Celebrating Tennessee’s great outdoors

Published 8:41 am Wednesday, June 12, 2019

President Trump has designated this month as “Great Outdoors Month” — which will serve as a good opportunity for all Americans to celebrate our nation’s beautiful outdoors.

Enjoying the great outdoors should be especially easy for Tennesseans because our state is home to some of the most beautiful sites in the country, as well as our nation’s most visited national park — the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which had a record-setting 11.4 million visitors last year.

Documentarian Ken Burns said the national parks are “America’s best idea,” so the Great Smoky Mountains National Park must be “America’s very best idea,” because each year it attracts nearly twice the visitors as the second most visited park.

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One main reason there was such a big increase in attendance last year is the opening of the new section of the Foothills Parkway between Walland and Wears Valley — which is now one of the prettiest drives in America. The scene is so magnificent that it surprises even those of us who have grown up admiring the Smokies. Since the new section of the parkway opened in November, hundreds of thousands of visitors have witnessed firsthand how picturesque the drive really is.

President Trump designating this month as “Great Outdoors Month” is just a small part of what his administration is doing for outdoor recreation. In March, the president signed legislation that permanently reauthorized the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which will help ensure Tennessee’s beautiful lands, water resources and recreation areas are protected and preserved for future generations. Over the past 50 years, the LWCF has provided Tennessee a total of $208.5 million for projects such as Rocky Fork, the Walls of Jericho and John Tully State Forest.

Last month, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt told me that passing the Restore Our Parks Act, legislation I introduced that would be the biggest help to our national parks in 50 years, is a top priority of the Trump administration. Today, too many of our national parks are in bad shape, and American families spending their vacations in our national parks are often shocked to find that so many of the roads, picnic areas, trails, campgrounds, and visitor centers are in such bad shape or even closed due to funding shortages.

The Restore Our Parks Act would help solve this problem by cutting in half the maintenance backlog at our national parks so that Americans can fully enjoy them. Growing up outside the Smokies, I had the opportunity to hike and spend time in the mountains, and it is important to me that future generations are able to as well.

As we enjoy our national parks, we should also be grateful for the dedicated employees and volunteers who make the privilege of visiting “America’s best idea” possible.

The employees and volunteers at our parks — who donated over 100,000 hours of service last year at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park —– deserve a lot of credit, and this month is a good opportunity to show them our appreciation by getting outdoors and enjoying the parks and their breathtaking natural beauty.