Great Smoky Mountains Association had its best year ever for both sales and membership income in 2016, allowing the association to contribute more than $2 million in support to Great Smoky Mountains National Park last year.
“We continued our focus on retail sales, publications and customized product development, and membership development, throughout the year,” Executive Director Laurel Rematore said this week. “And just when we thought we’d end the year with no major events to mention – other than record-setting visitation – we experienced the late November wildfires that shut down the park for several days and destroyed nearly 2,500 structures in Gatlinburg.”
Great Smoky Mountains Association immediately responded to the tragedy and successfully raised more than $200,000 from members and others to assist park employees, volunteers, and affiliates who had lost their homes, she continued.
Despite the wildfires, some 11,312,785 people visited the Smokies in 2016, which was likely influenced by low fuel prices, an improving economy, and the “Find Your Park” multimedia campaign to mark the NPS Centennial. As operator of the park’s visitor center stores, Great Smoky Mountains Association also experienced a record-setting sales year.
“Great Smoky Mountains Association continues to provide critical support that enables us to not only serve our visitors better, but also to provide unique opportunities in bringing the parks to people,” said Superintendent Cassius Cash. “In the spirit of the National Park Service Centennial, they helped us attract new audiences to all public lands in our region through the award-winning Airport Park exhibit and support of our Centennial Ambassadors.”
The organization’s aid-to-park funding in 2016 was $2,005,787, capping another strong year of support. It’s contributions to Great Smoky Mountains National Park fall into three broad categories: cash donations, which are provided for a host of educational, historical, interpretive, and scientific projects; in-kind services, which is primarily labor expense; and publications and digital media, which include development costs and free publications.
In-kind services totaled $780,906 and included salaries for staff at eight park visitor centers and publications development costs, including free publications, such as Smokies Guide newspaper and pre-press costs for sales publications.
Special projects funded by Great Smoky Mountains Association totaled $862,167 and included:
- $18,251 – Bear collars, which allow researchers to track bears that may be obtaining human-related food.
- $13,350 – Law enforcement interns who help park rangers encourage the public to enjoy the park safely.
- $137,557 – Resource Management and Science interns who help rangers manage wildlife and fisheries, develop GIS maps, save hemlock trees, monitor air and water quality, and many other tasks.
- $900 – Cades Cove Bicycle Patrol. This award-winning group helps keep bicyclists and wildlife safe in the park.
- $50,400 – Cades Cove fence repair and maintenance. Repair of historic fencing to discourage vehicles from driving in Cades Cove fields.
- $8,000 – Cades Cove viewshed field management. Mowing fields to maintain wildlife viewing and historic appearance of Cades Cove.
- $5,000 – Alfred Reagan Tub Mill Repair. This historic, water-powered grist mill is now operational for the first time in decades.
- $3,000 – Cataloochee field management. Mowing fields to maintain wildlife viewing and historic appearance of Cataloochee Valley.
- $26,996 – Centennial Ambassador Program. Staff to communicate the park’s Centennial messages to the public and neighboring communities.
- $1,000 – Centennial Hike 100 Smokies Challenge Pins. A special reward for hikers who accomplished the goal of hiking 100 miles in the park in 2016.
Funding for the park’s interpretive operations totaled $204,881 and included special events, festivals, and interpretive demonstrations, including the Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage, Music of the Mountains, Mountain Life Festival, sorghum molasses making, and library supplies and materials. A specific breakdown includes:
- $50,996 – Backcountry Information staff
- $43,307 – Library staff
- $33,427 – Living history demonstrators
- $13,019- Library operations
- $28,573 – Parks as Classrooms Coordinator
- $35,560 – Special events and demonstrations
Last year’s $2 million donation brings Great Smoky Mountains Association’s total contribution to the national park during its 64-year history to $37,618,810.
A non-profit organization, Great Smoky Mountains Association derives its support primarily from sales of ranger-approved educational products and membership dues. Those who wish to enrich their Smokies experience are encouraged to “Get Rooted in the Smokies” through membership. For more information about GSMA, visit www.SmokiesInformation.org or call toll-free 888.898.9102.