“Connecting today to yesterday. Preserving today for tomorrow.” Great Smoky Mountains Association provides financial support and labor to maintain Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Why is there a need for a non-profit like Great Smoky Mountains Association? I’m glad you asked.
Entrance Fee Free Park
All the largest parks in the National Park System receive funds through entrance fees which support park maintenance.
When Congress created the park back in 1934, Tennesee lawmakers insisted that they never charge a fee to use Newfound Gap Road. The road transverses the mountains and residents used it to travel back and forth to North Carolina. They believed a road use tax harmed Tennessee industries that depended on the road.
This stipulation resulted in free entrance to the park.
While a “no entrance fee” policy is great for visitors to the park, it puts a strain on the park’s budget. Great Smoky Mountains Association, in partnership with the National Park Service, helps overcome that deficit.
Since 1953, the mission of Great Smoky Mountains Association is to support the unending care and protection of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Their methodology includes research and teaching to promote understanding of the park’s needs. In addition, they utilize various funding mechanisms to pay for those needs.
Great Smoky Mountains Association Stores
Great Smoky Mountains Association owns and manages all the gift shops within the park. They use the proceeds to maintain the park. So when you make a purchase at one of their stores, you help the park!
The stores sell clothing, trail guides, hiking sticks, trail patches, books, posters, CDs and DVDs, trail snacks, and an assortment of souvenirs and gifts. There is even a section for children. We love visiting the stores and perusing all the quality products.
Find official GSMA stores inside the visitor centers:
- Cades Cove Visitor Center
- Clingmans Dome Visitor Center
- Oconaluftee Visitor Center & Museum
- Sugarlands Visitor Center & Museum
- An additional store is at Great Smoky Mountain Institute at Tremont
Official GSMA stores outside the park:
- Gatlinburg Welcome Center
- Sevierville Visitor Center
- Swain Country Visitor Center & Museum
- Townsend Visitor Center
Great Smoky Mountains Association produces “Smokies Guide”, the official newspaper of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The “Smokies Guide” is free of charge at all the GSMA stores. It is a treasure trove of information. The guide includes maps, stories about wildlife, and park information.
Great Smoky Mountains Association Membership
Great Smoky Mountains Association invites the public to become a member. Membership is a great way to support the ongoing financial needs of the park. You can choose from a number of membership levels.
Member benefits includes a discount at the GSMA stores, invitations to events, newsletters, hikes, and more. Association membership dues range from $15 to $125 annually. One time only, never renew memberships are being offered as well.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park has received $36 million (2020 data) from GSMA, from retail sales and the membership program.
One of the advantages of being a member in Great Smoky Mountains Association, is their monthly “Branch Out in the Greater Smoky Mountains”. These are activities orchestrated to increase participants’ knowledge and appreciation of the park.
From May to December (excluding the month of August) there are Branch Out in the Greater Smoky Mountains events scheduled for you to enjoy, explore and learn!
The Smokies are nature’s classroom for learning, experiencing, appreciating and enjoying the great outdoors. Whether you are beginner or a master student – your Smokies Classroom is always an adventure!
Events include birding, hiking, waterfalls, flowers, trees, rivers and streams, monarch tagging, backpacking, salamanders, scientific research, survival skills, and historic people and places.
For more information about the Great Smoky Mountains Association please visit their website.
IMPORTANT: Due to the uncertainties related to COVID-19, our Branch Out events have been cancelled until further notice. (Posted here 2022)