Sustainable Tourism Summit in Gatlinburg

The 2008 Great Smoky Mountains Sustainable Tourism Summit is underway in Gatlinburg, a circumstance akin to holding a conference on chastity in Las Vegas, but we’ll not dwell on that. The Knoxville News Sentinel’s Josh Flory covers the conference in today’s paper.

First, this gathering is a great idea, and one long overdue in Tennessee. Sevier County is the gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most visited national park in the country. The overwhelming majority of visitors arrive in the summertime in some sort of vehicle creating massive traffic jams, untold tons of pollution, and hordes of visitors to the largest chunk of wilderness in the eastern United States. The many coal-fired power plants in Tennessee and other states create smog that often obscures this mountain scenery.

Various Tennessee state departments, among them Tourist Development, Agriculture, and Transportation have sponsored the Summit, and have brought together an impressive list of speakers, as well as the usual list of political suspects.

Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander

Chief among the latter was Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander, of whom Flory writes: “Alexander said that during his Senate career he’s pushed the Environmental Protection Agency and the president to work harder to limit sulfur, nitrogen and mercury emissions, saying that ‘We need cleaner air.” “People don’t come to see the Smoggy Mountains,” he added. “They come to see the Smoky Mountains.'”

What Alexander didn’t say is that he has consistently opposed wind power, which offers a pollution-free, sustainable means of supplying energy to the country. Here’s a speech he gave on the Senate floor earlier this month arguing against tax credits for wind energy.

Then there was Dale Ditmanson, current superintendent of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a man who every day sees the effects of the lack of dollars to maintain his park. Here, again from the News Sentinel, he takes a courageous stance: “Dale Ditmanson, superintendent of the park, said in an interview that the Smokies park doesn’t have the ability to do certain capital projects that other parks can do, but said any discussion of a new fee must be done at the grassroots level. ‘I am not in a position to propose an entrance fee to the Smokies without that discussion having taken place,’ he said.”

Uh, thanks for going to the mat for your park there, Dale. Keep up the good work.

Despite this bloviating (talk about wind energy!) this Summit is a great idea, and I hope it continues next year as well.

This blog is part of a much larger website, also entitled Tennessee Guy, that contains travel and cultural information about Tennessee. Visit it here.

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