Park supporters, lawmakers and others applauded Parton atop Newfound Gap on the Tennessee-North Carolina line as guests, including elderly former residents, recalled fond memories and great pride about the park's 1934 founding.
"I have always been an ambassador for the Smoky Mountains because I tell everybody how beautiful these mountains are," Parton said. "And no matter where I go, if you say something about the Smoky Mountains, even if the people have not been here, they just smile."
Wednesday marked the anniversary of then-president Franklin D. Roosevelt's speech in 1940 from the same stone stage as he lauded the park's creation. Roosevelt's chair was placed empty on the stage built by Civilian Conservation Corps volunteers.
"I remember seeing the president. I was only 5 years old, but I remember everybody was having a good time," said Eva Ogle Webb, 74, whose family lived on land that became part of the park at its 1934 formation.
Roosevelt remains the only sitting president to ever come to the 520,000-acre Smokies, the most-visited national park with more than 9 million visitors annually. President George W. Bush got as far as Knoxville's airport a few years ago, but a storm blocked his planned trip into the park.
U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar called for continuing investment and commitment to such parks, calling them "treasured landscapes for future generations."
"I am here today on behalf of President Barack Obama to celebrate Great Smoky Mountains National Park, to honor our ancestors who left us this treasure, and to rededicate an American icon for a new century," Salazar said.
Every member of the Tennessee and North Carolina congressional delegation who represents the Smokies attended the ceremony along with Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen and North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue.
"My left foot is in North Carolina, my right foot is in Tennessee," Perdue exclaimed. "And the beauty of this place is that when you are here there is no North Carolina or no Tennessee. There is only one gift from God."
Bredesen noted the Smokies' formation is unique in the park system. The land was purchased with private donations, state funding and even pennies collected from children across the country.
The Smokies "is a gift of the people to the government, not a gift of the government to people," Bredesen said. "We are the beneficiaries of that forethought."