I never thought that I would be watching suspenseful events involving my car license plate. But in a dramatic move by the North Carolina General Assembly, our full-color specialty license tag has been saved. The black bear on the back of my car is now safe.
In the closing hours last Thursday, the North Carolina Legislature reversed a previous 2011 bill that would have removed my bear and other colorful plates from the road by 2015. These specialty plates cost $30 on top of the regular North Carolina motor vehicle registration fee.
The non-profit organizations that benefit from these specialty plate sales -- the Friends of the Smokies, the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy -- receive $20 for each plate dedicated to their organization that is purchased or renewed. That translates into a lot of money for the organizations. The other $10 is spent by the state through the Special Registration Plate Account, which funds visitor centers and wildflower highway beautification projects.
Holly Demuth, North Carolina Director of the Friends of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, says, "I am thrilled that we were able to rescue the full-color license plate. Friends of the Smokies is able to donate $400,000 annually to Great Smoky Mountains National Park for projects that help the park. Some $1 million goes to three Western North Carolina parks including the Smokies, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and the Appalachian Trail."
Carolyn Ward, CEO of the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, and Ms. Demuth of Friends of the Smokies, joined their two organizations together to work on protecting the full color Specialty Plate program.
“We care deeply about our parks and the revenue that people can provide to them. This program is critical to ensuring that we are able to continue to fund educational programs, visitor services and environmental protection projects for both our parks,” said Ms. Ward in a press release.
For a third year the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) license plate money has helped fund bear poles along the A.T. in the Smokies. Designed to work like old-fashioned laundry lines, the poles allow backpackers to hang up their food high and away from the reach of black bears. More than 70 miles of the A.T. is in the Smokies. One of the stipulations of the license plate program is that all the money received has to be spent in North Carolina. For the 2013 grant cycle, $35,000 is available for a broad range of A.T.-related projects in the state.
For the last couple of years, I've watched as non-profits in North Carolina worked hard to undo a bill that should never have been passed in the first place. The staff traveled to Raleigh, the state capital, to talk to legislators and convince them to continue allowing specialty plates.
Our parks need money now more than ever due to declining federal dollars. And license plates are a voluntary, fun way to show support for our favorite park.