It has been so heartwarming to see the way Appalachians have come out to help other Appalachians in the aftermath of these fires. Those with few giving what they have and what they can to help their neighbors is a hallmark of Appalachian culture. We are family.

But what has been painful is to see that the other fires, across 4 other states and the rest of eastern Tennessee, were all but glazed over by the rest of the nation. Only when Gatlinburg caught fire did we see national attention. Only with significant trauma did we see people realize we were burning. Don’t misunderstand me, I am grateful for that attention, and I love and appreciate the Gatlinburg area. However, it is a statement that while everywhere else was burning, losing buildings and wildlife and land and mountains – losing home – support didn’t show. 

Of course, we know why. That has been the general attitude towards Appalachia for some time. Gatlinburg stands as part of Appalachia that outsiders enjoy and benefit from. It’s an economic stronghold. It’s vacation. That particular loss affects travel plans. 

But when southeastern Kentucky burns, or parts of North Carolina, or northern Georgia, or the rest of eastern Tennessee, no one’s plans are altered. It’s not a national heartbreak. 

Start caring about Appalachia before it’s too late, people.

Incredible sunsets are one of the many rewards of hiking along the Appalachian Trail, a national scenic trail that stretches from Georgia to Maine. Native to the Appalachian Mountains, rhododendrons bloom in this gorgeous photo that was taken along the trail near the Roan Highlands on the border of Tennessee and North Carolina. With so many great vistas to choose from, this scenic area is a favorite with day hikers and backpackers alike. Photo courtesy of Serge Skiba.