The park provided an ideal backdrop for rich conversations among the sixty individuals who participated in the healing hikes, along with hundreds of others who visited the Smokies Hikes for Healing website for information or to download resource guides to lead their own healing hikes.
“As an African American man and son of a police officer, I found myself overwhelmed with the challenges we faced in 2020 and the endless news cycle that focused on racial unrest,” said Superintendent Cassius Cash. “My medicine for dealing with this stress was a walk in the woods, and I felt called to share that experience with others. Following a summer hike in the park, I brought together our team to create an opportunity for people to come together for sharing, understanding, and healing.”
From August through December 2020, Superintendent Cash joined up to ten individuals on hikes across the park in Tennessee and North Carolina. The hikes were led by trained facilitators, David Lamfrom, Stephanie Kyriazis, and Marisol Jiménez, who created a brave space for open conversations about diversity and racism. The individuals started the hikes as strangers and left with a deep connection and appreciation for diverse perspectives. More than 200 applications were received for the opportunity. To help meet the demand for participation, facilitators developed resources for others to start conversations in their own communities. These resources can be downloaded at www.smokieshikesforhealing.org.
Longtime park partner Great Smoky Mountains Association assisted in the creative development of the program and website, along with additional financial support from Friends of the Smokies and New Belgium Brewing Company. The Smokies Hikes for Healing video was produced by Great Smoky Mountains Association and can be found directly at https://youtu.be/lqlg1xzcW8U.