Mountain trip gives teacher lessons in history, biology

Published 11:59 pm Friday, July 10, 2009

I could hardly sleep on Saturday night of June 13th, anticipating our vacation trip to the mountains starting the next day. I awoke early and finished all the packing details of camping in our 25-foot travel trailer within Cades Cove of the Great Smoky Mountains for a week. There are no utilities in the park for campers, so you have to carefully plan. Being seasoned campers, the Sassers have long had a checklist, so I review the list one more time.

Townsend, Tenn., is a day’s drive from south Alabama and we left early, stopping only to eat lunch and make a quick trip to Camping World in Chattanooga to pick up a generator adaptor. The weather cooperated, allowing us to leave the windows down in the truck all the way to our campsite. We stopped at the Little River Village deli where our friends Mickey and Martha Watson once worked while living here, and picked up some delicious fried chicken for dinner. We noticed that things were as usual at the Townsend “Y,” the convergence of two rivers just past the park entrance. This is “the beach” of Townsend where you most often can find aqua shoe and swimming suit-clad tourists and locals alike rafting and swimming in the cold waters of the river. Many simply lay on the grassy hill near the rocky-bottomed river, soaking in the sun’s rays for that desired tan. We drove on and made the 15-minute winding ride to Cades Cove and registered with the camp authorities. After quickly setting up camp in the generators-allowed section, we hopped in the truck and make the first of many trips around the 11-mile loop.

It was nearly dusk and we knew that the deer and bears were waiting for us. Little did we realize, but everyone else in Tennessee had the same idea that Sunday evening. Amidst a major traffic jam, our first adventure took us three hours to go around the one-way loop, but we were thrilled to see six bears, too many deer to count, and wild turkey. The week carried on with more bear sightings, shopping excursions and wonderful food.

There were many adventures to talk about and as we prepared for our departure home on Friday morning, I was reminded of so many biology lessons I’ve taught for 19 years. Prescribed burnings in the park promise regrowth of native plants, helping to rid the area of undesired exotic species. Evergreen and deciduous tree seedlings abound the countryside, replacing the old growth and retaining the climax community of this temperate forest. Competition of species for survival is demonstrated by the fauna and flora of the area, populations fluctuating from year to year according to the needs and numbers of other populations: oak trees struggling to survive with deer eating their seedlings; deer struggling to survive due to the low nutrient fescue grass native to the cove; trees struggling to survive the ravages of fungus and pest insects; and bears struggling to survive amidst acorn crop failures over the years.

A trip to the Great Smoky Mountains is a lesson in biology and history that no one should miss.