Tourism > Why Nature Tourism: Benefits
> Case Study - The Great Smoky Mountains
Integrating Conservation and Tourism in the Great Smoky Mountains
from: The Role of Protected Areas in Sustainable Forest Management,
By John D. Peine, Ph.D.
The Appalachian region is dominated by a very old mountain range
that begins in the
state of Alabama and extends into the northeastern U.S. and Canada.
The highly varied topography in the southern Appalachians results
in many different climates. The plants and wildlife found within
this region are of global significance as reflected by the Great
Smoky Mountain National Park being designated as both a World Heritage
Site and International Biosphere Reserve.
and Ownership in the Great Smoky Mountains Region
million hectares temperate forest
- 17% evergreen
- 16% mixed
- 75% of
lands – private ownership
20% of lands – National Forest/Parks
- 3% of
lands - state or other federal
background: from BOOM to BUST
the depression of the 1930s, the federal government obtained large
privately held land. Thousands of people were displaced from their
homes. Farmlands were taken by the Tennessee Valley Authority for
construction of water and power reservoirs and dams. The timber
and mining industries came into the area in the latter portion of
the 19th century and extracted the old-growth timber and large quantities
of coal. Company towns sprang up throughout the region. Despite
the massive economic boom, the region has remained one of the nation's
largest geographic areas experiencing serious poverty. When the
two primary economic engines of timber and coal declined, little
sustainable economic diversity remained to fill the void. As a result,
the quality and diversity of public services remains substandard
in many isolated communities throughout the region.
As the scale and type of the human interactions and impacts with
native ecosystems and communities continues to dramatically change,
the role of protected natural areas and biological reserves becomes
critically important. Key roles for these protected areas briefly
discussed below reflect a variety of human values ranging from stewardship
of the natural environment to utility of natural resource consumption.
These values are amplified when the landscape is dominated privately
owned lands. Major protected areas in this region include: two national
parks, six national forests and numerous smaller state and private
parks and reserves. Actions associated with promoting cooperative
ecosystem management among 10 federal and four state government
agencies in the region are coordinated by the Southern Appalachian
Man and Biosphere Cooperative (SAMAB).
Communities to Protected Areas
The interface between public and private land ownership is of
particular interest in areas where communities may serve as gateways
to protected lands. Such communities are likely to have economies
closely tied or dependent on natural resource based tourism and/or
renewable resource extraction. Potential problems and opportunities
exist along this zone of interface ranging from unappealing entryways
and traffic congestion to growing demands on community health
and enforcement services primarily due to growing tourist numbers
In the southern
Appalachians, as elsewhere in the U.S. there is a growing movement
at the community level to define goals for sustainability as related
to the community, the environment and economic development. Several
communities are in the process of adopting sustainability indicators
and benchmarks for these dimensions.
In the case of Pittman Center, Tennessee (population 478), a world-famous
gateway community in the Great Smoky Mountains, the residents
have dedicated their community to "preserving our mountain
heritage." This vision statement is proudlydisplayed on wooden
entryway signs into the community. They have taken steps to control
development on steep slopes, ridge tops, wetlands, flood plains
and agricultural lands. They are planning development of an urban
trail and greenway system. Design standards for commercial buildings,
roadways and parking lots are under consideration. The community
is a largely undeveloped area adjacent to the Greenbriar watershed,
one of the least-developed sections of Great Smoky Mountains National
Tourism and/or Conservation Issues and Opportunities:
of renewable resources
Protected areas serve as a repository for numerous sustainable
resources such as water, wood fiber, native vegetation and plant
species, fish, wildlife and other open space and recreation related
resources. As privately owned land use conversion escalates, the
demand for these resources will escalate as well.
Perhaps the least quantifiable but of the greatest social significance
is the role that protected areas play in defining a sense of place.
Relatively undisturbed "natural areas" provide a place
where a growing number of people can "get back to nature"
and experience a respite from the day-to-day human dominated environment.
Another manifestation of these values is a sense of spirituality
or mental well being associated with protected areas. As the global
trend continues toward an urbanized society, the importance of
this role increases.
values of natural resources can be expressed in economic terms.
Nature-based tourism, for instance, is one of the fastest growing
sectors of that industry. Land values adjacent to protected areas
tend to be of higher value. People are relocating, particularly
in their retirement years, to be in close proximity to protected
areas. These quality-of-life factors are important to attract
economic development as well.
conservation related issues
birds are important to the economy and more
People love to view, hear and feed songbirds, many species of
which are migrants. In some parts of the southern Appalachians,
up to eighty percent of the breeding bird community is comprised
of neo-tropical migratory species. Declines of many of these species
have been documented in recent times. The old growth forests within
the Great Smoky Mountains provide an opportunity to study habitat
preferences of these species under various forest structure and
of a large carnivore: American black bear
The black bear population was severely depleted at the turn of
the 20th century in this region due primarily to hunting pressure
and loss of habitat. With the reforestation of the region and
regulation of hunting, the species has experienced a dramatic
Protected forests provide an opportunity to reintroduce extirpated
Black bear, wild turkey, beaver and whitetail deer populations
have recovered in the Applachians due to habitat improvement,
hunting regulation and reintroduction efforts.
In the southern Appalachians, fire has generally been suppressed
for the last 80 years. The result has been a dramatic reduction
in fire associated plant communities. In this region the U.S.
Forest Service began prescribed burning practices in the 1980s,
a practice later followed by the National Park Service. Maintaining
tree species composition in pine and mixed forest stands and providing
habitat for wildlife are primary goals.