The Smokies Are Still Alive!

Despite the massive wildfire that destroyed over 10,000 acres inside the park last year, the Great Smoky Mountains are still alive and kicking!

By: Merritt McKinney + Save to a List

Although there was a lack of news coverage, you may have heard of the wildfire that engulfed the Gatlinburg area and Great Smoky Mountain National Park this past November. If not, here's a quick recap. 

Tennessee had an extremely dry year in 2016. Small fires broke out here and there but contained for the most part. I live about an hour east of Knoxville and there was one week our mountain town of Johnson City was enveloped by smoke. Imagine a constant thick, gray fog that limits your visibility to 10 or 20 yards and never lifts. We had minor damage to our part of the mountains, but unfortunately that was not the extent of the devastation. Sadly, two teenagers decided to take advantage of the dry weather and set fire to the most beautiful land in my home state: The Great Smoky Mountains. 

It was a catastrophe. Between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Gatlinburg, and Pigeon Forge, over 16,000 acres of land were torched. Thousands of houses and structures were obliterated and over 10,000 people were forced to evacuate. I vividly remember that night as I continually updated my twitter feed just to see my mountains burn. This one hit close to home, literally.

It has been about half a year since the fires and I am now back home from college. When I'm not in my summer classes or taking photos/shooting videos for clients, I take every second of my time to the mountains. This weekend was my first opportunity to go back to the Smokies and I was extremely hesitant. I was afraid the majesty of the most visited National Park may have vanished. I mean, some trails are still closed due to fire damage and it usually takes nature decades to recover from major forest fires. Luckily, I was wrong.

We hiked to the astounding Charlie's Bunion and The Jump-Off and I can tell you I was blown away as ever! It wasn't just the formation of rocks on Charlie's Bunion, the sheer size of the mountains, or the height of the ledges that left me giddy, but the beauty of trees and plants that filled the inspiring views. I mean look at these pictures if you don't believe me! Now I know the fires deeply affected other parts of the mountain range and those sections are far worse off, but the Great Smoky Mountains as a whole has prevailed through the worst calamity it will hopefully ever witness. You can travel to the Great Smoky Mountains and still expect the same jaw-dropping views over GREEN mountains and valleys that you've always seen in pictures. I would still even recommend coming from across the country to take in the rolling hills of this blessed state. Despite the fires, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park has SO much to offer that I promise you will not miss much at all.

Although the fire occurred over half a year ago, the area and community is still recovering and in need of healing. If you'd like to donate to the local firefighters and police who lost their homes, you can donate here. If not, you can help the community by just visiting. The area thrives off tourism and you will not be disappointed by the people you meet and the views you incur.

If you'd like to see more photos from the Smoky Mountains and surrounding area, follow me on Instagram!

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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