Newfound Gap, Tenn.
U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) delivered the following remarks here today at the 75th Anniversary of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park:
“Governors Bredesen and Perdue, Secretary Salazar, Dolly Parton, my colleagues in Congress, fellow friends of the Smokies, in 1934 a ranger wrote a memo identifying the wildlife he had found in this new park. There were 100 black bears. Today there are 1,600. There were 315 wild turkeys then. The other day I saw 21 outside my home two miles from the park boundary. 75 years ago there were 12 whitetail deer in Tennessee and six in North Carolina. Today they’re everywhere. Then there were no peregrine falcons, no river otters, no elk in the Great Smokies, but they are all here today.
“25 years ago, as Governor, I spoke at the 50th anniversary. There was no law then controlling acid rain and no organization called ‘Friends of the Smokies.’ Today, acid rain laws are working and the ‘Friends’ have contributed $28 million.
“So what should we hope for as we look to the 100th anniversary? I hope we have finished cleaning the air so that, instead of seeing smog, we can always see the blue haze about which the Cherokee sang; and that we will have done more to celebrate the way of life of families who lived here; that we will have become better students of the remarkable environmental diversity here—more different kinds of trees than in all of Europe, new species discovered every year; that we do a better jobs of creating picturesque entrances and encouraging conservation easements along the park boundaries to protect the wildlife and the magnificent views. And I hope there are more private contributions and federal dollars to protect and maintain one of the dozen most visited places in the world.
“India has its Taj Mahal, Italy has its art, England its history, but we have the Great American Outdoors. Ken Burns says our national Parks are ‘America’s Best Idea.’ Well, then the Great Smokies must be the very best idea of all because so many more people come here.
“Just as remarkable, I believe, is how we who live here feel about the park. We feel like we own it because our families did. We love it because we grew up hiking here or adopted it as home. And we are proud we gave this park to the country for others to enjoy.
“The psalmist wrote, ‘I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills.’ There are 151 cemeteries in the Great Smokies, usually on a hilltop, closer to God. The headstones face east because, as mountaineers will tell you, ‘You don’t want to have your back to Jesus when he comes again.’
“There was a reverential feeling among the thousands who came to Cades Cove on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in June to hear fiddles imitate bagpipes as the Knoxville Symphony played ‘Amazing Grace.’ At the 50th anniversary, I tried to explain that feeling this way: ‘These mountains . . . Blount County . . . my home . . . are where I enjoy being, where I swap people for nature and feel closer to God . . . when I am here, it helps get the rest of my life in a little better order.’
“That is why I celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.”