With 30 years of classroom teaching in the bag, Jack Campbell continues to educate in the Smokies

During his long tenure as an educator, the venues for Jack M. Campbell ’58 have included the classrooms of the Knoxville, Tenn., school system, but also the fir- and spruce-crested ridges of the high northeastern end of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Campbell’s job in the traditional classroom ended with his retirement in 1987, but his teaching work continues as he builds upon a 42-year career as a seasonal ranger in the Smokies.

Jack Campbell ’58 patrols Balsam Mountain Campground.Jack Campbell ’58 patrols Balsam Mountain Campground.

Raised in Maggie Valley, Campbell graduated from high school in 1953 and enrolled at WCU. He completed academic requirements to get his bachelor’s degree in industrial arts education in December 1957 and began his teaching career in Knoxville the following month, coming back to Cullowhee later that spring to pick up his diploma.

Over the years, Campbell became known as a strict disciplinarian as he taught industrial arts to legions of Knoxville’s young people. He also built a reputation as a top-notch teacher, including being named “Most Outstanding Secondary School Teacher” in Knoxville City Schools in 1984 and one of the top 10 industrial arts teachers in Tennessee in 1975. After 10 years of teaching in Knoxville, Campbell began his second career as a seasonal law enforcement ranger stationed in the Cosby area on the Tennessee side of the park. “My wife, Sue, and I would move our family from Knoxville to the Smokies and live in park housing for the summer months,” Campbell said. “During the first 10 years, the whole family would move for the season until our three sons developed other interests.”

Campbell’s work at Cosby continued mostly uninterrupted for 28 years, but since 1997 he has been working on the North Carolina side of the park as manager of Balsam Mountain Campground, the highest National Park Service campground in the East. Located on a Smokies ridgeline that separates the Cataloochee Valley to the east from the Big Cove section to the west, he lives in a combination office/home at the campground entrance from May through October. His wife, who has a business in Knoxville, joins him from time to time. There is no electricity in this remote corner of the Smokies that is connected to civilization by 10 miles of paved road, so a propane-powered pump provides water from a nearby well to the house and campground. Propane also heats the water and runs the refrigerator and cookstove. The fireplace provides warmth during the chilly summer nights at 5,320 feet elevation, and oil lamps and a couple solar-powered lights illuminate the house. Cell phone service is available “occasionally.”

Campbell says he doesn’t mind the lack of modern amenities. “We didn’t have electricity when I was a boy until I was 10 or 11 years old,” he said. “I like not having TV up here. I have to go through a transition when I leave and go back to where there are modern conveniences.”

Just as he did back in the Knoxville classrooms, Campbell runs a tight ship as he educates campground visitors about park regulations meant to promote their health and enjoyment while also protecting the park’s resources. But the regulations are administered with a twinkle in the eye as Campbell alerts campers about the bears and boars – and the occasional elk that wander up from Cataloochee Valley.

Joe Pond, supervisory park ranger in the Smokies and Campbell’s boss, says Campbell has a long-standing reputation as a ranger “who goes the extra mile for every park visitor he encounters.” Campbell doesn’t limit himself to duties within the campground, either, Pond said, as he also can be found ranging around the area, clearing trees from roads, assisting stranded motorists, monitoring the elk herd, and generally keeping a close watch. “Jack Campbell represents to me a clear example of what public service is truly about,” Pond said.

With his 42 years of seasonal work completed, Campbell has served under 10 of the 15 superintendents who have led Great Smoky Mountains National Park in its 75 years of existence. During the park’s 50th anniversary celebration in 1984, Campbell served on the security team for Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander. Campbell was back on duty this past September for the 75th anniversary bash held at Newfound Gap.

Campbell said he has enjoyed every aspect of his work in the Smokies, and he plans to return to Balsam Mountain Campground in May. Looking back over the years, “I can’t imagine having two careers that I could have enjoyed more,” he said.