"Notably absent among the dignitaries gathered for the Governors' Proclamation Ceremony was N.C. Gov. Beverly Perdue," said the Citizen-Times. "She turned down an invitation to the event, citing the expense of traveling more than 300 miles from Raleigh to the site on the North Carolina-Tennessee border, according to Perdue spokeswoman Chrissy Pearson. Perdue sent N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Dee Freeman to represent her.
" 'Gov. Perdue could not be here today and asked me to come and stand for her and to share in this event to celebrate the 75th anniversary of this great park,' he said."The governors' proclamation ceremony honored the people of Tennessee, North Carolina and across the nation who paved the way for the creation of what would become the country's most-visited national park. It was also an occasion to look ahead to the park's future.
" 'The thousands of people (who) lobbied for this park and raised the money — some by collecting pennies — to buy this huge tract of land all knew that the park would be a valuable resource, but I think if they were here today I think they would be in disbelief to hear that 10 million visitors from all over the world visit the park every year,'" said Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen, who managed to show up.
A mecca for hikers and nature lovers, Great Smoky Mountains National Park has helped pump billions of dollars into the economies of North Carolina and Tennessee. The Smokies have been vital to the economies of what had been a very poor region, Asheville Vice Mayor Jan Davis said.
“We are blessed to have the Smokies and the Blue Ridge Parkway for 75 years,” he said.
“I really ask those here to rededicate themselves to preserving things for future generations,” Bredesen said. “They are fast disappearing in this world of ours, and I hope that this gathering has people of the commitment and the same courage and the same vision that helped make this park possible 75 years ago.”
Perdue spent some time visiting Western North Carolina last month, staying at the Governor's Western Residence in Asheville, but the distance between Raleigh and the western counties appeared too great for her to make another trip.
“The governor was invited and did give serious consideration, but given the length of the trip and the potential travel cost involved, she declined,” Pearson said.
“It is so far out of the way, and we are trying to cut back on travel.”
For Perdue not to attend Friday's event seemed like “a slap in the face,” Davis said.
“For her to recognize that Western North Carolina is here and then to not come to this is not a good thing,” he said.
“The relationship (between North Carolina and) Tennessee is important. This is a very important occasion. It's a disappointment.”