The History of Friends of the Smokies

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Friends of Great Smoky Mountains National Park assists the National Park Service in its mission to preserve and protect the Great Smoky Mountains National Park by raising funds and public awareness, and providing volunteers for needed projects.

The National Park’s Beginnings

On May 22, 1926, President Calvin Coolidge signed a bill passed by Congress that provided for the establishment of Great Smoky Mountains National Park once the required land had been secured.

On June 15, 1934, President Franklin Roosevelt signed into law a bill that officially established the national park. President Roosevelt officially dedicated the park on September 2, 1940 atop the Rockefeller Monument at Newfound Gap.

A Park Needs Friends

Friends of Great Smoky Mountains National Park was founded in 1993. 156 charter members donated $1,000 each to found Friends of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Friends of the Smokies funded reconstruction of the historic Mt. Cammerer Fire Tower, our first major project, in 1995. That same year, Friends of the Smokies gained our incorporating charter from the State of North Carolina.

Trails Forever

Thanks to a $2 million matching grant from the Aslan Foundation of Knoxville in 2008, Friends of the Smokies established the Trails Forever endowment to fund a full-time trail crew for the rehabilitation and reconstruction of the park’s most impacted trails.

Fundraising Milestones

Total funds raised in support of Great Smoky Mountains National Park surpasses $50 million in 2016 during the 100th Anniversary of the National Park Service. In 2020, Friends hit the $70 million mark.

25th Anniversary Signature Project

In recognition of Friends of the Smokies’ 25th anniversary in 2018, we set out to fund a $2.5 million upgrade to the park’s emergency radio system. New radios will allow the park service to make the best use of its resources in any emergency situation. The ability to communicate with different agencies in the field can make all the difference in a life-threatening situation where every second counts.

“A new radio system is absolutely vital for responding to emergencies quickly and effectively, preserving the cultural and natural resources of this park, and protecting our visitors and law enforcement rangers,” Superintendent Cassius Cash added.

The Future

We continue to look ahead to new fundraising and volunteer opportunities to support Great Smoky Mountains National Park.