By ANDREW JONES, The Daily Times
GATLINBURG, Tennessee (AP) – Before Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials and others cut the ribbon on the John Oliver Cabin Accessible Trail on Tuesday, Friends of the Smokies Distinguished Board Member and former Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Gary Wade recalled a poignant moment in United States history.
âTo put this today’s event into a historical perspective,â said Wade, standing with the Cades Cove valley to his face and the cabin behind him, â81 years ago this month, officers of the Secret Service placed a blanket on the President’s wheelchair as he was raised at the Rockefeller Monument to dedicate the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
âPresident Franklin Roosevelt dedicated the park which is now the most visited in the United States. And, if Cades Cove were a park in its own right, the Smokies would still be No.1, but Cades Cove would be in the top six.
âIsn’t it remarkable how many people appreciate this? He gestured towards the valley, “and isn’t it quite appropriate today given that a person in a wheelchair consecrated this park so many years ago, now we can access at the John Oliver booth. “
Moments later, three people in wheelchairs took the path to the cabin for the first time.
According to park officials, this is GSMNP’s second accessible trail – the Sugarlands Valley Nature Trail is the other – and the first to feature a historic site.
Park superintendent Cassius Cash told the crowd of around 70 gathered on Tuesday that motivation to create accessible trails picked up a few years after he stepped into the lead role of GSMNP in 2015.
âI challenged the staff about three years ago on how I wanted to create more opportunities here, make the park more accessible,â Cash said. âWe have over 850 miles of trails in the park and it’s hard to believeâ¦ we didn’t have any designated (for accessibility). … But here we are today.
The project recognizes the need to accommodate anyone who may not be able to walk the trails in the traditional way.
Many people aged 70 to 80, for example, said on Tuesday they were grateful that they had an easy path to walk to the historic site.
Hiker, former firefighter and wheelchair user Carly Pearson said it was an honor to be able to walk to the place.
âWe have come to a point where we are no longer sidelined by circumstances and physical barriers,â Pearson told the crowd. âBeing immersed in the natural environment allows you to enjoy our lands independently. “
The half-mile paved trail is approximately 8 feet wide, providing space for wheelchairs or other mobility devices to pass each other. It meets architectural barriers law standards, park officials said.
Funding for the project was made possible by a donation of $ 150,000 provided by the National Park Foundation and a donation of $ 57,000 provided by the Friends of the Smokies.
âIt is a great honor to partner with Superintendent Cash and his staff to help realize this vision of making experiences in the parks more accessible,â said Sharon Pryse, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Friends of the Smokies, in a press release.
She and others have invested in the history and sustainability of the Smokies, said Tuesday the trail is an important part of how Cove’s heritage will be preserved for everyone.
âI want people to enjoy this park,â said Judy Morton, Friends of the Smokies Board Member Emeritus. His grandfather, Ben Morton, helped found the park. âThat’s what my grandfather wanted.
The park, in the vision of its founder, was meant to be preserved. This has happened in many ways and it is now the most popular park in the country, with 12.1 million visitors in 2020 alone.
Morton was among the many Tuesdays whose roots lie deep in the history of Cades Cove.
John Oliver’s great-great-great-grandson John Oliver was in attendance with his wife Lori. âCades Cove has a special place in my heart,â said Oliver. The couple live in Townsend and still consider the place in many ways to be part of their family’s home. âI’m glad it’s preserved,â he said of the cabin, âand people can enjoy it. It means a lot to our family.
The Oliver family settled on this site in 1818. John Oliver said on Tuesday that part of his family’s tradition is that his ancestors may not have survived the winters of Cades Cove without the Native Americans. .
Past and future mingle on the new path accessible to the Oliver reception site. What represents a heritage for some also represents a vision for others.
âWe are talking about the need to create the next generation of Park Service users, supporters and advocates,â Cash said in an interview after the inauguration as the small crowd began to use the trail for the first time. “But I think in our mind we kind of say ‘and people of all abilities’ at the same time.”
People often think of nationalities, origins and ethnicities, he added, but sometimes forget about able-bodied and invalid people.
âI want to see how the public is enjoying this trail and then we’ll look at what comes next,â Cash said.
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