Anonymous Donor Gives $2.2 Million For Great Smoky Mountains National Park

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Some of the $2.2 million donation will go towards paying down the debt on the park's Oconaluftee Visitor Center near Cherokee, N.C./Great Smoky Mountains Association.

An anonymous benefactor has greatly helped the National Park Service with its facility needs at Great Smoky Mountains National Park by writing a check for $2.2 million for the park's benefit.

Terry Maddox, executive director of the Great Smoky Mountains Association, said the money would help pay down the loan on the new Oconaluftee Visitor Center, and help with the construction of the park's Collections Preservation Center.

“I have unprecedented news to share with you,” Mr. Maddox wrote last week in an email to the GSMA board of directors. “I was approached recently by a long-time GSMA member who wished to make a designated gift to GSMA. The total amount of the donation is $2,185,000.”

Mr. Maddox said one of the conditions of the donation was that the identity of the donor must not be disclosed to anyone other than GSMA’s executive director. Another was that the money go towards the two facilities.

“I agreed to these conditions without hesitation,” the executive director told board members. The donation will be made in five annual installments between April 2014 and 2018.

“GSMA can now dramatically accelerate the pay-down of our line of credit and begin building a previously-approved future projects fund,” said Mr. Maddox.

“I am overwhelmed by gratitude to this selfless donor whose generosity reflects a deep and abiding love for the Great Smokies,” said William Hart, chairman of GSMA’s board of directors. “This donation will allow GSMA to redouble its efforts to carry out its mission and allow funds that would have formerly been directed to debt to be employed toward the broader aims of the organization.

“In effect, this donor leaves a legacy that will positively benefit millions of future visitors to Great Smoky Mountains National Park,” he added.

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Part of the donation will help build the Collections Preservation Center. Architectural rendering via Great Smoky Mountains Association.

Great Smoky Mountains Association and Friends of the Smokies jointly provided the $3.7 million required to construct the Oconaluftee Visitor Center near Cherokee, N.C. The facility, which opened to the public in April 2011, fulfilled the National Park Service wish to replace an old CCC structure (that was intended only to be a ranger station) with a state-of-the-art museum, visitor center, and bookstore on the North Carolina side of the park.

Just last month, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell announced that GSMA would once again be stepping up with Friends of the Smokies and the Great Smoky Mountain Heritage Center to financially support construction of the Collections Preservation Center in Townsend, Tenn., where the National Park Service will care for more than 144,000 artifacts, 220,000 archival records and 275 linear feet of library materials documenting the history of Great Smoky Mountains National Park and four other NPS areas in East Tennessee.

“This donation not only speaks to the genuine care people have for their Smoky Mountains, but also the trust and confidence we all have in our partners at GSMA to continue a 60-year tradition of supporting the park in meaningful ways well into the future,” said Pedro Ramos, the park's acting superintendent.

GSMA experienced one of its most financially trying years ever in 2013, when a major road washout closed U.S. 441/Newfound Gap Road for three months early in the year and a government shutdown prevented it from opening its national park stores for 15 days in October. Even with a record membership recruitment year, these two factors caused the non-profit more than its share of angst. This contribution qualifies as a game changer, according to Lisa Duff, GSMA’s marketing and membership director.

“We have always valued the contributions of our members and shared in their enthusiasm for this national park,” Ms. Duff said. “While this single gift illustrates the extraordinary generosity of one of our members in rather a large fashion, all who contribute time and money to this national park should count themselves among its greatest supporters.”

Since its inception in 1953, Great Smoky Mountains Association has given more than $31.5 million to support the ongoing educational, scientific and preservation efforts of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Support for the non-profit association is derived primarily from online and visitor center sales of educational products and membership dues. Those who wish to strengthen their Smokies experience are encouraged to join GSMA.