When you consider what this non-profit organization does for the park, Friends of Great Smoky Mountains National Park (better known as Friends of the Smokies) could not have a better name.
Founded in 1993, the purpose of Friends of the Smokies is to assist the National Park Service in its mission to preserve and protect the park. Friends of the Smokies accomplishes this through fundraising, providing volunteers for the Trails Forever program, and educating the public through organized hikes.
In 2001, Friends of the Smokies assisted the National Park Service in the reintroduction of elk after a 150-year absence.
In 2005, they dedicated a new laboratory at the University of Tennessee for the purpose of raising predator beetles to help rid the park of the problematic hemlock woolly adelgid. This particular non-native species is killing off the eastern hemlock trees in the Smokies.
The hope is that the beetles will save the trees by feeding on the hemlock woolly adelgid. This effort is called Save the Hemlocks Initiative.
Membership is open to the public and proceeds benefit the park. People who donate at least $35 per year are considered members and receive a number of benefits. Many of the retailers in the Smoky Mountain region offer discounts to members.
For example, you may receive discounts on entertainment, lodging, and dining at many local businesses. In addition, members receive invitations to special events. Membership levels range from $35 to $5000. See the Friends of the Smokies website for details.
In 1995, Friends of the Smokies kicked off their first fundraising project benefitting the reconstruction of Mount Cammerer Fire Tower. Since that time, total funds raised for Great Smoky Mountains National Park projects exceed $53 million (2016 data).
The trails throughout Great Smoky Mountains National Park do not maintain themselves. Weather erosion, wildfires, fallen trees, careless littering, and vandalism, often cause trails to need repair.
The Trails Forever endowment was established in 2008 when the Aslan Foundation gave a $2 million matching grant to Friends of the Smokies. This endowment allows volunteers to work alongside paid trail crews to make much needed repairs or reconstruction to damaged trails.
The work requires stamina, strength, and ability to work with hand tools. Volunteers may apply by contacting Friends of the Smokies.
Increasing Public Awareness
Classic Hikes of the Smokies
Friends of the Smokies sponsors these guided hikes, varying in distance and difficulty, on both Tennessee and North Carolina trails. Guides are experts and include prominent authors and fitness professionals.
The 2020 Classic Hikes of the Smokies (June thru December) feature interpretation of the trail, history, and park projects supported by Friends of the Smokies. These hikes support restoration and rehabilitation of some of the Smokies most impacted trails through the Trails Forever program.
Current members of Friends of the Smokies pay only $20 for each guided hike. The money benefits the Trails Forever endowment. New members pay $35 which covers your first hike and a Friends of the Smokies membership for one year.