Last weekend my brother, Craig, and I were on a mission as we drove up to the Smokies and camped in the Elkmont campground on the Gatlinburg side of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Our mission: to photograph early spring flora, fauna, and/or landscapes for a ribbon-awarding photography contest that is part of the park’s 2012 Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage to be judged in late April.
But first we had to set up camp, and what a cozy little “gettin’ outta the city” hideaway it was (great fire Craig got started with damp kindling and twigs)! As we couldn’t do much in the way of hiking that late afternoon we decided to take a peek at the trail we were going to hike the next day, the trail a ranger told us was currently boasting about 25 different plant species…
the Cucumber Gap Loop.
Cucumber Gap is joined by the Little River Trail and Jake’s Creek Trail forming a 5.6 mile loop of easy to moderate difficulty (I happened to find it much more on the moderate side!). We approached from the Jake’s Creek entrance, and as we were checking out a portion of the trail we experienced one of those ‘Eureka!’ moments when we came upon a ‘community’ of dilapidated cottages and houses in various states of severe disrepair and bearing signs warning ‘US Property NO Trespassing.’ What the heck were they, we wondered, and why were they here in a national park?
Elkmont Historic District, Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Through NP signage we found out that some of these cottages were renovated ‘shanty’ houses from a logging community established by the Little River Lumber Company in 1908, long before the area was designated as a national park. The town was named for the preponderance of elk that roam the area, and the original community was located on what is now the site of the Elkmont campground, ranger station, and Elkmont Historic District maintained by the park. There is an unmarked graveyard behind the campground (which we, unfortunately, didn’t know about at the time so never got to visit…next trip).
Over the next several decades hunters and fisherman from Knoxville bought land from the lumber company and established the Appalachian Club in 1910. When the Wonderland Hotel was built two years later the area began to attract the Knoxville elite as a vacation retreat.
When the national park was established in the 1930’s the owners of these cottages were allowed to sell their properties at half price to the National Park Service and were offered lifetime leases. When these leases expired in 1992 the club, hotel, and cottages were designated for removal. Before that could happen, however, the structures were listed on the National Register of Historic Places as Elkmont Historic District, Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Eighteen structures were set aside for renovations, and the rest were cataloged and removed.
Restorations on the Appalachian Club have been completed, but as far as we could see, the others are still untouched except for stabilizing foundations. As we checked out the Appalachian Club Craig and I wondered if the building would be available for event rentals or only for guided tours (this latter option being the one for which we hoped). But, alas, I’m sorry to tell you, Craig, that this lovely, historic building is available for weddings, family reunions, business meetings, retreats…pretty much anything. Shucks!
We found a certain charm in all of this decrepitude, but I digress from our mission: finding & photographing flowers. The next morning, after a rolling, rumbling thunderstorm, we set off with my newly purchased flower field guide (quite excellent, by the way) in hand for the Little River entrance to the loop where we spent the next several hours finding many of the 25 flower species the ranger from the day before had somewhat promised.
It was amazing, really, because some of them are very hard to spot. I have featured many below hoping, not only that you will enjoy them, but also hoping that you might help us choose four for the Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage contest. Hover over a photo for the common name of the flower (one was not in my field guide, and I haven’t yet identified it yet [some kind of wild rose, maybe?], so the image number will do). Click on an image for a larger view, and many, many thanks to all of you who participate.
PS: You should now be able to vote for as many as you’d like. Go crazy! -April 1, 2012