In addition to those listed here, Great Smoky Mountains Association’s staff team includes some 80 full- and part-time employees who work in our 13 visitor centers and other contact points in and around the national park.
Chief Executive Officer
Laurel was recruited to GSMA and arrived in January 2016. Her previous positions include Program and Human Resources Management for Lockheed Martin Corporation, Membership and Development Director for the Yosemite Association, and Executive Director for the Mesa Verde Museum Association. As a Rotarian, Laurel works to improve the quality of life for Gatlinburg residents as well as to support international Rotary initiatives. She is a trustee of the Anna Porter Public Library in Gatlinburg, and she served for eight years on the Public Lands Alliance board of directors. Laurel graduated from Leadership Sevier in 2017 and East Tennessee Regional Leadership in 2018. She is motivated by her love of our national parks and her recognition that public lands and the agencies that manage them need effective partners now more than ever. At GSMA she seeks new ways to meet challenges that otherwise might not be addressed due to bureaucratic and political circumstances. “Public lands will only continue to be protected as long as our society considers them to be relevant and meaningful,” said Laurel. “The people and businesses who pledge their support to GSMA’s mission have a connection to this place, and it is their interest and stewardship that will preserve this park for future generations.”
Frances Figart, Creative Services Director
Frances joined GSMA in August of 2017. Her background includes editing a monthly magazine for the National Tour Association, serving as director of marketing and communications for a kayak tour operator in Canada and Costa Rica, and editing Asheville’s popular arts and culture monthly The Laurel of Asheville. She also authored the book Seasons of Letting Go: Most of What I Know about Truly Living I Learned by Helping Someone Die. At GSMA, Frances is tasked with managing the association’s many creative projects, including books and periodicals like Smokies Life magazine and its sister online publication Smokies LIVE. Frances is also GSMA’s representative on Safe Passage: The Pigeon River Gorge Wildlife Crossing Project, helping to make a section of Interstate 40 near the park boundary more permeable for wildlife and safer for people. “I love helping a team of creative folks learn how to collaborate and capitalize on one another’s strengths,” she said.
Lisa Horstman, Lead Publications Specialist
Lisa has worked part-time for GSMA since 2001 and was promoted to her current position as Lead Publication Specialist in 2018. She serves as lead designer for Smokies Life magazine and recently redesigned the Smokies Guide newspaper. Acting as brand manager for GSMA, she assures all publications conform to established design standards. Lisa has also authored several books, including Wee Ones, The Troublesome Cub, Sabrina and regional classic The Great Smoky Mountains Salamander Ball. She has designed a variety of print and digital media, including the Junior Ranger booklets and packaging for the Smokies Explorer Series DVDs. “Preserving the park and its history through my designs shows me that working toward a goal that is much bigger and longer-lasting than the smaller trials and tribulations of my own daily world will get me through uncertain times,” she said.
Karen Key, Senior Publications Specialist
Karen has served on GSMA creative team since 2006 and is a full-time senior publications specialist providing graphic design and administrative work that helps generate numerous publications. She is responsible for the overall layout of the park newspaper, Smokies Guide, designs articles for Smokies Life and created the moonshine book, Corn From a Jar. Her recent design projects include Into the Mist by David Brill and the CD Big Bend Killing. Award-winning publications she has designed include the Bearpaw newsletter, Hike the Smokies and Frequently Asked Questions about Smoky Mountain Black Bears. Karen has also provided graphic assistance for Public Land Alliance awards submissions. “It feels like I’m using my skills for the prosperity of an amazing place,” she said. “I love the idea of communicating to park visitors, so they can pass down their appreciation and knowledge of the natural world to their loved ones.”
Emma DuFort, Publications Specialist
Emma’s career with GSMA began in 2016 as a sales assistant in the Cades Cove and Townsend stores, and her background as an artist was quickly put to use with her illustrations featured in Smokies Guide, Smokies Life and other projects. In 2018 she became a full-time member of the Creative Team and now includes in her duties creating layouts and illustrations for GSMA publications, designing products for retail, and developing marketing and membership materials. Growing up in Michigan, Emma’s love for the Great Smoky Mountains was sparked during her childhood family trips to the Smokies every spring. One of her favorite memories is climbing around the rocks in the river at Chimneys picnic area, and she became intensely fascinated with the natural history exhibits at Sugarlands Visitor Center at a young age. “I love ecology and considering where people fit into our greater relationship with the land and the other species we share it with,” Emma said. “It’s almost impossible to learn more about the living things around us and not feel a responsibility to consider our impact.” To compliment her talents as an artist and her passion for nature, Emma obtained a naturalist certification from the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont.
