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  • Roger W. Downes

Climb On board The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad

An exciting afternoon in the Great Smoky Mountains of Western North Carolina

The worn wooden planks below your feet creek against your weight as they have done so many times before as past travellers excited to climb on board The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad scurried to collect their tickets. As you step up to the will call to claim your tickets, your heartbeat starts to quicken as your senses take in the sounds and aromas of the nearby running locomotive preparing for your journey into The Great Smoky Mountains or the Nantahala National Forest.


As you board your car, you're greeted by the warm smile of a friendly conductor as they welcome you to find your seat and review the safety precautions of riding the train. After agreeing not to hang out your window while the train is moving to avoid decapitation, the train slowly pulls out of Bryson City with a pop and jolt pushing the wind gently against your face. Before you know it you are steaming out of town at just over twenty miles an hour.



My son Christian and I opted to take the Nantahala Gorge Excursion which led us to our first attraction of Lake Fontana. The man made finger lake which spans almost 16 miles is the dividing border between The Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Nantahala National Forest, making it a popular vacation destination for those who want to combine a lake getaway with the southern portion of the Appalachian Mountains chain.


Our trip boasted several beautiful vacation homes both on and off the water until we reached the historic Fontana Lake Train Trestle which spanned over 190 feet across one of the lakes fingers and stood over 90 feet high. As the steel girders passed closely by our window it was hard not to imagine ourselves on a toy train set puffing through a model train set laid across a living room floor. I couldn't help but smile thinking of a child about my son's age beaming with glee as we passed by waving at him in his imagination.


That is when the real magic of the GSMR truly comes to life, entangling with our childhood memories of toy and model trains coursing along under our mothers' dining room tables before heading back to us sitting on the kitchen floor with our hands excitedly on the throttles. Or maybe your waiting to hear the voice of actor Tom Hanks call out, "All aboard the Polar Express! Tickets please." Whichever it maybe, it is hard not to reflect longingly on your childhood wishing for the magic and wonder that your innocence once granted you.


The rest of the ride is one you have to experience for yourself, but I can guarantee you will not be disappointed as the GSMR rolls on through the mountains and lakes of Western North Carolina.



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