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Squirrels are everywhere! In fact, there are more than 200 species of the little critters throughout the world, and plenty of those reside in the Smoky Mountain area. On your next vacation to the Smokies, you’re sure to spot one (or two, or three) squirrels throughout your stay. But why are there so many squirrels in the cities around the Great Smoky Mountains National Park? Believe it or not, its not just because the squirrels have found their way outside of the national park.
Many people assume squirrels have been hanging around cities forever. It may be hard to believe, but gray squirrels haven’t always scurried their way through the city.
In the late 1700s, the only gray squirrels that were found in city-like areas were those that were kept as pets. An 1865 journal by Etienne Benson reported an “unusual visitor” in a tree in a city park. Pet squirrels weren’t shy like the squirrels we know today, so they were curious to explore the outside world. The small visitor had attracted hundreds of people who were cheering in hopes of a successful recapture of the pet.
Years later, people initiated a movement to brighten the landscape of city parks with squirrels. Once the squirrel population began thriving in larger cities, areas like Gatlinburg began introducing squirrels as a friendly addition to city parks. Before long, families began making time to feed the squirrels together. The hours spent feeding and caring for the lovable creatures became a regular household chore, to teach children compassion for not only wildlife, but one another.
We all know, a visit to the cities around the Great Smoky Mountains National Park isn’t complete without seeing a squirrel or two. So, next time you’re hiking through the mountains and a squirrel scurries across your path, let it be a reminder to spread kindness and care for one another and the surrounding wildlife.
For more stories about the wildlife in the Great Smoky Mountains, take a look at Visit My Smokies’ Smoky Mountain blog page.