Neighbors and friends

Fundraiser builds ‘community’ of supporters for National Park

For Jim Hart, the Neighbors in the Foothills event held every year in Blount County isn’t just about raising money -- although the Friends of the Smokies are happy for the help.

It really is about the two key words in both organizations titles: Neighbors and Friends.

The 2010 Neighbors in the Foothills event was held on Friday, Oct. 1, at R.T. Lodge.

“We’re not just trying to raise money,” said Hart. “We’re trying to make friends for the Park.”

Hart, founder of Friends of the Smokies, works with communities in Western North Carolina and East Tennessee to raise money for the organization that was founded to support the National Park through dollars and volunteer man-hours. This year’s event at R.T. Lodge raised more than $10,000.

“We do this in just about every county surrounding the Park. These are ‘neighbors’ to our park, and they share a love for it,” he said.

Hart, formerly with WBIR-TV, said he has a deep love of the National Park. “I have a strong spiritual connection to the park and spent time there with my family throughout the years,” he said.

Maryville city councilman Joe Swann praised his wife, Becky, for helping set up the first Neighbors in the Foothills event in Blount County. “There’s huge support from the people of Blount County for (Friends of the Smokies). Having grown up with the Park, most who live in Blount County appreciate all the wonderful benefits of it and want to make sure the future looks bright for that wonderful part of our community,” Swann said.

Kevin Proffitt with Northwestern Mutual said the Neighbors in the Foothills event is a fun time. “Every year they do a great event, and I think, from our perspective, the Park is such a big part of East Tennessee culture,” he said. “It is important that people are supportive of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and this organization is the best way to do that.”

Kevin Painter with LeConte Wealth Management said he and his wife, Amanda, both grew up in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains. “Some of my greatest memories as a child were times we spent in the Park,” Kevin Painter said. “It is important to us that this is protected for our daughter and others for years to come.”

Former Maryville City Manager Gary Hensley said he and his family have enjoyed the Park over the years but sometimes the mountains are taken for granted. “Sometimes we don’t really realize what a great asset we have,” he said.

Sherry Hensley said she and Gary were motivated to help Friends of the Smokies. “We wanted to protect the natural beauty of what we have right here in our back yard,” she said.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park superintendent Dale Ditmanson said creating the Park took work and donations from people old and young. “This park would not be here without the citizens of East Tennessee and Western North Carolina,” he said.

Susan Cole of Maryville said she and her husband Walter enjoy the beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. “We fell in love with the Smoky Mountains when we first arrived and we’ve been avid supporters of Friends of the Smokies since then,” she said.

John Berry of Blount County said he has learned to appreciate the Smoky Mountains on a daily basis. “I’m blessed I live on top of a mountain in Laurel Valley, and I’m reminded every morning when I wake up how beautiful the Smoky Mountains are,” he said. “It is our responsibility to support what it takes to keep it that way.”

Ken Voorhis praised Friends of the Smokies. “They’ve brought together a lot of people who love the Park and helped these people find a way to give back to the Park,” he said.

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