A crowd of over 200 people joined the staff and partners of Great Smoky Mountains National Park on Friday, April 15, in dedicating the Park’s new 100% partner-funded Oconaluftee Visitor Center.
The new 6,300 square-foot state-of-the-art center was constructed under a $3 million contract with Great Smoky Mountains Association (GSMA) and was donated to the Park at Friday’s ceremony. The project also includes construction of a 1,700 square-foot fully-accessible restroom building and orientation kiosk which are open 24 hours a day. A second donation of $550,000 from the Friends of the Smokies funded the development and installation of the orientation and cultural themed exhibits and informational media.
The new center is the first building ever constructed by the Park in North Carolina explicitly to serve as a visitor center. Prior to its completion, visitors entering the Smokies via the Cherokee, N.C. entrance were greeted in the lobby of a 1,700 square-foot facility which was constructed in 1940 by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) as a ranger station and magistrate’s courtroom. Among the invited guests were five former CCC “boys”, now in their ‘80’s and ‘90’s, two of which participated in the construction of the former visitor center. The historic stone building lies just a few yards from the new center and will be used as a multi-purpose meeting space and offices for the visitor center staff.
At Friday’s dedication, GSMA Executive Director, Terry Maddox said “Beginning with its roof, which looks just like slate, but is really made of recycled rubber, this new building is a model of green design and energy efficiency. It uses solar tubes to carry free daylight into the interior of the center saving electricity, it has geothermal wells that use the 55 degree ground water to help heat and cool it, the rain gutters are connected to a 6,500 gallon underground cistern so that rain water can be used to flush commodes.”
“Stewardship is what we do with what God has given us,” said Reverend Dan Matthews, the Chair of the Friends Board of Directors. “We are all stewards of this national park and all of its abundant life and historic resources. We thank all of you for giving this wonderful new center to the people of America. You gave us the beautiful exhibits in this center through your donations and with your Friends license plates.”
“The most remarkable part about being here today is the level of partnership that the Park has developed with our Association,” remarked Barbara Muhlbeier, the Chair of the GSMA. “It takes a great deal of trust by the Park to allow a private, non-profit organization to undertake a multi-million project. This new center is a product of 58 years of building that trust since our founding in 1953,” she continued.
The new center, located 1.5 miles north of Cherokee, N.C. along Newfound Gap Road, is open from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. daily.