Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Great Smoky Mountains Association to celebrate 60th Anniversary with hiking, other events

A day of hikes, lectures and cupcakes is planned to celebrate Great Smoky Mountains Association’s 60th Anniversary on Saturday, June 22nd, at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center near Cherokee, N.C.

GSMA’s legacy of providing financial support to Great Smoky Mountains National Park began in 1953 with a slightly longer name (Great Smoky Mountains Natural History Association) and a $100 start-up loan from Mount Rainer Natural History Association. The organization’s mission in the last 60 years has remained the same – to assist national park visitors by providing educational and other park-related sales items; to build a membership program of those who wish to support the park; and to use the proceeds of both these efforts to contribute to preservation efforts in the most-visited national park in America.

“Our organization started by selling postcards and Pioneer Farmstead pamphlets for a nickel. Our lifetime memberships were offered for $5,” said Terry Maddox, GSMA executive director. “Since then we have become home to one of the largest and most recognized national park publication teams, increased our membership ranks to more than 12,000 individuals and supporting businesses, expanded our visitor center and stores to eight in North Carolina and Tennessee, and grown our staff of GSMA employees to 70. “More importantly, our organization in the last 60 years has contributed more than $30 million to the national park,” he said. “I’d call that an effort worth celebrating.”

GSMA contributions to the national park have been used for a wide variety of preservation efforts, including protecting bears from human interaction, restoring historic structures in Cataloochee Valley, Elkmont and Cades Cove, the fight against threats to the hemlock trees, backcountry rangers to protect the most isolated areas of the park, and archival storage of park-related documents and artifacts. GSMA was instrumental in the effort to bring elk back to the park, as well as worked to ensure the native brook trout population remains vibrant.

Most recently GSMA funds have been used to complete a renovation of the Clingmans Dome Information Center, Sugarlands Visitor Center near Gatlinburg, Tenn., and to construct a new visitor center at Oconaluftee, near Cherokee, N.C., both of which enrich the visitor experience by providing interpretive displays, current event information and assistance in planning your national park visit.

Two events will be held during the year to celebrate the organization’s 60th anniversary, the first of which is set at Oconaluftee on the North Carolina side of the park, said Lisa Duff, GSMA marketing and membership director. “The people on both sides of the park have played an important part in the GSMA story over the years,” said Duff. “We plan to honor both for the contributions they’ve made.”

Most aspects of the daylong event are free and open to the public, including the official anniversary program at 2 p.m., the GSMA book signing beginning at noon and the GSMA historic photo exhibit, said Duff. Only GSMA members will be invited to take part in the day’s other planned activities, said Duff, “Which means if you join GSMA anytime prior to or during the day June 22 you’ll be eligible to participate in all the events planned during the day.” GSMA members should preregister for the following, as space is limited:

8 a.m. – GSMNP Ranger Jason Fisher will give an elk program, limit 50

9 a.m. – Bryson City artist Elizabeth Ellison will conduct an outdoor watercolor class or participants can opt to bring the medium of their choice, limit 10

9:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. – Individuals and teams are invited to participate in a scavenger hunt at Oconaluftee, Mingus Mill and Smokemont, prizes to be awarded

10 a.m. – GSMA volunteer Westy Fletcher will lead an interpretative hike along the Oconaluftee River, limit 20

1 p.m. – Indoor storytelling and artistic program by Sylva’s Ammons Sisters, limit 50

4 p.m. – Naturalist Liz Domingue will lead a salamander safari, limit 20

To preregister for any of these activities, call the GSMA Membership Department at 865.436.7318, Ext. 222 or 254 by Friday, June 14.

A second 60th anniversary event is planned for Sept. 13-15 in Townsend, Tenn. That event will feature a full day of similar activities on Saturday, plus dinner and dancing in the evening. Preregistration will be accepted starting in early August.

For more information about GSMA’s membership and volunteer opportunities, visit or call 888.898.9102, Ext. 222 or 254.

Hiking in the Smokies

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