Rededication ceremony marks Smokies’ 75th year
Posted: Thursday, September 3, 2009 9:04 pm
By DUNCAN MANSFIELD
Associated Press Writer
GATLINBURG (AP) — Memories and Appalachian pride echoed from the summits of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on Wednesday as America’s most-visited park held a rededication to celebrate its 75th anniversary.
“These are my mountains, my valleys. These are my rivers flowing like a song,” 75th anniversary ambassador and homegrown superstar Dolly Parton sang. “These are my people, my memories. These are my mountains. This is my home.”
Some 2,000 park supporters, guests and former residents gathered atop Newfound Gap on the Tennessee-North Carolina line broke into applause. “Wow,” Smokies Superintendent Dale Ditmanson said, offering a challenge to the Park Service’s 310 other units to “beat that!”
“I came from California to be here today. My daughter’s been saying, ‘You have to go,”’ said Rosalee Ogle Fehrenbach from Salton City, Calif., near Palm Springs.
She came with her sister Eva Ogle Webb of Pigeon Forge. Their family lived in the park before it became a park in 1934, and as little girls they attended President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s formal dedication of the Smokies in 1940.
Wednesday marked the 69th anniverary of Roosevelt’s speech from the same stone stage on Newfound Gap, built by Civilian Conservation Corps volunteers along with many other still-standing park structures. FDR’s chair was placed beside the rostrum.
“I remember seeing the president. I was only 5 years old, but I remember everybody was having a good time,” Webb said. She hoped President Obama would attend the rededication, but was just as happy to see Parton.
FDR remains the only sitting president to ever come to the 520,000-acre Smokies, the most visited national park in the country with more than 9 million visitors annually. President George W. Bush got as far as Knoxville’s airport a few years ago, but canceled a trip into the park because of a storm.
“I am here today on behalf of President Barack Obama to celebrate Great Smoky Mountains National Park, to honor our ancestors who left us this treasure, and to rededicate an American icon for a new century,” U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said.
“We must continue to invest in our parks. We must remain committed to preserving our nation’s treasured landscapes for future generations,” he said.
Every member of the Tennessee and North Carolina congressional delegation who represents the Smokies attended the ceremony along with Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen and North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue.
“My left foot is in North Carolina, my right foot is in Tennessee,” Perdue said. “And the beauty of this place is that when you are here there is no North Carolina or no Tennessee. There is only one gift from God, America’s most precious resource — the Great Smokies National Park.”
To applause, she added, “And it is the truth.”
Bredesen noted the Smokies’ formation is unique in the park system. The land was purchased with private donations, state funding and pennies collected from children around the country. The Smokies “is a gift of the people to the government, not a gift of the government to people,” he said. “We are the beneficiaries of that forethought.”
“As we celebrate a milestone in our park’s history,” Bredesen said, “may today also remind us of the generous spirit and faith in the future that gave it birth and may we be moved to recommit ourselves to that sprit and that faith in all that we do as a nation.”
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., who grew up in the shadow of the Smokies and maintains a home a few miles from the park recalled the progress made since the park’s creation in restoring wildlife and preserving its wide-ranging forests and streams.
“What should we hope for as look to the 100th anniversary?” he asked. “I hope that we finish cleaning the air, so that instead of seeing smog we can always see the blue haze about which the Cherokee and Dolly sang so beautifully.”
Alexander said, “India has its Taj Mahal. Italy has its art. England has its history. But we have the Great American Outdoors” and the Smokies are perhaps the most notworthy example.
U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., had another comparison for the crowd at Newfound Gap. “Make no mistake, you are as close to heaven here as you will ever get on earth,” he said.
“I have always been an ambassador for the Smoky Mountains because I tell everybody how beautiful these mountains are,” Dolly Parton said. “And no matter where I go, if you say something about the Smoky Mountains, even if the people have not been here, they just smile ’cause they seem to know about it.”
Published in The Messenger 9.3.09