By JEFFREY POWELL
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP) is the nation’s most -visited national park. Located on the border of North Carolina and Tennessee, the park has an estimated 9.2 million visitors annually. Practically speaking, the main reason for this amazing number of visitors is the proximity of the park to major metropolitan areas of the east coast. Another reason for the high visitor count is the diversity of the sights to be seen once the visitor has arrived. Two of the many “must sees” are Mingus Mill and Clingmans Dome.
Mingus Mill is located near Cherokee N.C. about three miles inside the park entrance. The current mill was built for Dr. John Mingus in 1886. The Mingus family was of German decent and had settled in the Oconaluftee valley around1790. Presumably a previous mill had worn out, dictating the need for the new structure. Mingus contracted Sion T. Early to construct the mill for $600 and the job was completed in just three months. Mingus and Early decided to power the mill with a turbine rather than the standard overshot water wheel. Turbines are smaller than
water wheels, cost less and last many times longer than the alternative. Customers brought in their corn and wheat to be ground and were generally charged one-eighth of the product for the milling. Visitors to the mill can watch the entire process and buy a bag of corn meal to take home.
At 6,643 feet, Cingmans Dome is the highest peak in the Smoky Mountains, and is the third-highest east of the Mississippi river. Only Mount Mitchell (6,684) and Mount Craig (6,647), located in Mount Mitchell State Park, rise higher. The mountain is named after Thomas Lanier Clingman, once a member of the North Carolina House of Representatives and later an explorer mapping the peaks of the Allegheny range.
An observation tower now sits atop the peak and on a clear day provides views into Tennessee and North Carolina. Unfortunately, air pollution can sometimes limit the viewing distance. Clingmans Dome is located roughly halfway between Gatlinburg, TN. and Cherokee, N.C. on Clingmans Dome Road. The road to the dome is closed from Dec. 1 through March 31, due to inclement weather conditions. To get to the summit visitors must climb a paved but steep half-mile trail. The Appalachian and Forney Trails also intersect near the peak.
Those who plan to visit Clingmans Dome should be prepared for any weather conditions, even during the summer, as rain and wind are always a possibility.
For more information concerning these sites see www.SmokiesInformation.org.
By JEFFREY POWELL