Celebrating the Spring Holidays

Family Fun in the Smokies, An Interview with Author Katy Koontz

Family Fun in the Smokies, An Interview with Author Katy Koontz

I’m Katy Koontz and I wrote a book called
Family Fun in the Smokies that is a great guide for families to use
when they visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I’ve been exploring the Smokies and writing
about them for more than two decades now and I’m fascinated every time that I go.
It’s the most visited national park in the country for a lot of really good reasons,
and this guide will let you know everything that you need to know for a
really successful and fun visit with your family. The Smokies is a really special place
to visit. There are more than a 100,000 life forms,
both plant and animal, in the Smokies, and it has more than any other national
park in the continental U.S.. You can see elk in Cataloochee and
they are such magnificent creatures. It’s such a special thing to see them
especially when they’re bugling in the fall. And of course the black bear–everybody
wants to see black bear when they come to the Smokies. You can see a mama bear putting her little
black bear cubs up in a tree. You can see deer in the meadow in Cades Cove.
Sometimes they leap right across the road. You can see butterflies, for instance.
I remember going on a hike once where butterflies surrounded me like confetti in
the air. It was so special. And then in June, they have synchronous
fireflies in the Smokies that flash on and off all together. It’s the most magical thing, and that
doesn’t happen anywhere else in the United States. The Smoky Mountains has to some of the
best ranger programs in the country, and they’re not boring lectures. They’re really
exciting programs where kids can really get involved. They can go hiking, they can
go stargazing. They can look for salamanders. They can do all sorts of things
to really experience the park. And also you can go horseback
riding, you can go hiking. If you don’t want to go on a big hike, you can go on a
short nature trail. There are really excellent museums and
exhibits. They are terrific overlooks. There are places that you can go to get a
real high view of the mountains and the peaks. And in addition to that, not only is
there a lot of great nature here, but there’s also a lot of Appalachian
history and culture here. When the Smokies was established in
the 30s, there were people living in these mountains and the park service
wisely decided to preserve some of those buildings so that you can see them today.
It’s a little a slice of Appalachian life. So you can actually walk through grist mills and churches and barns and houses and all kinds of places to see what people’s
lives were like who lived here. So it has both the natural component and historic component which make it
really unique in the National Park Service. We really don’t spend as much time
outdoors as we could or as we should. And kids are pluged-in to all sorts of
electronic devices all the time, which is fine, but it’s also really important to turn
that off and really tune into the natural world
every once in awhile, and to see what makes it special, and to dig your toes in the earth,
and to watch a mountain stream and see the sunlight dappling across the top of the water. Watch animals, watch wildlife, watch a
bug. It’s really important to feel a part
of this earth, and I feel very strongly that when
children are given a chance to experience something special like the
Smokies, they really learn to appreciate it, and then they care about saving it when
they grow older. The book is organized in a way that
makes it really, really easy for families to get the information they need to know right away at first glance. The first chapter talks about all the
stuff families need to know. When to come to the park, different things that are
happening at different seasons, how to find out about road closures. It has websites and phone numbers. It talks about what to bring, driving
distances within the park. Things like that that you need to know
to be prepared. And then it goes on to suggested
itineraries for half a day, one day, two days, or three days that you can follow or change however you
want to. Then there’s a chapter on animals that
talks about the different animals in the park, and where to go to see them and tips on how to
see them. On the plants and wildflowers and trees.
It talks about the visitor centers, scenic drives. It describes ranger programs and
different educational opportunities. And then it talks about picnicking and
every single picnic area in the park is detailed. All the self-guiding nature trails are
detailed, all the waterfall hikes, hikes and walks with a view, other family fun hikes where you can see
things like an old Cadillac in the bushes. All the campgrounds are described, where
to go horseback riding and getting hay rides and carriage rides. And then there’s a chapter on fishing
that tells you everything you need to know to go fishing in the park. And there’s a couple best bets outside
the park, too–educational opportunities that are right outside the park that
really enrich your experience of the park. And in the back there’s a really great
geographic index too, so if you know what area of the park you’re going to, you can
go to the geographic index and see all the family-friendly things that are
there to do right in that area. I had an absolute blast researching and
writing this book. It was so much fun. I actually went and visited every single
thing I talked about in the book, even if I had been there many times in the past. I went back and looked at every single picnic spot, every campground, every
horseback riding stable. I hiked every single step of every single trail
that I describe in the book because I wanted to look at it again specifically
from the point of view of what do families need to know about this. Get your copy of Family Fun in the Smokies
at the Great Smoky Mountains Association website, www.SmokiesInformation.org or at visitor centers throughout the park.

Reader Comments

  1. God bless you Katy Koontz.
    I love Smoky Mountains.
    I have been living in Bensenville Illinois close to Chicago. But I sick and tired of the Chicago area.
    I consider to move to Tennessee Knoxville area .


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