One Special Cove
~Friday, April 23, 2021~
Finally, a day spent exploring, though drizzly at times. Sustenance and fluids ✅ and we’re off. We first wanted to take Sadie on a trail that she could lay her paws on. There are only 2 trails in the entire national park that dogs are allowed-the Gatlinburg Trail and the Oconaluftee River Trail. The Oconaluftee is quite a ways from our campground, so we opted for the Gatlinburg trail which starts just a half mile from the Sugarlands Visitor Center. The visitor center was allowing 30 people in at a time, but the exhibit room was closed, which has been the case at most visitor centers. We’re trying to figure out why, if the same number of people would be in the exhibit area as there are in the lobby/visitor center desk and gift shop, why they don’t open the entire facility? At least we were able to check out a few maps, look at the weather forecast (rainy), and scour the bookstore. One of the many things we learned while at the visitor center was sadly, many of the Hemlock and fir trees are dying due to an invasion of an aphid-like insect that is attacking the cambium layer of the trees. So what we thought was fire damage on many of the ridges of the Smokies, is actually from this nasty bug.
The Gatlinburg Trail is a little hard to find as the map makes it look like it starts right at the visitor center. Having to ask a park guide where the trailhead was, we began our 4-mile round trip hike with Sadie. Our furry one was thrilled to have a river running along beside, the entire way. Though much of the way seems pretty peaceful, it’s actually very close to the road that leads into tourist-filled Gatlinburg, which is probably why they allow dogs on it (less likely that we’d have run-ins with wildlife). Very easy, flat trail and 2 miles later, we were in downtown Gatlinburg. Not really wanting to be around all the craziness, we turned around and went back the same way we came.
Around mid-afternoon, we took Laurel Creek Road to end up in the western end of the park called Cades Cove.
A “cove” in Smoky Mountain terms is a relatively flat valley between mountains or ridges. This particular cove demonstrates some of the most inspiring, breathtaking treasures that the Southern Appalacians has to offer. Jeff and I were trying to think of anywhere else we’d been where the wildlife and scenery come together in such an ideal setting, and we couldn’t. To see it can be done by walking, biking or driving the 11-mile one-way Cades Cove Loop Road. Definitely bringing bikes the next time we come.
Occupation of the area began no later than 8,000 B.C. according to archaeologists, with many of the trails traversed by Native Americans. Years later, a population boom took place, from a handful of families to 685 by 1850, likely driven by the area’s rich, fertile land and abundant wildlife. Large families were very common, with many having 10 to 12 children. Quite a few churches
were built in the cove, 3 of which we got to see….a primitive Baptist Church, a Methodist Church and a Missionary Baptist Church. The oldest log home in Cades Cove is the John Oliver cabin.
With stunning views all around in such a peaceful, tranquil setting, this cabin and the others we saw on the tour were built incredibly well, even by today’s standards, with exception of the modest foundations (stacks of large rocks every 6 feet or so). There are over 80 historic buildings in the entire park, thought to be the largest of its kind in the East.
With dusk setting in, we, along with other cove gawkers, saw a bear munching away in an open field as well as wild turkey and deer. Sadie of course had a hard time containing herself in the car, as we passed them.
In recent years, the park service has had to decide how to manage the huge agricultural area of the cove. Letting nature take its course, they feel, is not the best. So it is being managed as a “historic district” with livestock grazing maintaining the open areas. Cattle owners are given permits for up to 1,500 cattle and haying leases for more than 500 acres.
It is sad knowing that the people that chose to call the “Smokies” their home, in the 19th century, including the people of Cades Cove, were driven out to make way for the establishment of the park system. But had the park not been established, this pastoral, serene setting would have fallen victim to high rises and industry, with little to no trees. We actually shudder to think of what could have been.