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STOP #18

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, TN — The good, the bad, and the ugly: Great Smoky Mountains National Park, visual range of Cerlulean Knob at 155 miles, 31 miles, and 6 miles.

December 7, 2005

Is There Too Much Smoke on the Great Smoky Mountains?

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is home to more tree species than there are in all of northern Europe, but on some days, you can barely see those trees. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has landed on the National Parks Conservation Association's list of America's Ten Most Endangered National Parks, mostly because of its overpowering air pollution.

Why do the Great Smoky Mountains deserve protection? Here are four reasons:

The park is home to 65 mammal species and over two hundred bird species;
There are 130 tree species in the park;
The park is the world's best salamander habitat with 27 species; and
The Smoky Mountains contain the 3rd highest mountain peak in the eastern U.S.

You should be able to stand back and take in the breathtaking beauty of this national treasure. But, on a hot summer day in Tennessee, instead of seeing for over 100 miles you can see only for 14 miles. And Global warming is making this blanket of smog even worse and is causing more bad air days every summer. On some days, it almost looks more like downtown Los Angeles than a protected national park.

In fact, smog levels in the Great Smoky Mountains rival the level of smog in Los Angeles. The Great Smoky Mountains have exceeded federal health standards more than 175 times since 1998. The rain can be as acidic as vinegar and it pours down on fragile spruce-fir forests often. The level of acid deposits in the forest's soil is about SEVEN times higher than can be naturally processed.

The forests of this national park are at serious risk and that includes its views, its trees and its wildlife. Scientists have even begun monitoring the level of mercury pollution in the park. Without prompt action to reduce the air pollution this national treasure is in danger.

"The relationship between man and the earth has been utterly transformed...and not for the better."

-- Al Gore