New Roan Mountain State Park exhibit celebrates area's uniqueness

By Rozella Hardin
STAR STAFF
rhardin@starhq.com

   The 58th Rhododendron Festival will be held this week at Roan Mountain State Park. Although the Rhododendron Gardens atop the mountain are not expected to be at their peak for another week, hundreds of festival-goers are expected in the park.
   "There is some bloom at Carver's Gap and the bloom atop the mountain is spotted. It will probably be another week before the bloom is very profuse," a spokesman at the park said Thursday.
   Bloom or no bloom, the festival will be staged in the park Saturday and Sunday. Admission is free and the hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. both days. There will be arts and crafts, in addition to entertainment.
   Today, prior to the opening of the festival, Tennessee State Parks will celebrate the grand opening of a new exhibit at Roan Mountain State Park. The exhibit, entitled "Above and Beyond the Clouds" at the park's visitors center outlines the natural resources, people and history of the area. TDEC Deputy Commissioner for Parks and Conservation Jim Fyke will be at the park today for the celebration.
   Earlier this year, Herb Roberts, Area Manager for East Tennessee state parks, said, "The exhibit puts the history of Roan Mountain on display for the people who live here and (for) visitors to the park."
   Fyke said years of research and hard work have gone into the display and that the interpretative center will serve as a valuable tool for understanding what makes the Roan Mountain area truly unique.
   The grand opening celebration for "Above and Beyond The Clouds" begins at 2 p.m. at the Roan Mountain State Park Visitors Center. After a short ceremony, guests and the public will be invited to walk through the exhibit and move to the Roan Mountain State Park Convention Center for refreshments. In the event of inclement weather, the ceremony will also be held at the Convention Center.
   The interactive interpretive center, which will be opened today will highlight not only the natural history but also the cultural history of the Roan Mountain region.
   "It will cover everything from the geological history and minerals dating back to the Ice Age and climate changes. We're going to touch on the fossil discoveries in Gray and their relationship to the balds upon Roan Mountain," Ranger Pat Gagan said.
   "We're going to talk about the fossil discoveries and the three major habitats within the Roan Mountain region, from the very top - the alpine region - through the deciduous forest, down to the Doe River. We're going to have a display of the Rhododendron Gardens and tell about some of the specific and rare endangered species that are indigenous to the Roan region, such as the Gray's lily."
   The museum display also will focus on use of the area's natural resources and show human activity in the area starting with the Native Americans and the Overmountain Men, who literally marched through what is now the state park on their way to King's Mountain, S.C., in 1780, Gagan said.
   The interpretive center will also have a display featuring the Tweetsie Railroad and telling about its importance in developing the tourism industry in the area. "It was thriving actually in the 1890s and early 1900s with Gen. John Wilder's Cloudland Hotel at the top of the Roan," Gagan said.
   "We have a bed and we have some dishes, a menu, some bowls and vases that were in the Cloudland Hotel that will be on display. We've got a number of photographs that were taken of families that spent their vacation time up there," he said.
   The museum also will include exhibits from the lumber and iron ore industries. A panel will also address scientists who have visited the Roan.
   The new interpretive center display is located where the park museum was at the water wheel site. New lighting and a platform have been installed, as well as wall space expanded for the display.
   The center will also include an aquarium with trout.
   One of two state parks located in Carter County, Roan Mountain State Park is home to the biggest natural rhododendron garden in the world. To add to its beauty, ten miles of Grassy Balds, the longest anywhere in the world, stretch from Carver's Gap on the Roan, north to Big Hump Mountain.
   The park encompasses 2,006 acres at the base of Roan Mountain. Park guests have the opportunity to hike along creeks and ridges, fish, play tennis, swim, tour a century-old farmhouse, and much more. The Appalachian Trail and famous Rhododendron Gardens can be accessed at Carver's Gap, an eight-mile drive from the park.
   During the festival Saturday and Sunday, live entertainment will be performed on the Amphitheater stage until 6 p.m. both days.
   Saturday's entertainment lineup includes the Overmountain Men, In Cahoots Line Dancers, The Brotherhood Singers, Heaven Sent Quartet, the Roan Mountain Hilltoppers and Dance Explosion.
   Sunday afternoon entertainment includes the Tennessee Melody Boys, the Royal Heirs, Sacred Harmony, and Glory Way Singers.