The process to make the Great Smoky Mountains a National Park was not an easy one. It took a lot of effort and money to protect the nearly depleted forest region. Once owned by large paper companies and small farmers, it was difficult for the U.S. government to convince the regions settlers to leave the area. Because of deep family ties, logging equipment, a forest full of wood and a close proximity to railroad tracks, the majority of mountain residents did not want to leave.
Although the Smokies did not become a National Park until the 1930s, the idea to protect the forest region was first introduced in the 1890s. With a vision to preserve the gorgeous area, a few people began to discuss preserving the mountains and a bill was passed before the North Carolina Legislation. Even though the bill originally failed, more people started to pressure Washington into protecting the area during the beginning of the 20th century. The problem now was whether the Smokies should be considered a National Forest or National Park. As the debate continued during the 1920s, it was finally decided that the mountain region would become a National Park.
Interestingly, the movement to make the area a park was not made by backpackers, conservationists or fisherman, but instead by motorists. Newly created auto groups, like AAA, we very interested in the roads that passed through the Great Smoky Mountains.
Finally, in 1926, President Calvin Coolidge signed a bill that allowed for the area to be called the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This permitted the Department of the Interior to take responsibility over the 150,000 acres of that land was purchased. At this point, buying the land became somewhat difficult for the U.S. government. Because the government was not allowed to purchase the land for the purpose of a National Park, the money had to be raised by private boosters. During the late 1920s, organizations in North Carolina and Tennessee were able to raise approximately $2 million for the purchase. Another $5 million was collected in 1928 by private groups, wealthy individuals and even school children.
Encountering another problem, the campaign to purchase the Smokies was yet stopped again as the price for the land doubled. Luckily, the program was saved by Laura Spelman when she donated the remaining $5 million. Even with the full amount of money in hand. Purchasing the land was still very difficult. The major problem now was dealing with the many different farms, random buildings and large tracts that had been bickered over and appraised. Additionally, the large paper companies wanted to be compensated for their expensive equipment that remained on the land.
A lot of mountain residents were having a hard time parting with their land. Because of this, some residents were permitted to remain in the area under a lifetime lease and younger residents were granted short leases. The main catch for the remaining residents was that they were not allowed to continue cutting timber.
The Great Smoky Mountains finally saw their first Superintendent in 1931 and by 1934 the states of North Carolina and Tennessee had finally transferred the deeds to over 300,000 acres of new federal land. Formerly introduced in 1940 by President Franklin Roosevelt during a speech given from the Rockefeller Monument at the Newfound Gap on the state line of North Carolina and Tennessee, the U.S. government had finally reached their goal of protecting the beautiful forest.