Thursday, May 10, 2012

Elkmont Dissolves

Anyone who know the history of The Great Smoky Mountains National Park understands that there were towns within the borders of the Park and that those people who lived in them were bought out. Some were allowed to remain there until they died of natural causes. But most took the funds and bought elsewhere and moved out of the Park boundaries. The entire town of Cataloochee took flight and that place is utterly gone.

One of the last places to go was a resort community within the part of the Park called Elkmont. This was a small village of vacation homes built by middle class families. The Park Service allowed the owners to continue to use their vacation homes for a very long time, indeed. It was not that long ago that the final family finally lost their terms on their cabin and packed up for the last time.

To my way of thinking, it's good to see all of these places gone from the Park. There are endless thousands of miles outside the Park where you can go to see vacation homes of people with more money and leisure time on their hands than most of us. As with the old Wonderland Hotel in Elkmont, I had assumed that the Park Service would allow the structures to just collapse in on themselves and let Nature take its course in the dissolution of these cabins.

But, predictably, enough whiners gave vent to calls of so-called "history" and the fate of the offensive little buildings was in doubt. Finally, a few were chosen to be preserved, using up funds that would have been far better served in other capacities in the Park. But most of them will be allowed to go the way of all dust, and some will be torn down. Soon, the old Elkmont vacation community will be absorbed by the native forests of the Great Smoky Mountains.

I, for one, will be very glad to see them gone.

Here, though, is a video I took of part of the village a few years ago when the houses were not in quite as bad a shape as they are today:



Kent Tankersley said...

Funny, I never realized there were still those kind of enclaves in the Smokies (except maybe in Caves Cove). Agree with you -- glad to see places like Elkmont vacated.

HemlockMan said...

These structures were far more recent than anything in Cades Cove or Cataloochee. The "houses" (mainly cheap-ass cabins) were almost all built between 1900 or so and the creation of the Park. So they were not--by any stretch of the definition--old buildings. Which is why I found the hand-wringing of idiots over the fate of these ratty buildings to be rather pathetic.

Due to grandfather clauses, some of these cabins were still being used by the families of the original owners up until about 2000 or so. When the Wonderland Hotel (part of the same grandfather clause) was about to be shut down, Carole and I quickly booked a room before it went the way of all dust. We just wanted to see what it was like to stay in the last hotel in the Park. I'm glad we did that, but it's good to know the old building is gone now and that the forest will now reclaim the land.

Robert Andringa said...

I see it both ways! Obviously preserving the park in its most un-developed state is the main goal, however when traveling to the smokies and watching the synchronized fireflies at Elkmont, it is difficult to not imagine ones self having the opportunity to vacation in a little cabin in Elkmont. What a life that must have been like! I seriously can't imagine a more wonderful place to have been able to spend your summers growing up. I can imagine the laid back vacation lifestyle these people grew to love in this small community. For this reason I do appreciate being able to have seen these vacation homes and imagining what life would have been like during this era. I agree this is nothing like the preservation of the Cades Cove homesteads, or even imagining life back then, but this too is history of life in the park. You yourself admit that you had to stay one last time in the Wonderland Hotel, I do wish I had been able to have that experience as well!

James Robert Smith said...

Yeah, part of me wishes that they would have allowed the Wonderland to remain as a park concession. Like the cabins on top of Mount LeConte.

And it must have been a blast being able to have those cabins for personal use.

But, as I said, there is certainly no shortage of such places all over southern Appalachia. And there are THOUSANDS of nice lodges and hotels and such where you can spend the time all around the borders of the Park.

I'm all for reverting the Park back into wilderness. Heck...I'd like for most of the Park's roads to be permanently closed to all but foot traffic. No more Cades Cove road. No more trans-mountain highway. No more road to Clingman's Dome, etc. Want to enjoy the Park? Walk, hike, backpack. Of course that will never happen, but I'd support it if they did close all of those auto roads.

I don't even think horses should be allowed on the trails.