There has been much controversy concerning the Great Smoky Mountains National Park from the idea of it’s inception. The area now know as Elkmont within the park is no exception. The area started as a logging camp around 1901 when Colonel Townsend founded the Little River Railroad and the Little River Lumber Co.
As logging began to make the area more accesible the tourism trade grew. Townsend sold some of the land to outdoor and hunting enthusiast who soon began to build summer cottages. The former logging camps of Elkmont and Tremont were turned into vacation destinations which led to the creation of the Wonderland Hotel and the Appalachian Club.
By the 1920’s many people began to notice how the logging operations had devestated the land and the push for a national park began. The problem with the national park idea was that the land was owned by private residents and the Little River Lumber Co which did not want to leave. In 1924 a compromise was worked out with Colonel Townsend to sell 76,500 acres of land but allowed to log it for the next 15 years. This was only one of many such “deals” that would need working out before the land now knows as the Great Smoky Mountain National Park came to be.
The area now known as Elkmont was purchased in the 1930’s as part of the park deal with the current residents being offered lifetime leases but renewed every 20 years. The last lease was renewed in 1972 but denied renewal in 1992. The problem was what to do with the buildings, the park service desired to tear them down and remove them but the past lease holders had other ideas wanting the structures preserved. Many of the structures were granted a place on the National Register of Historic Places and therefore could not be torn down, more controversy, more compromise.
Elkmont is now an active campground with the abandon residences as a testament to it’s past. The Wonderland Hotel has already been demolished and 56 other structures are slated for tear down. Structures in the Daisy Hill section will remain and be restored as a static display to remind visitors of an era and the history that brought about the idea for a national park. The Appalachian Club has already been restored as has the Spence Cabin and are available for day use for events such as weddings/receptions, family reunions, celebration events and business meetings.
The Smoky Mountain area is rich in history, controversy, bio-diversity and well all things that make up the cylce of life.