We were very fortunate that the first day of our visit to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park just happened to coincide with the Festival of Christmas Past, an annual celebration of Smoky Mountain culture! This took place at the Sugarlands Visitor Centre, where there were activities and demonstrations for us to enjoy all day long – and admission to everything was free! What a treat!
We started off the day by learning about traditional methods of weaving and spinning with the children trying their hand at carding wool and spinning yarn, and there was even a toy maker who taught J and Little E to make simple spinners from a wood-whittled button and string.
Then, we headed to the little auditorium to enjoy some rollicking good old-fashion folk music and dancing, clapping along to banjo, fiddle and harp and listening to stories about life in the Smokies!
The Aged Ps had planned ahead and made sandwiches for a picnic lunch, so we sat on the benches outside to enjoy the sandwiches in the fresh and cold mountain air.
To finish off our meal, we had cold, fresh apple juice from an old-fashioned wooden press!
The children really enjoyed watching them grind and press the apples in the wooden bucket, with juice running out from between the bucket slats and collecting in a basin. This juice could be drunk neat, cold and sweet, or poured into a pout where it was boiled with cinnamon and other spices to make a apple cider that warmed us right up to our toes!
Afterwards, we found out that there was going to be a special Park Ranger guided tour along Fighting Creek Nature Trail, which has a couple of historic buildings which would be fun to explore, but we had a little bit of time to kill before that, so we wandered around the woods for a little while, listening to the crunch of dry leaves under our feet.
Although it was a sunny afternoon, it got pretty cold in the shade of the trees, so I was really glad that we’d made a quick trip to K-mart earlier that day to get thinsulate hats and mittens for the kids.
As it turns out, the Ranger-led guided tour was a very special stroll down memory lane, as the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was celebrating the 80th year of its founding. The Park Ranger was dressed in the old uniform from the 1930s, and during the walk, we met characters and people who would have lived in the region back in the early days of the park’s founding.
Through the storytelling and humorous banter between the Park Ranger and the townsfolk, we learned about everyday life in the 1930s and how difficult the Park Ranger’s job was in the early days, having to maintain the integrity of the park’s flora and fauna, whilst educating locals who were used to having free reign to do as they pleased in the forest.
The walk itself was quite easy, and both the kids and the Aged Ps were able to manage it quite well at a leisurely pace, as well as many of the other participants, one of whom had a walking stick. There were a few slippery areas where the path sloped through the mud, but it was possible to navigate these spots carefully. The walk, which led over laughing brook and through quiet woods, ended in a small clearing where there was an old log cabin
After the walk, which took the better part of an hour, we headed back to the visitor centre to enjoy the last of the music and storytelling, before the sun dipped behind the mountains.