This gift won't fit under the Christmas tree, but Great Smoky Mountains National Park—and everyone who loves and enjoys the Smokies—can celebrate a generous donation to the park from the non-profit group Friends of the Smokies.
On December 14, the Friends officially transferred 20 acres of land to the park, along with a structure on the property that will benefit both the park and another key volunteer organization.
The land lies along Soak Ash Creek in the Pittman Center, Tennessee, community just east of Gatlinburg. Friends purchased the tract at auction in the summer of 2010 at a cost of $775,500.
According to park Superintendent, Dale A. Ditmanson, “We had been interested in acquiring that property for many years if it ever came on the market, because it is surrounded by Park land on three sides, and is ripe for development. We are very happy to be able to prevent potentially intensive development right on the Park’s boundary and it also protects an intact wetland."
"Along with the property we inherited a sprawling 5-bedroom home which we plan to make available for occupancy by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC)," Superintendent Ditmanson said. "The house also includes a large conference space that might occasionally host Park field trips by the Eugene W. Huskey Environmental Center when foul weather forces them indoors.”
“We are so pleased to be able to help protect the Smokies through the addition of this key parcel," Friends President Jim Hart said. “We also are grateful to our Pittman Center neighbor and Friends Board member Jim Ogle, whose annual 'Picnics in Pittman for the Park' at his Emerts Cove home have raised over $500,000 which became the core of the purchase price. Other significant support included a $25,000 grant from the Foothills Land Conservancy."
The Friends have owned the property since last summer, but the park needed to complete a number of surveys of the structure and the land before accepting ownership of the tract. The park is finalizing plans to lease the house to the ATC that will utilize the residence as a field office, as a training space, and as housing for the Appalachian Trail Ridgerunners when they are off the trail. The house will also be used by ATC Trail Crews, which the park brings in most years to take on major AT reconstruction projects.
The availability of this structure for the ATC will have additional spin-off benefits for the park.
In past years the ATC crews have been assigned to a 4-bedroom log dormitory directly behind park headquarters; that structure was also donated to the park by the Friends in 1995. Park officials plan to re-purpose the log dormitory for use as the Park communication/Dispatch Center. At the present time, dispatchers and their growing collection of computer equipment and incident files are crammed into two small offices in the headquarters basement.
Superintendent Ditmanson concluded, “This recent donation – when coupled with the reuse of the earlier log cabin gift, is just one more reminder of just how integrated the Friends have become into the Park’s protection and infrastructure management.”