Thursday, June 01, 2006

Preserving the mountains

Yesterday, Nicole and I took our customary annual trip to Dollywood. En route, I noticed something that seems to get worse and worse with each passing day. The amount of smog and dirty air that one is forced to breathe when a person goes up to Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg, and the National Park is outragious. The smoke you see now is not the natural steam rising off of the mountains, but the smoke rising from millions of motor vehicles coming into the towns and the park that we have collectively turned into tourist traps.

I am not suggesting that we reject tourism as a viable industry in East Tennessee. It is an established fact that prior to the birth of the tourist industry, Sevier County was among Tennessee's poorest counties. Sevierville, Gatlinburg, and Pigeon Forge are a living testimony for what creative business people and a beautiful natural setting can do for a local economy. We do not need a "Yankee go home" mentality-I don't know about you, but I want those outside dollars coming in, they help keep our taxes low.

Even so, coming here as a visitor is one thing, but living in East Tennessee is quite another. When you visit, you don't tend to think about the harm that all those extra cars and all of those extra people and all of that suddenly-occupied space is doing to the mountains that so many of those folks are coming here to see. When you are here and you can smell the air, breathe it, and even see it, and you have to deal with the traffic congestion near one of the world's most beautiful mountain ranges, it strikes the conscientious person that something needs to be done about it.

I'm not saying this as though I am some Greenpeace radical-on the contrary, I tend to eschew the notion that human beings are the cause of all of the world's environmental evils, an idea that many liberals embrace. However, it can't be denied that the sheer number of people visiting the mountains and leaving a trail behind when they leave has a negative impact on the place, so much so that organizations exist whose sole purpose is to preserve the beauty of the Smokies from fading away.

I am not sure what the answer is, because the community needs those tourist dollars, but is there a way to have the visitors and preserve the mountains at the same time?

If the mountains can be said to "belong" to anyone, they first belong to the people who live in this part of the country, and it is our responsibility to preserve this beautiful natural heritage for future generations. We need to find a way to balance our economic needs with the preservation of the Smokies themselves.


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