Sunday, May 24, 2009

History of the Grassy Balds in Great Smoky Mountains NP

For anyone interested in learning about some of the history of the grassy balds in the Smokies, there's an excellent report (it's called a report, but reads like an article) published online by the National Park Service.

Grassy balds are the treeless, grassy meadows that occur below timberline and mostly on ridge tops in the southern Appalachian Mountains. No one knows for certain how they came into existence. Even their age is unknown. The report discusses in detail the many theories for the origins of the balds. The general consensus, however, seems to be that the early settlers of the region cleared these areas for grazing purposes so that the lower elevations could be used for growing crops during the summer months.

Some of the best examples of grassy balds in the Smokies include Gregory Bald, Russell Field, Spence Field, Silers Bald, Andrews Bald, Parsons Bald and Hemphill Bald. Andrews Bald and Gregory Bald are the only two balds maintained by the park; both are now popular hiking destinations. The others have been left to be reclaimed by forest.

The report, written by Mary Lindsay in April 1976, summarizes the historical use of the grassy balds in the Great Smoky Mountains by settlers before the establishment of the National Park. In addition to using published papers and books, unpublished material in the GSMNP library and old photographs, Ms. Lindsay relied heavily on interviews with people who knew the balds before the establishment of the Park or immediately afterwards.

The report includes the transcribed tape recordings of the in-depth interviews of people like Kermit Caughron, the last person to live in Cades Cove, and who remained there until his death in 1999; Asa Sparks, son of Tom Sparks who actually herded cattle on Spence Field; Paul Adams, a pre-park Smokies hiker and founder of the LeConte Lodge; and Arthur Stupka, the first Park Naturalist for Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

To see the full report, please click here.

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