Valerie Polk, Videographer and Publications Associate
Valerie Polk is a filmmaker and contributor to GSMA's award-winning YouTube channel. For more than 10 years Valerie has documented the beauty, the history, and the extraordinary experiences that draw visitors to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Valerie also supports GSMA's Creative Team as a publications associate, putting her skills as a writer and editor toward publications such as Smokies Guide and Smokies LIVE. A native of Townsend, TN, Valerie's passion for the park began as a child with family picnics at Metcalf Bottoms and hikes to the Walker Sisters Cabin, the homeplace of her great-grandmother Sarah Caroline Walker Shelton. "I never imagined that I would be able to work in a place that is so meaningful to me," Valerie said. "This park is part of my heritage, and working with GSMA and park service staff allows me to see that the historical and natural treasures here are in good hands."
Aaron Searcy, Publications Associate
Aaron began working with GSMA as a freelance writer and editor at the end of 2018 shortly after returning to East Tennessee from Melbourne, Australia, where he earned a master’s degree in writing, publishing, and editing. In January 2020, Aaron officially joined the GSMA Creative Team as a publications associate supporting GSMA’s books, periodicals, and podcast. With projects exploring everything from the park’s unique ecology and wildlife to its history, folkways, and music, Aaron couldn’t be happier to find himself back home in the Smokies. “What I love most about the Smokies is ever changing,“ said Aaron. “When I was younger, I mostly loved eating the sandwiches my parents packed for our trips to the mountains. Now, with a slightly firmer grasp of the natural and cultural history of these mountains, I love the park for what it protects and celebrates—an important refuge for biodiversity and diverse people, too.”
Terri Wilkins, Chief Financial Officer
Terri is GSMA’s first-ever Chief Financial Officer. Since joining the team in October 2019, Terri has brought new perspectives and ideas to GSMA’s financial operations by drawing on her considerable experience in financial management for the banking, health care, and public accounting industries. Terri joins Howard Clinton and Tammie Sarten on the accounting team to manage GSMA’s most complex financial matters. During her interviews for her current position, Terri shared that she and her husband fell in love with the park when they first visited many years ago; they have been full-time residents in Cosby since 2014.
Howard Clinton, Finance Director
Born and raised in Sevierville, TN, Howard has served as GSMA's Finance Director since 2003. He works closely with the association’s CEO and board of directors to account for all revenue and how it is used to support the park. His list of responsibilities is long, including conducting financial audits to preparing annual reports and assisting with budget proposals. Howard was responsible for taking GSMA’s payroll process into the paperless age, saving hours of time spent keying numbers, stuffing envelopes and mailing pay stubs. He is willing to do whatever it takes to keep the association running smoothly, whether advising the board on fiscal policies or taking out the trash. “It’s whatever is needed,” he said. “That’s the GSMA way.”
Kelli Green, Human Resources and Office Management
Originally from Ohio, Kelli has lived in East Tennessee since 1986 and worked for GSMA since 1999. Her responsibilities include managing the timekeeping, payroll and personnel systems and keeping up with supplies and repairs at the main office. She created the spreadsheet and tracking criteria for the association’s Affordable Care Act compliance, a two-year process that showcased her patience, dedication and tenacity. “I love being part of such a great team that is able to touch so many lives,” said Kelli. “When I tell people I work for GSMA, I often hear stories from them about their positive experiences with our staff.”
Peyton Proffitt, Membership Director
Born and raised in Sevier County, TN, Peyton returned home in 2016 after receiving her BA in Environmental Studies from Wofford College and her registered yoga teacher certification in Bali, Indonesia. She also spent time abroad studying food and energy policy related to climate change and worked as a campaign finance director in South Carolina. At GSMA, Peyton is responsible for maintaining the organization’s membership database and ensuring all 30,000+ members engage with the Smokies through the Get Rooted program and its benefits. “This park, its extraordinary biodiversity, rich cultural history, and ancient mountains are deeply intertwined with my family and heritage,” she said, “So I feel grateful to be back in my community, working to protect and preserve Great Smoky Mountains National Park for future generations.”
