#KernBlog – Eminent domain & The Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Once upon a time there was a remote, very beautifully wooded valley in the east with a handful of settlers on it, mostly isolated from communities beyond the mountains. The people had been there for a little over a hundred years, but the Federal Government had its eye on the place.

As reported in the National Parks and Conservation Association Magazine,

“Lots of people who were forced out were extremely resentful”, said Ronnie Trantham, a guitarist who has led songs at the reunions for about fifteen years. “They were not paid enough and didn’t want to leave. The displacement led to an anti-government animus that still affects some people in the area. My grandfather didn’t like you, my daddy didn’t like you and I don’t like you.”

This sounds like and eminent domain story, doesn’t it? Well, it is. Between 1926 and 1934, 1100 parcels were acquired to create Smoky Mountain National Park.     The U.S. Constitution provides that the government can take private property if the public interest is served. As a result of those 1100 takings, 11.3 million people visited our most popular national park, enjoyed the beauties of nature and visited Cades Cove to see firsthand how people survived under primitive circumstances in an earlier America.

Was that a good thing? Many of the 1100 “takings” were from people who didn’t want to sell. What’s the answer? The truth is eminent domain goes on around us all the time. Right here in St. Johns County where I live, the airport authority is taking land for an expansion. From I-95 into the Jacksonville airport, a new road is being converted from two lanes into a divided four lane highway, and taking a significant portion of land I own with others.

Volunteers have built 1,000 miles of a 1300 mile footpath from Big Cypress National Preserve in Florida to Gulf Island’s National Seashore next to Pensacola. Three hundred miles of road walks remain that are hot, boring and dangerous. A foot trail needs to be in the woods like the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail. Consider it a transportation corridor like an interstate or a back road; or like a power, railroad or gas line.     If we want a continuous footpath, we have the same need as these uses listed above.

A long, thin corridor isn’t useful until it is complete and continuous and put aside in perpetuity.  Hiking Trails for America is fighting for a continuous trail on the remaining nine trails that still have “gaps”. The use of eminent domain completed the Appalachian Trail. What are your thoughts on the use of eminent domain for the purpose of completing our National Scenic Trails?

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