Freeing the Smoky Mountains

Maddron Bald trailhead during the federal shutdown
The Maddron Bald trailhead on October 3, 2013, during
the government shutdown.

Today we did our last hike in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. As I described yesterday, we decided to go to a place where we could park on private land and easily hike to a trail in the park. That way, we would reduce the level of power any fascist-minded ranger from the National Park Service might have over us should they confront us for being in our park.

As it turns out, there was no evidence at all of a shutdown at the trailhead we choose. We went to the Maddron Bald trailhead, just off state route 321. The parking area here is small, capable of holding no more than 5 or 6 cars. When we arrived there were three cars there, so we had no problem finding room, as you can see from the image to the left.

There were also no signs indicating the park was closed. Nor were there any barricades or cones. As far as we could tell, it was a normal day in the national park, which to me proved that the restrictions the park service is imposing on New Found Gap Road (as well as elsewhere across the nation) has absolutely nothing to do with their lack of funds. This particular trailhead is not as well known or visited, and is off the beaten track. Moreover, it would be hard to monitor. Thus, the park service chose to make believe it wasn’t there. Smart tourists could come here and enjoy the park, as intended, despite the shutdown.

If the shutdown really required the closure of the park, the park service would have sent a ranger here as well. They did not, proving that their obnoxious efforts are really aimed at causing problems for as many Americans as possible, not securing the park as they dishonestly might tell us.

The hike we did was called the Old Settlers Trail. This path takes you past the ruins and last remaining buildings left by the original pioneers who had settled this land and then were kicked off it so the federal government could have its own private park that they sometimes let the little people visit. Unlike many other national parks, where the National Park Service either destroys or lets decay the ruins of the white man, here the park service has tried to protect and honor those ruins. We passed by a small cemetery, the Baxter cabin and the McCarter barn, and innumerable old stone walls piled high by the farmers in their effort to clear the hillsides of stones so they could grow crops.

The Baxter cabin in the Smoky Mountains
The Baxter cabin, built 1889. The Baxters raised four
children in this windowless 16’x18′ cabin.

As I looked at these ruins, I thought about those early settlers. In this area, most had come from Ireland or Scotland, where they had mostly been poor tenant farmers. When they came here they ended up doing pretty much the same thing they had done in the old country, but with two fundamental differences. First, in America they had to start over, clearing land that was untamed. In Europe the land had been settled for centuries, so much of the hardest work had already been done. Building those early farms in the Smoky Mountains was painful, exhausting, and difficult work, far more difficult than anything they had faced in Europe.

Second, and most important, in Europe they had not owned the land. Worse, the owner was their landlord, with emphasis on the word lord. They not only had to obey his orders concerning use of the land, he had great power over them in other matters, far more than the typical owner-tenant relationship we now have in the U.S. In coming to the young United States in the early 1800s, however, these farmers became the land owners, their own lord, free to do as they wished with their land and their lives.

It was this freedom that brought them here. That freedom was so valuable to them that they were willing to suffer and scrape in an untamed wilderness, rather than remain in the settled farmlands of the British Isles.

So, it doesn’t take much thought to figure out what these settlers would have thought of the attempted closure of this national park by the Obama administration. They would have had an unlimited contempt for it, a rage and hatred that cannot be measured. And they would not have tolerated it. Worse, they would consider this closure the ultimate betrayal of their sacrifice, both in coming and building the nation and then giving up their land so a national park could be established for all Americans to enjoy.

It behooves us to honor their memory and effort and regain this park. The barricades have got to come down, here and elsewhere, whether or not the Republicans and Democrats reach an agreement on the federal shutdown.

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24 comments

  • Jerry Robertson

    Excellent article. Glad you enjoyed the hike and thank you for bringing along the history of the area and of those who came to America to find Freedom. Makes one very proud to be part of this lineage….and makes one take another look at the what the current “Lords” are trying to bring back to America.

  • Alexander

    “The day was just ending and I was descending
    By Grindsbrook, just by Upper Tor
    When a voice cried, ‘Hey you!’ in the way keepers do
    He’d the worst face that ever I saw
    The things that he said were unpleasant
    In the teeth of his fury I said
    Sooner than part from the mountains
    I think I would rather be dead

    He called me a louse and said, ‘Think of the grouse’
    Well I thought but I still couldn’t see
    Why old Kinder Scout and the moors round about
    Couldn’t take both the poor grouse and me
    He said, ‘All this land is my master’s’
    At that I stood shaking my head
    No man has the right to all mountains
    Any more than the deep ocean bed…”

    From the song “Manchester Rambler,” by Scottish (and hard-core Socialist) folksinger Ewan MacColl

  • Gary Smukal

    Before I read the full article, my first reaction was just wait until they get the drones in position.
    Mr. Robertson showed a lot more class in his reply. I concur with his thoughts.

  • If you see a barricade or other obstacle put in place to obstruct you from enjoying your property, then remove it or destroy it.

  • David McKissack

    These days, I rarely obey government signs to keep out, road closed, etc. It’s a new thing for me. What I’ve discovered, however, when I ignore those signs is 95% the time they’ve been placed there for legal protection or to save a government worker some, er, work. It’s not my fault this society has gone litigation-crazy and decided government workers must be every where I might hurt myself; I shouldn’t be punished for that.

