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With 900-mile challenge, hikers hope to raise $60K

Nancy East (left) and Chris Ford pause for a photo after summiting Mt. LeConte. Donated photo Nancy East (left) and Chris Ford pause for a photo after summiting Mt. LeConte. Donated photo

A pair of experienced Smokies hikers will soon embark on a 900-mile challenge in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park with the goal of raising $60,000 for the park’s Preventative Search and Rescue program. 

Nancy “Seal Mom” East and Chris “Pacer” Ford plan to start their Tour de Smokies on Saturday, Sept. 5 and will catalogue the journey on East’s blog “Hope and Feather Travels” at Along the way, they’ll show hikers what it takes to properly train and prepare for such an adventure.

East and Ford are both experienced Smokies hikers, with East having completed two 900-Miler maps and Ford completing three. Completing a map means hiking all 900 miles of trail in the park. 

Ranger Liz Hall, GSMNP’s first emergency manager, said East and Ford’s fundraising effort for Preventive Search and Rescue will be important for the success of the program. 

“The funds they are raising will be a huge help,” Hall said, who started her new role in June 2020. “Those funds will go directly to fund two seasonal rangers.”

The rangers will assist with rescues and be part of the Smokies’ increased preventative efforts. They will oversee a cadre of volunteers who will hike various areas in the park to help visitors make good choices about their hiking. 

To donate, visit, call 800.845.5665 or mail a check to Friends of the Smokies, P.O. Box 1660, Kodak, TN 37764.

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