'Above and Beyond' exhibit tells history of the Roan   

By Thomas Wilson
star staff

ÊÊ  The "Above and Beyond The Clouds" interpretive history center opened Friday afternoon at the Roan Mountain State Park Visitors Center highlighting both the physical creation and rich cultural history of the Roan Mountain region.
  State Deputy Commissioner for Parks and Conservation Jim Fyke attended the grand opening and praised the work of local park rangers in creating the center -- the first such exhibit funded and developed by the state in over 15 years.
  "This is the first exhibit of this type that the state has done since the 1980s," said Fyke. He said the state government planned to set aside roughly $100,000 each year to fund development of similar exhibits around the state's 54-park system.
  Fyke said years of research and hard work have gone into the display and that the interpretative center would serve as a valuable tool for understanding what makes the Roan Mountain area truly unique. He also said Gov. Phil Bredesen, unlike the previous governor's administration, had funded state park programs despite seeing no great increase in state tax revenues.
  "We're doing more with less money," Fyke said, who noted several state parks were closed in Tennessee two years ago during intensely political budget battles between the General Assembly and then Gov. Don Sundquist. "Gov. Bredesen is completely committed to furthering land conservation in Tennessee."
  The center features everything about Roan Mountain from the area's geological history and minerals dating back to the Ice Age and climate changes to the region's earliest human settlers. Visitors can follow the topography around the Roan through a three-dimensional map of the mountain as well as learning about indigenous wildlife such as the "Hellbender" salamander and brook trout prevalent in the area's many streams. The center includes an aquarium with trout.
  Displays of the area's earliest homesteaders and their culture are featured with considerable 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 marched through what is now the state park on their way to King's Mountain, S.C., in 1780.
  Jennifer Bauer, a state park ranger who worked at Roan Mountain for over 20 years, made a major although unexpected contribution to the center's genesis. Her book "Roan Mountain: A Passage of Time" published in 1991 served as the historical model shaping the content and timeline for the center. A heady honor since Tennessee State Parks officials expect to use the Roan Mountain center as the standard for future interpretive developments around the state.
  Bauer became a ranger at the Roan Mountain park in 1980. Her fascination with the region's history led her to collect historical items connected to the area. She wound up with a trunk taken from the old Cloudland Hotel, which she filled with Roan Mountain history including photographs, documents, and artifacts.
  "I ended up with a 15-year collection of artifacts," said Bauer, who became superintendent of Sycamore Shoals State Park earlier this year. "I put it all together and wrote the book.
  "It is really exciting to see it come together here."
  The interpretive center tells the story of the Tweetsie Railroad and telling about its importance in developing the tourism industry in the area. Roan Mountain thrived as a community during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
  Gen. John Wilder built the Cloudland Hotel that proved a popular destination for years. The hotel was later razed. Artifacts from the hotel include a bed and we have some dishes, a menu, some bowls and vases are on display. The museum also will include exhibits from the lumber and iron ore industries.
  One of two state parks located in Carter County, Roan Mountain State Park is home to the biggest natural rhododendron garden in the world. The park encompasses 2,006 acres at the base of Roan Mountain.
  The Appalachian Trail and famous Rhododendron Gardens can be accessed at Carver's Gap, an eight-mile drive from the park. The center's opening ceremony coincided with the 58th annual Rhododendron Festival held at the park Saturday and today.