“[Horace Kephart, who would be remembered as father of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park] embellished considerably in constructing his own legend. His tale of arriving in a virtually unknown corner of Appalachia seriously overstated how much of a mystery the region was to the outside world, left out the fact that he came as a writer hunting for material, and characterized his life as far more solitary than it actually was.
“Perhaps the most glaring omission from Kephart’s story of himself was the fact that his ‘health’ — his euphemism for sobriety — was not, in fact, restored. He was, by all accounts, prone to the same multiday alcoholic binges in North Carolina as he had been in St. Louis….”
— From “The Appalachian Trail: A Biography” by Philip D’Anieri (2021)
“Redwood timber was in high demand during [World War II] because it not only did not warp but also had insulation properties, soundproofing capabilities and resistance to fire; so Roosevelt and [forester] Nelson Brown experimented with growing redwoods and sequoias on the East Coast….
“Roosevelt wrote Vice President Henry Wallace, ‘As you know, the rainfall in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, or a little south thereof, is the highest in the East and I am going to get the Park Service to try planting them there….’
“The redwoods and sequoias didn’t grow in the Smokies as Roosevelt had hoped….”
— From “Rightful Heritage: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Land of America” by Douglas Brinkley (2016)
I was surprised to learn — thank you, Bland Simpson — that a lone redwood of mysterious origin now towers over Columbia Street in Chapel Hill.
“This winter, amid the news of the FBI’s arrest of the remaining occupiers of a national wildlife refuge in Oregon, another story unfolded more quietly in the Appalachians. At the heart of it were a small plant that plays a significant role in eastern mountain forests — American ginseng — and Billy Joe Hurley, a North Carolina man who had just been released from prison for stealing ginseng plants from Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
“Hurley, 47, has been convicted at least five times
, stretching back nearly two decades. While ordinarily such a case would be the stuff of the local paper’s police blotter, Hurley’s malfeasance is unusual, garnering national coverage, both because American ginseng roots fetch high prices in Asian markets – hundreds of dollars a pound — and the oddity of a plant heist resulting in a [six-month] prison sentence….
“The history of the park and its creation in the 1930s still stings for some who feel their grandparents were swindled out of their land through eminent domain to establish what is now America’s most visited park…. A few descendants today use that grudge to justify taking ginseng from the park. But for most, like Hurley, ‘ginsenging,’ is a tradition handed down one generation to the next.”
According to the biodiversity advocates at Project Remote, the most remote spot in North Carolina is 5.5 miles from the nearest road.
You won’t be needing that cellphone. And wear comfortable shoes.