With approximately 10 million annual visitors, Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains is the most visited national park in the United States, receiving almost double the traffic of the Grand Canyon.
The park was established in 1934 with help from a $5 million donation by everyone’s favorite philanthropist, John D. Rockefeller Jr. Rockefeller opened his wallet after seeing photos documenting the destruction of Tennessee’s old-growth forests.
The Rockefeller Memorial was built in his honor. Here, President Franklin D. Roosevelt dedicated Great Smoky Mountains National Park on September 2, 1940, stating:
“There are trees here that stood before our forefathers ever came to this continent; there are brooks that still run as clear as on the day the first pioneer cupped his hand and drank from them. In this Park, we shall conserve these trees, the pine, the red-bud, the dogwood, the azalea, the rhododendron, the trout and the thrush for the happiness of the American people.”
Today, the park is home to rabbits, wolves, groundhogs and bears, among other animals, but the star of the Smokies is the salamander.
Nearly 30 species live in the park, earning the park the title “Salamander Capital of the World.” At any given moment there are more salamanders than people in the Smokies.
The biggest salamander species found in the Smokies – the Hellbender – can grow up to 29 inches in length.
You’ll have to spend the night in the park to see one. Hellbenders are generally nocturnal critters.