never let the truth ruin a good story.