License plates take off during Smokies 75th anniversary

Friends of Great Smoky Mountains National Park received a record $385,000 from drivers sporting the special “black bear” license plate program in 2009 — the park’s 75th anniversary year.

Support from North Carolinians for the Smokies’ license plates increased $46,720 over 2008, an impressive 12 percent gain.

“Every person who goes to their local license plate agency office and purchases a Smokies plate is helping the park,” said Holly Demuth, the new director of the North Carolina office of Friends of the Smokies. “The support for the Smokies from North Carolinians is robust. Everywhere you look, you see the bear tag.”

Of the extra $30 annual fee for the specialty tag, $20 goes to Friends of the Smokies to support projects and programs on the North Carolina side of the park. Launched in 1999, the Smokies license plate has now raised a grand total of more than $1.8 million.

With these funds, Friends of the Smokies is supporting a wide variety of significant projects and programs in 2009:

• Providing educational programs for local schoolchildren

• Protecting the park’s hemlock forests from the deadly hemlock woolly adelgid.

• Supporting the Appalachian Highlands Science Learning Center near Maggie Valley.

• Interpreting the area’s cultural history through new exhibits at the new Oconaluftee Visitor Center.

• Creating a permanent legacy of improvements to trails through the Trails Forever endowment.

“Great Smoky Mountains National Park is fortunate to have such strong support from its neighboring states,” said Park Superintendent Dale Ditmanson. “The specialty license plates are one of the most visible signs of this affinity. After 75 years, the park still has much work to do with conservation, education, trail improvements, and more. We hope people will continue to contribute one plate at a time.” or 828.452.0720.

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