In celebration of the organization’s 25th anniversary next year, Friends of the Smokies is delighted to announce a milestone capital campaign to fund a critical radio system upgrade in Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP).
The total cost of the radio system upgrade is $2.5 million. “Our target for this campaign is to raise $1.25 million by this time next year, making it our biggest fundraising goal in a decade,” said Jim Hart, president of the nonprofit organization. Federal funding sources and other grants will be used to match donations to Friends of the Smokies dollar for dollar to reach the total cost. “We know our generous supporters will rise to meet this challenge in spectacular fashion, especially when such a significant project is at hand.”
The radio communications system currently used in GSMNP has exceeded its recommended maximum lifespan. Replacement parts are difficult to come by and repairs and maintenance are costly on a tightening federal budget. The proposed project will replace microwave and repeater equipment at nine radio tower sites around the park as well as portable radio units and mobile units in patrol vehicles and fire engines. This will allow park rangers and emergency dispatch to directly communicate with police, fire, and emergency services in jurisdictions outside park boundaries including agencies in North Carolina and Tennessee. The total cost of the upgrade also includes a Computer Aided Dispatch system which allows dispatchers to prioritize and record emergency calls and locate first responders in the field.
Steve Kloster, Chief Ranger in GSMNP said, “The ability to effectively communicate with different agencies in the field can make all the difference in a life-threatening situation where every second counts. A good communications system truly is the backbone of any emergency response and this stateof-the-art upgrade will put the Smokies on par with any unit in the National Park Service.”
In addition to improving emergency response for law enforcement, search and rescue, and wildland fire, this upgrade will provide operable and dependable equipment for day-to-day operations across more than 522,000 acres of the national park. Where before, facility maintenance might share the same channel with an active search and rescue operation, the upgraded communication system will provide dedicated emergency frequencies.
“A new radio system is absolutely vital for responding to emergencies quickly and effectively, preserving the cultural and natural resources of this park, and protecting our visitors and first responders,” GSMNP Superintendent Cassius Cash added. “We are thankful to the Friends for their willingness to tackle this request head on and still provide funding for other needs across the park.”
“Delivery of a large-scale project like this radio system is the perfect way to celebrate our 25th anniversary next year,” said Brent McDaniel, marketing director at Friends of the Smokies. “Big, important projects like this are nothing new to Friends of the Smokies and we are excited to help protect 11 million visitors and keep our park rangers safe.”
Friends of the Smokies has contributed millions of dollars towards milestone projects including matching $2 million from the Aslan Foundation of Knoxville in 2008 to create the Trails Forever endowment. Now grown to more the $5 million, this endowment funds a full-time trail crew that focuses on rehabilitation of the park’s most heavily used trails, including Chimney Tops, Alum Cave, and Rainbow Falls. Recurring support from Friends of the Smokies to GSMNP for programs like environmental education, historic preservation, and wildlife management exceeds $1 million annually.
To make a matching gift to support this critical radio system upgrade, please visit Donate.FriendsOfTheSmokies.org or call 800-845-5665.