Here's a Cheat-sheet For Tracking Great Smoky Mountains National Park's Birthday Celebrations

If you're a fan of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, then you know that it marks its 75th birthday in just a little more than six months. Did you also know all the special events the park is planning?

To help you keep track, here's a little cheat-sheet. You can print it out and attach it to your fridge or save it on your desktop. Just don't lose it!

Throughout 2009 a series of special in-park events and more than 100 community events are planned in North Carolina and Tennessee. The month of January alone has 16 community events scheduled in Knoxville, Townsend, Gatlinburg, and Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, and Fontana Dam in North Carolina that meet the themes of the 75th anniversary celebration.

“The planners have worked very successfully together in developing a year-long agenda that provides visitors with an array of educational and recreational experiences in and outside the park for enjoying the Great Smoky Mountains,” says Superintendent Dale Ditmanson.

To keep the community-park bridge connected during the celebration year, the park developed a partnership program where selected volunteers are serving as “Ambassadors.” These ambassadors” will represent the park at many of the prominent events in the outlying communities and provide valuable information about the significance of the 75th anniversary.

The first of the park’s special activities is a media event with state and local officials in April to recognize and celebrate the efforts of the North Carolina-Tennessee states and local governments and early park support groups that led to the creation of the park.

The major public special events will occur during the “Anniversary Weekend,” June 13-15. The first event will be on Saturday, June 13, when the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra will perform in Cades Cove, reminiscent of its performance during the park’s 50th anniversary.

The park has partnered with the symphony through the Friends of the Smokies and the outdoor concert will be a ticketed event, based on a first-come, first-serve basis. The process for obtaining a “vehicle pass” and other logistical details will be announced by early February and posted on the 75th anniversary website. The number of vehicle passes that will be issued will be determined by parking capacity.

“The plan to issue vehicle passes, instead of individual tickets, increases the number of people that can attend since vehicles rather than people are the limiting factor. We will encourage those pass holders to fill each seat in their vehicle and carpool when feasible,” says Superintendent Ditmanson.

In addition, visitors should be aware that the nature of the event will limit Cades Cove’s normal operation for a portion of the day. This too will be publicized broadly.

The other two events during the Anniversary Weekend are June 14 when the park will hold an Open House at Park Headquarters, near Gatlinburg, to showcase park operations and provide visitors with a “behind the scenes” view of administration and management activities such as search and rescue, exotic species control, wildlife management, archival displays, and exhibits on managing the park’s complex infrastructure of roads, trails, and bridges.

“There will be a lot of interesting visuals on hand, as well as park employees to help explain the park’s role in protecting and managing the resources and its visitors,” says the superintendent.

On June 15, the park’s actual anniversary date, programs will take place at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center, near Cherokee, and highlight the cultural heritage of Southern Appalachians and Cherokee Indians through music, storytelling and exhibtry. The day will culminate with a groundbreaking ceremony of a new visitor center to be totally privately funded by Great Smoky Mountains Association and Friends of the Smokies.

This new facility will focus on the human history and cultural heritage of the park and will compliment the existing visitor center constructed in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps.

The last of the in-park special events will be held on September 2 at Newfound Gap to recognize a significant event in the park’s history—the dedication of the Park in 1940 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The event --at the Rockefeller Memorial, which straddles the Tennessee/North Carolina boundary at Newfound Gap--will have limited attendance. An invitation will also be extended to President Barrack Obama. If the president is able to attend, he will be the first sitting president since FDR to visit the most-visited national park in the National Park System.

The event will be supplemented by live broadcasts to be screened for a broader audience in venues located in or near the park in gateway communities.

Along with the events mentioned above, visitors will have a chance to celebrate the park through many of its annual programs and educational services which will also carry an anniversary theme. These will also be listed on the anniversary website as they become available. This site tells it all, and makes it easy for visitors to plan their itinerary by providing links to the varied activities in the surrounding communities as well.

The site will be updated frequently to provide viewers the most current information on the activities and special awareness initiatives.

“We anticipate that the millions of people who journey to the Smokies will enjoy all that this year has to offer and will leave them with a better appreciation of this special place and a desire to share in its protection for the next 75 years,” says Superintendent Ditmanson.