Friends of the Smokies announced recently that its donors have now given or pledged more than $1 million toward an unprecedented $2.3 million challenge grant to support trail improvements in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The Trails Forever project began with the Aslan Foundation of Knoxville, TN, which was created by the late Lindsay Young, one of the founders of Friends of the Smokies. The foundation trustees wanted to find a significant way to mark the 75th anniversary of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which is being celebrated throughout 2009.
Working with park leaders, they developed the Trails Forever program, which will establish a $4.3 million endowment to fund major trail improvements each year on the park’s 800 miles of trails. The campaign also includes a smaller amount of funds to support immediate trail improvement projects until the Trails Forever endowment is fully funded. To help turn this $4.6 million plan into reality, the Aslan Foundation then pledged to match every contribution to the campaign, up to a total of $2.3 million.
“Trails Forever will carry on Lindsay Young’s deep love for the Smokies,” said Park Superintendent Dale Ditmanson. “We are so thankful to the Aslan Foundation for making such a tremendous gift to help people enjoy the Smokies for the next 75 years and beyond.”
“The Aslan Foundation set a new standard for giving to the Smokies,” said Jim Hart, President of Friends of the Smokies. “Now other donors are responding generously to this challenge grant, and we are very thankful to have such great support.”
Those other donors have included a wide variety of individuals, companies, organizations, and other foundations from 20 different states, providing gifts and pledges ranging in size from $5 to $250,000. A sampling of those donors includes Alcoa Foundation, Lyndhurst Foundation, Home Federal Bank, Tanger Outlet Center at Five Oaks, Tennessee Valley Authority, Knoxville Garden Club, the Richard Haiman National Park Foundation, Duke Energy Foundation, and Cherokee Preservation Foundation. More than 100 individuals have given to the campaign so far, including Wilma Maples, a Gatlinburg, TN, resident and former park employee, and Danny Bernstein, an Asheville, NC, resident and author of two hiking books.
Other sources of Trails Forever campaign funds have included proceeds from special events in Knoxville and Pittman Center, TN; specialty license plate programs in North Carolina and Tennessee; and the proceeds of a special CD, “Sha-Kon-O-Hey!”, released by Dolly Parton to commemorate the park’s 75th anniversary.
“We still have another $1.3 million to raise,” said Hart, “but we’re off to a great start. With people responding so well to the park’s 75th anniversary celebration, we are very hopeful that everyone will continue to donate gifts of any size until we reach our goal.”
To learn more about Trails Forever or to donate online, go to www.friendsofthesmokies.org or www.smokiestrailsforever.org. You can also request a Trails Forever brochure and giving envelope by calling Friends of the Smokies at 1-800-845-5665. To purchase a copy of Dolly Parton’s “Sha-Kon-O-Hey!” CD, visit the “75th anniversary” section of www.smokiesstore.org.
Trails Forever is a partnership between Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Friends of the Smokies. The volunteer component of Trails Forever allows the public to take part in trail maintenance.
Information about Trails Forever, including the 2009 Trails Forever schedule and Trails Forever volunteer application, is now available online at www.smokiestrailsforever.org/about. Individuals or groups who are interested in taking part in the 2009 Trails Forever volunteer program are encouraged to visit the website and learn more about these volunteer opportunities. “This new information page will provide all the necessary information about volunteering for Trails Forever and greatly improve the volunteer application and selection process,” says Jeremy Sweat, volunteer coordinator for Trails Forever. To obtain an information packet on other volunteer opportunities such as staffing visitor center information desks, maintaining and patrolling trails, and assisting in resource management activities, write to the Park at 107 Park Headquarters Road, Gatlinburg, TN, attn: volunteer coordinator
Friends of the Smokies, an independent, 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, helps preserve and protect Great Smoky Mountains National Park by raising funds and public awareness and providing volunteers for needed projects. Since 1993, Friends of the Smokies has raised more than $26 million to help support conservation, education, and other park priorities.