A lawyer and clerk of court by profession, Knoxville native Harvey Broome spent the bulk of his time and energy in promoting an increased awareness of nature, in educating Americans on the damage that the modern industrialized world had caused to the environment, and in advocating the preservation of wilderness. He served as longtime president of the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club, worked with seven others (including such notable environmentalists as Aldo Leopold, Bob Marshall, and Benton MacKaye) in founding the Wilderness Society, and served as its president from 1957 to 1968.
Broome's activities on behalf of the environment left an extensive legacy. As president of the Wilderness Society, Broome worked closely with Society executive director Howard Zahniser in the fight for the establishment of the National Wilderness Preservation System. In one of Broome's proudest moments, he stood next to President Lyndon Johnson as Johnson signed the Wilderness Act into law on September 3, 1964. Broome also crisscrossed the country from Alaska to Florida spearheading individual wilderness preservation projects. For Broome, wilderness experiences provided an important and salutary contrast to “civilized life.”
Like other environmentalists, Broome was also an accomplished writer. His work appeared in periodicals such as Living Wilderness, National Parks Magazine, and Nature. Three books containing his writings were published posthumously: Out Under the Skies in the Great Smoky Mountains; Faces of the Wilderness; and Harvey Broome: Earth Man. Benton MacKaye, founder of the Appalachian Trail, referred to Broome's journals, the basis for most of his writings, as “a marked contribution to nature findings–of fact underfoot and of thought overhead.” (1)
Broome's great love in life, other than his wife and constant companion Anne, was the splendor of the Great Smoky Mountains. He made his first camping trip at the age of fifteen to Silers Bald in the Smokies. Over the next fifty years he hiked most of the mountains and hollows, sighted much of the Appalachian Trail through the Smokies, and worked tirelessly to keep the region free of intrusive development. In October 1966 he organized the “Save-our-Smokies” hike. Over thirteen hundred people participated in this “hike-in,” which effectively blocked the building of a road across the Smokies from Bryson City, North Carolina, to Townsend, Tennessee.
The Smokies never ceased to awe and delight Broome. He wrote lovingly of the sensory experience that awaited those willing to get off the road and truly explore the Smokies; of the sight of “aqua-blue fading on the horizon” and “the innumerable pinkish purple blossoms of the Rhododendron nudiflorum”; of the sounds of the “soft mystery in the whispers of the air through the evergreens”; of the “bold piping of the veery and the thin, spirited, long sustained arias of the winter wren”; of the “all-pervasive cascadings of thunder just before the rain”; of the “fragrances of fresh balsam growth.” (2)
Broome died of a heart attack at his Knoxville home, in sight of his beloved Smokies, on March 8, 1968, while building a wren's house out of a hollow log.