editorial (2007-11)

Clear the Cove

Shut out private motor vehicle traffic in the state's most famous hollow

Ribbons and Band-Aids

Whose Pollution is Bad Here?

Clear the Cove

National parks may not be the most important legacy to leave to our progeny, but they rank right up there in their contribution to the country's natural vitality.

So it is gratifying that the Bush administration is forming a National Park Centennial Initiative, along with a modest increase in park operating funds, in anticipation of the parks' centennial observation in 2016.

Operating funds have been scarce, to the tune of an $800 million deficit this past year, along with long-deferred park maintenance schedules.

The Friends of the Smokies, a non-profit organization that has raised money and provided volunteer services to the Great Smokies National Park here, has done a great job of offsetting the detrimental effects of that federal shortfall, but there are other issues that face the nation's most visited national park.

One of those, dear to the hearts of East Tennesseans, is the condition of the Cades Cove Loop road, which becomes hopelessly clogged throughout its peak seasons and on every weekend by unbridled motor vehicle traffic.

For that special reason, as well as to show support for the parks and their funding needs, we hope that those concerned with Cades Cove vehicular overcrowding took the chance to speak directly with Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne and National Park Service Director Mary Bomar this week at their "listening session" in Gatlinburg.

For many of us who dream of day trips up to the Cove, the situation has become an awkward example of the Yogi Berra-ism: "Nobody goes there any more. It's too crowded." It's not the contradiction that it seems here. Cades Cove is still a magnet for the touring visitors to the park from outside its immediate environs, but their overwhelming presence there discourages locals from trying to refresh their images of that historic and beautiful valley or from showing it off to their own visitors.

The Cove should be put off-limits to private vehicles, with a system of shuttles--probably rubber-tired buses or trolleys--to take tourists from an off-site parking lot on guided trips around the loop, with scheduled stops for observation and photographic opportunities.

The loop road should also have dedicated spaces for bicyclists and pedestrians, who could enjoy the Cove at their leisure. Ridding it of the cars that creep around it, stopping and impeding traffic at every sight of fauna or flora that takes their fancy, would be worth the considerable investment of setting up and operating a park & ride system.

If there were a single anniversary gift the park service could bestow on the Smokies, that would be the one most appreciated, both locally and by the visitors from afar who are caught up unawares, sometimes for hours, in the Cove by stalled traffic.

Ribbons and Band-Aids

The diehard backers of Bush policy in Iraq and Afghanistan should be pulling away in droves. Anyone--and there were many Democrats and independents as well as Republicans--who had a yellow "Support Our Troops" ribbon affixed to their car or truck must be horrified at the tales of incompetence that first emerged from the investigative reporting on Walter Reed Army Hospital and are spreading throughout the military and Veterans Administration health-care system.

Opponents of the war's strategy and its lack of clear, attainable objectives are being joined by those who thought the administration was correct in its pursuit of the war itself rather than singling out and attacking the true enemies of the United States if it can find them.

The medical-care and disability-benefit scandal shows how callous the treatment of military casualties has become, once they are returned home with grievous medical or mental injuries.

Should we be sending more young men and women into harm's way with no guarantee we'll be able or willing to care for them if they are wounded? Not on your life. Not in this country. Not this time or any other.

Whose Pollution is Bad Here?

It's probably a valid cause, calling for legal action. But what of coal mining in Tennessee and its contributions to the pollution of streams and rivers? Is that mining activity too close to call out? Is there a double-standard at work here? You be the judge.