BAKER: A national park is a national treasure

By Bill Baker

For many tri-state area residents, there is a daily reminder of the natural beauty and the economic value of the park that others may not recognize.

Those who drive through the tunnel at Cumberland Gap to and from work or school have a special reason to add convenience to their list of reasons to appreciate the park.

These thoughts were triggered when I read about the 2021 survey of key supporters of the National Park System, authorized in 1916, and adding the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park to the system in 1959.

This year’s survey asked folks to choose their “…most-loved activity to do in parks.”  The top choices were:

  1. Hiking
  2. Seeing Wildlife
  3. Photography

Not surprising perhaps, especially if we narrow the survey results to those who live nearby and to those who visit the local park from across the country and around the world.

The number and miles of hiking possibilities are inviting to the visitors, whether local or international.  And the wildlife, from the local paintings at the Visitor Center to the real-life animals, offer excitement for the youngest visitor to the oldest. And, from the Pinnacle to countless other locations, the park is a fascinating arena for the photographer, whether amateur of professional.

Of the 400 national parks across the country, there’s more than one within reasonable driving distance.  Think about those you know of or have visited in Kentucky, Tennessee, or Virginia.  Or think about the parks you have visited in other parts of the country.

In the recent national survey, respondents chose the Yellowstone National Park as their number one choice to visit.  Maybe some of them haven’t yet visited Cumberland Gap.

Here’s a treasured place that needs to be supported locally, for the benefit of current residents but also for the economic impact and for the future preservation of the history and culture of this original “…passage to the West” for thousands of our ancestors.

With the Spring season here, although the pandemic lingers, this is a good time for the outdoors that is inviting to families of all ages.

Years ago, when the dedication of the park was a major topic of discussion in Bell, Claiborne, Harlan, and Lee Counties, I remember that Harry Hoe, Chairman of the Dedication Committee, reminded the committee more than once that “A national park is a national treasure!”

A timely thought from the late 1950s for a new generation.

William H. Baker is a Claiborne County native and former resident of Middlesboro.  Email: wbaker@limestone.edu