Essay: Help Protect the SmokiesFirst posted in 1999
This originally appeared on the Knoxville News Sentinel's Go Smokies web site.They don't keep an archive, so I'm not certain of the original date of publication.
These days it seems that everyone has some sort of mission statement. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is no different. As one of the three hundred seventy-eight units in the National Park System, its mission is "to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations." In other words, the Park Service strives to keep all of its resources intact for our children's children to admire, just as we do today. As visitors to the park, we can easily help the Smokies in achieving this mission.
Keep the Smokies Clean
One way we can help the park is by placing all trash inside garbage cans and dumpsters. As a general rule, if you have enough time and energy to bring something into the park, take the time and care to dispose of it properly. It's very tempting to leave apple cores and other "biodegradable" trash along trails and roads, but such items are not native food for local wildlife, and may even be harmful. For many, tossing a cigarette butt out their car window is a habit, but cigarette filters do not readily degrade and could potentially start forest fires.
If you notice trash that others have carelessly left behind, especially on trails and in other more remote areas, take the time to make the area cleaner for the next person who comes along. If you find a trashcan to be full, hold on to the garbage until you come across another trashcan or dumpster. It's not uncommon to see garbage placed on the ground around an over-stuffed trashcan. This unsightly scene not only creates a difficult clean-up task for the park's employees, but gives wildlife in the park access to potentially harmful objects, such as metal, plastic, and non-natural foods.
Respect Plants and Wildlife
The Smokies are a safe-haven for many species that are loosing habitat to residential and commercial development nearby. When visiting the Smokies, remember that all the plants and animals in the park are protected. It's difficult to understand how picking a single flower to remember your vacation in the mountains could possibly impact the natural balance of the park, but keep in mind that the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited park in the nation. If each of the park's nine million or so visitors each took something home with them, there would be little left to enjoy.
The park's protection of plants and animals extends not only to those forms of life that visitors enjoy viewing, such as flowers and bears, but to those species that some visitors hope to avoid. Snakes, insects, and spiders all play a vital role in the Smokies' ecosystem, and have a right to grow and thrive. Many such species have a great deal to teach us, and most pose little or no threat to the health and safety of humans.
Preserve the Past for the Future
In addition to natural diversity, the Smokies possess a rich cultural heritage. Structures, cemeteries and archaeological sites offer glimpses into the past. Unfortunately, most of the structures in the park are littered with graffiti, many of the cemeteries show wear and tear from heavy visitation, and many of the park's visible archaeological resources have been thoughtlessly carried off as souvenirs. As visitors, we should keep in mind that these remnants of the past are irreplaceable.
Spread the Word
Perhaps the most important thing you can do to help preserve the park for future generations is to be vocal about the park's preservation. If you see someone littering, feeding wildlife, picking plants, collecting insects, or carving their initials into a historic building, take action. For some people in certain situations, that may mean approaching the person directly and telling them why their behavior is detrimental. In other cases, it may be best to go to the nearest visitor center or ranger station and report the activity to a park employee. Doing your part to protect the Smokies will help to ensure that they are "unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations."
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