Alexander: U.S. National Park Service’s 100th Birthday is “a Great Time to Reflect on What’s Right With America”

Marks anniversary celebration by hiking in Smokies with students and honoring service of park employees

Posted on August 25, 2016

Gatlinburg, Tenn., August 25, 2016 – U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today hiked the Fighting Creek Nature Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park with middle and high school students to mark the 100th anniversary of the U.S. National Park Service. At a luncheon afterward celebrating Smokies’ employees, the senator said, “the beauty, magic and serenity of national parks provides a great way to celebrate what’s right with America.” 

“Today, we celebrate 100 years since Congress established the U.S. National Park Service,” Alexander said. “Documentarian Ken Burns called it, ‘America’s best idea,’ and if Burns is right, then the Great Smoky Mountains National Park must be ‘America’s very best idea’ because each year it attracts nearly twice as many visitors than any other national park.”

Alexander praised the work of the Smokies permanent and seasonal employees, telling the stories of Dawn Brackins, who started working in the Smokies in 1997 and today oversees the custodial needs of some of the busiest areas in the whole National Park Service, and Ryan Williamson, a wildlife technician, who grew up in Cosby dreaming of becoming a park ranger and today helps track the park’s bears and responds to emergency search and rescue operations.  

The senator also told of his friendship with retired park ranger and mantracker Dwight McCarter of Townsend. “During his career Dwight helped find nearly 120 people lost in the Smokies,” Alexander said. “And after he retired, he researched every airplane that had crashed in the Smokies. Then, he retraced the Hawkins/Meigs Line that divided settler and Indian territories at the beginning of our country. He wrote three books about these exploits.”

Alexander said, “Tennesseans feel a special pride in our Smokies because the people of Tennessee and North Carolina bought the land and gave it to the United States to create the park. Back then, a ranger wrote a memo identifying the wildlife he had found in this new park. There were 100 black bears. Today, there are about 1,500. Then, there were 315 wild turkeys. On some days now, I can see a couple of dozen strutting just outside our home in West Miller’s Cove two miles from the park boundary. In 1934, there were 12 whitetail deer in Tennessee and six in North Carolina. Today, they’re everywhere. Then, there were no river otters and no elk in the park, but they are both here today. 

“There are other signs of progress. Today, acid rain laws are working, the air is cleaner, and the Friends of the Smokies, together with the Great Smoky Mountains Association, have contributed more than $85 million. In May, the park opened its new Collections Preservation Center, which will preserve artifacts, archival records and other important historical items.”

Congress established the United States National Park Service in 1916. Today, Alexander spoke at a luncheon, hosted by the Smoky Mountain Tourism Development Council, Friends of the Smokies and the Great Smoky Mountains Association, in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to celebrate NPS’ achievements over the past 100 years. Before the luncheon, Alexander  hiked a 1.6-mile loop in the Smokies with East Tennessee students as a part of Great Smoky Mountains National Park Superintendent Cassius Cash’s “Smokies Centennial Challenge-Hike 100” Program. The program aims to inspire all hikers to experience and gain a new appreciation for their national park.

“It’s easy these days to hear about what is wrong with America. It’s also easy to see what is right, and a great way to do that is reflect on the beauty, magic and serenity of the American outdoors and to celebrate 100 years of the U.S. National Park Service. It is our responsibility to ensure the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and all other national parks around the country, are protected and preserved so future generation can enjoy them, just like we have.”

In May, Alexander spoke at the opening of the Collections Preservation Center, which will preserve 418,000 historical artifacts and 1.3 million archival records, including land records, oral histories, historic photos and park records. It will also house items such as clothing, vintage weapons, logging equipment, farm tools and other possessions used by people who lived on the farmsteads of the Southern Appalachians before the park was founded.

In 1984, at the 50th anniversary of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Alexander played the piano with the Knoxville Symphony in Cades Cove. Alexander said then that “the fiddles were tuned to sound like old bagpipes that Scottish people brought into the mountains 200 years ago.” Alexander and the symphony performed again in Cades Cove at the 75th anniversary of the park in 2009.

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For access to this release and the senator’s other statements, click here.

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