The association began providing financial support to Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 1953 under a different name, the Great Smoky Mountains Natural History Association.
Although the dollar amounts have grown and the name has changed, the organization has held true to its mission to support the park. The organization publishes educational material and sells park-related items to visitors, raises funds through its members and uses the proceeds to contribute to preservation efforts in the Smokies, the most visited park in the country.
“Our organization started by selling postcards and Pioneer Farmstead pamphlets for a nickel. Our lifetime memberships were offered for $5,” said Terry Maddox, the organization’s executive director.
Since then, the organization has become one of the largest national park publication teams, increased its membership ranks to more than 12,000 individuals and businesses, expanded the number of visitor centers and stores to seven and grown to a staff of more than 80.
In all, the organization in the last 60 years has contributed more than $30 million to the national park, Maddox said.
“I’d call that an effort worth celebrating,” Maddox said.
Its contributions to the national park have been used for a wide variety of purposes, including protecting black bears, restoring historic structures in Cataloochee Valley, Elkmont and Cades Cove, fighting against invasive species, hiring backcountry rangers to protect the most isolated areas of the park, and preservation of park-related documents and artifacts. The organization was also instrumental in the effort to bring elk back to the park as well as worked to protect the native trout population.
Most recently, the group’s funds have been used to complete a renovation of the Clingmans Dome Welcome Center, Sugarlands Visitor Center near Gatlinburg, Tenn., and to construct a new visitor center at Oconaluftee, near Cherokee.
A day of hikes, lectures and festivities is planned to celebrate Great Smoky Mountains Association’s 60th anniversary on Saturday, June 22, at Oconaluftee Visitor Center near Cherokee.
Some of the events are free and open to the public, including the official anniversary program at 2 p.m., a book signing at noon and a historic photo exhibit. However, only members are invited to take part in the day’s other planned activities, so the organization is encouraging the public to sign up for a membership before June 22. And members are encouraged to pre-register for events, as space is limited.
• 8 a.m. — Park Ranger Jason Fisher will give an elk program.
• 9 a.m. — Bryson City artist Elizabeth Ellison will conduct an outdoor painting class.
• 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. — Individuals and teams are invited to participate in a scavenger hunt at Oconaluftee, Mingus Mill and Smokemont. Prizes to be awarded.
• 10 a.m. — Park volunteer Westy Fletcher will lead an interpretative hike along the Oconaluftee River.
• 1 p.m. — Indoor storytelling and artistic program by Sylva’s Ammons Sisters.
• 4 p.m. — Naturalist Liz Domingue will lead a salamander safari.
To join the GSMA or for more information, 865.436.7318 x 222 or 254 or SmokiesInformation.org.