In a year that saw visitation to Great Smoky Mountains National Park exceed 10 million for only the fifth time in history, Great Smoky Mountains Association – which generates its support for the Smokies primarily through visitor center sales – was able to contribute just shy of $1.5 million to park programs and services in 2015.
“This was a year of leadership changes in the Smokies,” said GSMA Executive Director Laurel Rematore. “Cassius Cash became the 16th superintendent, Clayton Jordan was promoted from to deputy superintendent, and GSMA Executive Director Terry Maddox concluded over 25 years of service with his retirement on Dec. 31.”
Following an eight-month-long national search, which attracted more than 40 candidates, Rematore was chosen to take the reigns at Great Smoky Mountains Association, adding yet another layer of change to the Smokies’ leadership landscape. What did not change in 2015, according to Rematore, was GSMA’s commitment to support the Smokies.
“We continued our focus on retail sales in the visitors centers, publications and customized product development, membership development, and improved inventory management throughout the year,” she said. “The association had its best year ever for both sales and membership income, and as a result we were able to start rebuilding our reserve funds. These reserves will allow GSMA to meet its future commitments to the park and to maintain our own operations even if our normal income sources falter, such as what occurred during the October 2013 government shutdown.”
GSMA’s aid-to-park for 2015 was $1,445,638, capping another strong year of support. The association’s contributions to Great Smoky Mountains National Park fall into three broad categories: cash donations, which are provided for a host of educational, historical, interpretive, and scientific projects; in-kind services, which is primarily labor expense; and publications and digital media, which include development costs and free publications.
In-kind services totaled $673,639 and included salaries for staff at eight park visitor
centers and publications development costs, including free publications, such as Smokies Guide newspaper and pre-press costs for sales publications.
Special projects funded by GSMA totaled $386,650 and included:
- $79,088 – Oconaluftee Visitor Center, interest on construction loan
- $66,478 – Cost-of-living stipends for student interns
- $49,566 – Cultural Collection Storage/Relocation, storage for the park’s invaluable artifact collection, set to open in early May
- $44,013 – GSM Institute at Tremont, funding for youth and adult environmental education at Tremont (includes proceeds from Tremont visitor center store)
- $33,635 – Wildlife Seasonals Support
- $30,848 – Visitor Center Utilities
- $17,500 – “Mountains for the Masses,” revision of park’s administrative history, making it current to 2015
- $15,453 – Sugarlands Visitor Center media upkeep
- $14,531 – Volunteer Program Parkwide Support
- $9,328 – SVC Housing
- $8,500 – Experience Your Smokies, the public program that brings community leaders into the park to learn from rangers and other staff
- $7,000 – For environmental education interns
- $5,347 – GSMNP Resource Education Interns, students who present programs to youth and adults
- $4,878 Resource Education Grant to Establish Student Archeology Field School
- $4,640 – Cades Cove Wayside Exhibit, roadside exhibits help visitors understand the history of this mountain community
- $2,941 – GSMNP Purchase Knob Website, for the science and education center
- $2,500 – ATBI Structured Sampling, the quest continues to identify all plants and animals in the park
- $2,344 – GSMNP Podcast Upkeep, educational videos on the park
- $1,500 – Cataloochee Valley Map and Guide, new map and guide interprets history of Cataloochee and recreational opportunities in the area today
- $1,365 – GSMNP Visitor Center Door Counters, for tracking visitation
- $1,040 – Resource and Visitor Protection SCA Costs, interns that help rangers
- $488 – GSMNP Digital Storytelling, for award-winning historic preservation program
- $147 – GSMNP – Centennial Anniversary
Funding for the park’s interpretive operations totaled $218,545 and included special events, festivals, and interpretive demonstrations, including the Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage, Music of the Mountains, Mountain Life Festival, sorghum molasses making, and library supplies and materials. A specific breakdown includes:
- $48,964 – Backcountry Information staff
- $41,642 – Library staff
- $38,486 – Living history demonstrators
- $29,603 – Misc. and library operations
- $24,210 – Parks as Classrooms Coordinator
- $35,639 – Special events and demonstrations
Last year’s nearly $1.5 million donation brings GSMA’s total contribution to the national park during its 63-year history to $35,613,023.
Thanks to record-breaking revenues in 2015, GSMA plans to provide over $2 million in assistance to Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 2016. The monetary and in-kind aid will run the gamut from saving hemlock trees to restoring a historic grist mill to monitoring park streams for acidification caused by air pollution.