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Hike series to feature discussions about racism, diversity

Superintendent Cassius Cash poses with a group of participants in his 2016 Smokies Centennial Hike 100 Challenge. NPS photo Superintendent Cassius Cash poses with a group of participants in his 2016 Smokies Centennial Hike 100 Challenge. NPS photo

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Superintendent Cassius Cash will lead a series of small-group hikes through the park with the dual purpose of enjoying the great outdoors and facilitating open conversations about diversity and racism. 

“National parks have long provided a place of healing, and I believe the setting of this mountain sanctuary is a powerful space to bring us together to engage in crucial conversations,” said Cash. “This year has brought a lot of uncertainty and fear that tends to draw people to their corners. Through this opportunity, I’m inviting everyone to step out and have real conversations about the history of racism locally and globally. In learning about our past, we open the doors to our future.”

The series, called Smokies Hikes for Healing, will allow up to 10 people to join in for each of the eight hikes planned in locations across the park from August through December. During the hikes, a facilitator will lead each group in a thought-provoking discussion about race by first establishing an environment that is trusting and safe for individuals to recognize the long-standing ills associated with racism and how these have carried over into today’s society. Facilitators will equip participants with tools and ideas about how to identify biases through a deeper level of self-awareness and reflection so that participants can become intentional in addressing racism and race relations. 

Groups will follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including social distancing and wearing face covering when appropriate distance cannot be maintained. To apply for the hikes, visit www.smokieshikesforhealing.org. A set of starter guidelines and questions will be available on the website for those interested in leading their own conversations about racism along Smokies trails with friends, strangers or colleagues. Everyone is invited to join the conversation virtually through a digital platform on the site where hike participants can share their stories, realizations and commitments.

The Great Smoky Mountains Association assisted with creative development of the program and website, and Friends of the Smokies provided additional financial support. 

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