Ask anyone in East Tennessee where to go in the Smokies and you’ll likely hear all about Cades Cove. A beautiful valley formed by erosion of limestone from the surrounding sandstone mountains, Cades Cove was hunting grounds for the Cherokee and later home to nearly 800 European settlers before the formation of Smoky Mountain National Park in 1927. Several 19th century settlement buildings have been preserved and relocated along the Cades Cove Loop Road as representations of Appalachian settlements.
Beyond its rich historical context, the Cove has extremely interesting geology and biology. As in much of the Smokies, the hills are made up of sandstone that has withstood the worst of erosion while the valley that eroded was softer limestone. This porous subterranean condition means that water drains quickly on the hillsides leading to a drier than expected surface environment. The plants and trees there have had to adapt to dry conditions and fire threats. Of course, as a managed park frequented by visitors, Cades Cove is protected from burning as much as possible and some of the trees in particular are suffering for it. Nonetheless, the trails were remarkable and full of intimate moments of beauty.
One of the unexpected finds in the Cove was the freshwater wetland. Our guide explained the challenges faced by the wetland ecosystem and some of the many adaptations bog plants had developed to overcome them. We came away with a lot of practical ideas to incorporate into our next design: wetland overlook at Seven Islands.