Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Great Smoky Mountains Association (GSMA) were jointly awarded the Public Lands Partner Award, a prestigious national award, during the recent Public Lands Alliance annual convention and trade show in Spokane, WA.
Park Superintendent Cassius Cash and GSMA Executive Director Laurel Rematore were awarded the Public Lands Partner Award, which recognizes an exemplary partnership for its stunning achievement to protect and preserve our country’s public lands and enhance the experiences of visitors and users. The 65-year old partnership was singled out for a variety of successful partnership efforts, including unprecedented quantity and quality of visitor services at America’s most-visited national park.
“Together, the two partners come into contact with well over 2.5 million visitors annually. The great majority of these contacts occur between GSMA staff members and visitors at 12 contact stations located in and around Great Smoky Mountains National Park,” the judges pointed out. “Of the five in-park interpretive facilities, Cades Cove and Oconaluftee visitor centers were built entirely with GSMA funds, while GSMA funds made it possible for Clingmans Dome Visitor Center to be remodeled from a CCC-era restroom into a 700-square-foot visitor center.”
Judges also highlighted GSMA’s funding for the addition of a state-of-the-art, surround-sound movie theater and complete main lobby remodel, with interpretive exhibits, at Sugarlands Visitor Center; contributions for all fixtures and hardware for the visitor center at Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont; and visitor facilities outside the park, which were furnished and fixtured with GSMA funds and host interpretive exhibits designed and produced by National Park Service.
Judges placed special significance on GSMA and the park’s more recent effort in 2014 to open the Swain County Visitor Center in Bryson City, N.C., along with other partners including the Swain County Chamber of Commerce, Tennessee Valley Authority, and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.
“Great Smoky Mountains Association supports us year after year in providing new products and services that help visitors better understand and enjoy the park,” said Park Superintendent Cassius Cash. “Through our partnership, we are inspired to continue developing unique opportunities to engage with our visitors as we celebrate the National Park Service Centennial and move into the second century of service.”
“It is such an honor to be recognized for our partnership and publications,” said GSMA Executive Director Laurel Rematore. “Our talented and capable staff are immersed in providing top-quality programs and services every day of the year in support of GSMA’s educational mission. It’s great to take a step back and survey the magnitude of what we have been able to accomplish in tandem with our National Park Service partner.”
In addition to the Public Lands Partner Award, three additional GSMA efforts were cited with honorable mentions. They included:
- “Outstanding Public Engagement for Product or Display” for design work on a remodel of the Park Grill, which transformed the well-known restaurant in Gatlinburg, Tenn., by incorporating iconic national park images and historic voices;
- “Outstanding Public Engagement for Program or Service” for the Boys and Girls Clubs programs that brought 12 clubs from Knoxville, Tenn., and two from Sevierville, Tenn., for a series of environmental education programs that provided hands-on opportunities to learn about the natural and cultural resources found in the park;
- “Publication of the Year” for Smokies Life Magazine, which in 2015 published articles on the construction of Clingmans Dome tower, the return of chestnut trees one day to our country’s public lands, the “Deadly Derecho of 2012,” and a “Cades Cove Christmas,” among others.
“GSMA and the Park Service work together throughout the year to engage the public in ways that increase their understanding and appreciation for our park,” said Steve Kemp, GSMA’s director of interpretive products and service. “Our goal is to encourage people to learn about the park so they will want to preserve it for future generations.”
“The quality of this year’s nominations and submissions was outstanding,” said Public Lands Alliance Executive Director Dan Puskar. “They so clearly demonstrate the vitality and passion in today’s public lands partnerships and deserve recognition for being truly innovative, creative as well as collaborative.”
Formerly known as the Association of Partners for Public Lands, the Public Lands Alliance works to build and elevate effective nonprofit organizations and exceptional public-nonprofit partnerships for the benefit of public lands and their users. For more information, visit www.community.appl.org.
Since its inception in 1953, Great Smoky Mountains Association has given more than $34 million to support the ongoing educational, scientific and preservation efforts of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Support for the non-profit association is derived primarily from visitor center sales of ranger-approved educational products and membership dues.
For more information on about the partnership with GSMA, please visit the park website at http://www.nps.gov/grsm/getinvolved/supportyourpark/coopassociation.htm.