We made our way off the Blue Ridge to Waynesville, and Maggie Valley, North Carolina. One of our favorite places in the Great Smoky Mountains. Maggie Valley is everything Gatlinburg, Tennessee isn’t. Sure, there are shops selling lots of stuff you don’t really need, but on a much smaller scale. Maggie still has small, locally owned, tourist courts with rockers on the front porch. Local restaurants and café’s. We’ve been coming here since the mid 80’s.
A place that has been close to our hearts for nearly thirty years is the Little Cataloochee Valley. A remote corner of Smoky Mountain National Park. Similar to Cades Cove, but like Maggie Valley, on a much smaller scale. A valley that once sustained quite a community with two church’s,
and a school.
The only access is by a five mile, narrow, dirt road. For years we would be the only folks in the valley for hours. We would walk the road, visit the church’s and graveyards, and imagine the life of the folks that once lived there until the Government forced them out.
On one visit back in the early 90’s, we met a very old man carrying milk jugs over this foot bridge.
He was driving an old Ford Pinto station wagon, and the rear was full of more jugs. We got to talking with him, and found out that his family was the last one removed from the valley. They resettled in the small town of Clyde, where he had worked for the paper mill until retirement. When I asked about the jugs, he informed us that he had attended the school which was just across the road. He had drank water from this spring,
his entire life. He had been coming over the mountain every few weeks since being forced to move out. Filling his jugs and carrying them back home to Clyde. Even today, the spring hole was full of clear, cold, water. The only difference being a sign the NPS put up questioning the purity, and recommending boiling before drinking. I don’t think the old gentleman would have paid much attention to it.
Around 15 years ago, the NPS decided they would reintroduce elk to the park. The Little Cataloochee was selected as the site for reintroduction. As the elk population grew, so did the tourist visits. What was once a quiet, peaceful, piece of history is now much like Cades Cove. People arrive by the carloads, hoping to see the elk. Volunteer elk wranglers monitor the action, and answer questions.
Though it was nice to see a couple of large bulls, and even hear one bugle, something has been stolen from Cataloochee. The quiet reverence one felt standing in one of the church’s, or the old school, is gone. The respect for the people that built the road, carved out the pastures, and created the community is missing.
You hardly saw anyone visiting, and listening, to the history that was there. Most had come for the zoo…..jc