  • ThomasD

    The selectivity says there is local NPS involvement and direction.

    So the Nuremburg defense of “only following orders” from Washington is not going to wash.

    It’s a disgrace.

  • willis

    I read this article with absolute astonishment. The government has shut down and yet this citizen was able to walk unaided over bare ground. We may need to rethink the necessity of hordes of “workers” being paid for out of money we actually earn.

  • ThomasD

    “far more than the typical owner-tenant relationship we now have in the U.S.”

    The people who ran the colonial farm near Williamsburg had a thirty year lease from the NPS, yet they too were forced – by armed agents – to close to the public.

    http://freebeacon.com/shutdown-theater/

    The lords are back in town.

  • Brett

    I’ve never known a time when our employees at NPS had anything but contempt for the public, considering themselves lords of the manor protecting the natural environment from ordinary people. People, let us hasten to acknowledge, are in no way part of the natural environment. They must be in heaven now: they’re certain to be retroactively paid, no pesky tourists to deal with, and the opportunity to establish more rules.

  • PJ

    “where the National Park Service either destroys or lets decay the ruins of the white man”

    Seriously? This is awful!

    • I can give you several examples of what I call the park service’s general dislike of “White Man Ruins.” In Arizona, one of the first settlers had their ranch house near a significant Indian petroglyph site. After the ranchers gave their land to the park service, the park service tore down the ranch house and buildings, while doing everything it could to protect the Indian site.

      Similarly, in Shenandoah National Park the buildings and ruins of the original settlers are allowed to decay, unmaintained. In one case a cemetery is disappearing in undergrowth because the park service does nothing to preserve it. (I had a long discussion about this with the park service when I complained about it, but they said tough.)

      Meanwhile, all Indian ruins are treated as if they are more precious than gold.

    • Mike V.

      They like to refer to it as benign neglect. They saved and maintain a few cabins in Cades Cove for the tourists to gawk at. Settlers cabins aren’t considered culturally or historic enough to be maintained. And to be fair, they have limited funds for preservation.

  • Greg Taylor

    Thanks for the article and I’m glad you had an enjoyable day. In my 30 years or so of fishing in the GSMNP I’ve been stopped by rangers for a license check about 2 times and have seen rangers on the trails maybe 3 or 4 times. So, they don’t have much in the way of coverage anyway. I say, enjoy the park.

  • RebeccaH

    Those people who settled the Smokey Mountains and the Appalachians in general were my ancestors, and, trust me, today I am experiencing outrage, contempt, and hatred on their behalf and for myself.

  • K Scott

    There ought to be sort of bumper stickers to put under park closed signs that say things like:

    CLOSED
    By Order of the All High Obama

    Peasants Keep Out
    by Order of the Sheriff of Nottingham

    {CLOSED}
    But Obama’s golf course and swimming pool are open

  • wodun

    These are the type of people Obama wants in charge of your healthcare. Better not be a registered voter with a party in opposition to the Democrats or you may find your medical records leaked, doctor visits delayed for months or years, and a health audit by the IRS.

    • joe

      Very scary to have the IRS and the politicians in charge of your medical care, this is worse than socialism!

      • Edward

        It may be worse than socialism, because it is fascism:
        http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/fascism?s=t

        Not just the healthcare system and the control over the rest of American industry, but even in the government shutdown they have their own rules for what is shut-down and which golf course stays open.

        Robert, I am glad you are enjoying your vacation. Thank you for keeping us posted.

  • Terry King

    I was at the Smokies this weekend (Sat. and Sun.). The parking lot a Newfound Gap was completely open. The road to Clingman’s Dome was open. I did not travel down the NC side of the park. Major trailheads were blocked at the Chimneys and Alum Cave Bluff. Chimneys picnic area closed. All other trailheads along 441 were open and there were plenty of people parked and enjoying the park. Little River Road was closed. We parked a couple of quiet walkways and took some short walks. Never saw an ranger anywhere.

    If you are planning a trip to the Smokies then I would say to go for it. You may not be able to access some of the more popular areas of the park but there are plenty of areas that are accessible. I am planning a horseback riding trip (my own horses) in a couple of weeks and I am not going to let the dictatorial gov. in Washington ruin my plans.

  • Tim

    As I said in my other post, there is NO way they’re going to keep me out. I visit the GSMNP every year in the best way, by boat … hiking the trails less traveled. There is no way they can enforce closure along the 30 mile north shore of Fontana.

  • David M

    Unfortunately, it was never their land to take. It belonged to a proud people who had lived on the land for centuries before the white man arrived from the British Isles. Despite what you may promote as historical achievement ie clearing fields for farms, the native tribes were growing many gardens before the arrival of your toiling ancestors. It’s just too bad they couldn’t have learned to share the land and respect the culture of their native brothers and live in peace. Instead their blindness led them to judge them as savages and drive them off their own land. I wonder how you would act if some foreigner came upon your land and decided to claim it for their own. You might act like a savage yourself. I respect what my ancestors who settled East Tennessee from the British Isles and well as my ancestors who lived here long before my other ancestors arrived. I feel fortunate to be of the lineage of native and settler that learned to love one another. Peace be upon you.

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