A man whose photographs of the North Carolina mountains played a crucial role in the creation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park soon will be recognized with a new North Carolina Highway Historical Marker in Asheville.
The marker commemorates George Masa, who some have called the Ansel Adams of the Smokies. His photographs captured the unique beauty and majesty of the Smokies' mountains and valleys, persuading many that the Great Smoky Mountains were worth protecting as a national park.
Born Masahara Iizuka in Osaka, Japan, there is no definitive record of Masa's birth year but it is thought to be in the 1880s. He arrived Asheville in 1915, where he lived until his death 18 years later. During this time, he worked at the Grove Park Inn, for Biltmore Industries and later he owned a number of photographic studios including Plateau Studios where he was a photographer and made motion pictures, including newsreels for Pathe and other services. At Plateau Studio, he photographed some of the town's most affluent citizens — the Vanderbilts, the Groves, and the Seelys. His nature photographs also appeared in promotional publications, magazines including National Geographic, newspapers, guidebooks, and postcards.
Masa became close friends in the mid-1920s with Horace Kephart, a celebrated author and outdoorsman, who had become alarmed by logging destruction in the Smokies. They joined others in the successful movement to create a national park in the Great Smokies. He later served on the North Carolina nomenclature committee that researched and named significant areas in the Smokies. Today, he is recognized as one of the park's founders and Masa Knob in the park was named in his honor.
During this era, Masa joined Myron Avery, who was leading the effort the complete the Appalachian Trail. Masa, with Kephart's assistance, formed the Carolina Appalachian Trail Club (which later merged with the Carolina Mountain Club) to carry out trail work. In its first year, the club scouted, measured and marked 104.3 miles of trail. Masa also served as Avery's unofficial consultant regarding AT routing, photographing landmarks, resolving nomenclature questions and proofing elements of Avery's work. Masa was inducted into the Appalachian Trail Hall of Fame in recognition of his contributions.
Masa died penniless in 1933 and was buried in Asheville’s Riverside Cemetery before seeing the full impact of his life's work. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has consistently been the most visited national park in the country. In 2021, the park had a record 14.1 million visitors and has broken attendance records every year since 2014, according to the National Parks Service. The next closest is Yellowstone National Park, which has about 9 million fewer visitors annually.
The marker, located on Patton Avenue just west of Pack Square in Asheville, will be unveiled Friday, April 8 at 10:30 a.m. Additional information about the marker can be found at http://www.ncmarkers.com/Markers.aspx?MarkerId=P-99.
For more information about North Carolina Highway Historical Markers, contact Ansley Wegner at email@example.com.
About the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources
The N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources (NCDNCR) is the state agency with a vision to be the leader in using the state's natural and cultural resources to build the social, cultural, educational and economic future of North Carolina. NCDNCR's mission is to improve the quality of life in our state by creating opportunities to experience excellence in the arts, history, libraries and nature in North Carolina by stimulating learning, inspiring creativity, preserving the state's history, conserving the state's natural heritage, encouraging recreation and cultural tourism, and promoting economic development.
NCDNCR includes 27 historic sites, seven history museums, two art museums, three science museums, three aquariums and Jennette's Pier, 41 state parks and recreation areas, the N.C. Zoo, the N.C. Symphony Orchestra, the State Library, the State Archives, the N.C. Arts Council, the African American Heritage Commission, State Preservation Office and the Office of State Archaeology, and the Division of Land and Water Stewardship. For more information, please visit www.ncdcr.gov.