Anne May, Membership Program Specialist
Anne grew up in East Tennessee and has wonderful memories of visiting GSMNP as a child. One of six children, her parents regularly brought the family to Great Smoky Mountains National Park for hikes and picnics. After moving to Sevier County in 1992 to raise her own family, she continued the tradition with participation in the Parks as Classroom program with her two children and regular hikes with friends. Anne’s formal education was in Music Pedagogy, and she maintained a private piano studio for more than three decades before getting her first job at a nonprofit in 2014. She is excited to be bringing her experience with nonprofits and her love of the national park together to make a difference at GSMA.
Charlene Shiver, Membership Associate
Charlene joined GSMA in 2018 as a part-time temporary employee and was promoted to a full-time position in 2020 as part of the Membership Department. She is responsible for keeping our members’ information up-to-date so that they can stay connected with Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Charlene grew up in Florida with one parent who was born and raised in the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia. She grew up with a love of the culture and history of the people that lived the mountains. "If history is not sought out, recorded, and shared with future generations, it is lost,” she said.
Dawn Roark, Retail Director
Originally from England, Dawn has lived in Maryville since 1977 and took her U.S. Citizenship oath in 2017. After serving for eight years as Senior Store Manager for GSMA’s Blount County Team (Cades Cove, Townsend and the Cove's Orientation Shelter), she was promoted to Retail Director in 2013. In this role she is responsible for finding and developing new products, buying and maintaining correct inventory levels, overseeing all store locations and supervising the Senior Store Managers. Because Dawn oversees many people who interact with thousands of park visitors every day, creativity, tenacity and empathy are all important to her position, which she thoroughly enjoys. "It's every woman's dream job,” she said. “I actually get paid to shop!”
Brenda Ownby, Assistant Retail Director
Brenda is a Sevier County native who has been with GSMA since 2001. Her responsibilities include purchasing merchandise, looking for new items to offer based on current trends and keeping visitor centers fully stocked. “Years ago, my daughter Robin picked up an application at the GSMA warehouse and filled it out for me,” said Brenda. “I was planning to take that summer off and do some home projects, but much to my surprise I got the job and I’m very glad I did.”
Russell Heenie, Wholesale Sales and Off-Site Events Manager
Russell is GSMA’s Wholesale Sales and Off-Site Events Manager—a position that includes supplying GSMA publications to local businesses, promoting GSMA products beyond the Smokies, and supporting GSMA events. Working with GSMA since 2012, Russell brings to his role a valuable background in book and magazine sales, knowledge of book distribution logistics, and a personal affinity for audio books. But whether he’s working behind the scenes, helping visitors directly, or setting up an event, Russell’s favorite part of his job is deepening others’ knowledge and appreciation of the Smokies. “I first visited the park as a child vacationing from Florida and in my 20s used Cades Cove as a base camp for hiking,” Russell said. “It’s been nice to return to the area, raise children in such a scenic place and have the ability to share the experience with appreciative visitors every day.”
Senior Store Managers
Judy Bowman, Senior Store Manager
Judy Bowman is Senior Store Manager for GSMA’s Team Sevier, the unit responsible for Sugarlands Visitor Center and Gatlinburg Welcome Center. She has worked for GSMA since 2009. As Manager of one of the busiest visitor centers in all of the National Park System, Judy finds that laughter is important for keeping happy, motivated staff and happy customers. Despite the busy pace, she takes the time to help each visitor enjoy their vacation. “We learn something new every day here and feel we made a difference in the preservation of this park,” she said. “In return, we have the opportunity to share some time with the different folks we meet from all over the United States and the world.”
Matt Drauszewski, Senior Store Manager
As an Assistant Store Manager in the park’s visitor centers, Matt works on rotation at Clingmans Dome, Oconaluftee, Bryson City and sometimes Mingus Mill. His responsibilities include maintaining a positive image of GSMA and Great Smoky Mountains National Park through visitor interactions, promoting GSMA's membership programming and coaching staff to better provide these same opportunities to visitors. He has been in his position since 2016. Matt cites his proudest accomplishment as simply being able to support GSMNP with his park family in both North Carolina and Tennessee. “I've been told by my co-workers that I am patient, kind and dedicated,” Matt said. “I trust their judgment and, since I have been hearing these compliments with increased frequency, there must be some accuracy.”
Assistant Store Managers
Danny Compton, Assistant Store Manager
Originally from Walland, TN, Danny now lives in Townsend and serves as Assistant Store Manager for the Cades Cove and Townsend visitor centers. He has been with GSMA since 2013. His main job responsibilities include helping customers, unloading trucks and checking in products. A well-rounded employee, Danny is proud of his ability to complete a variety of tasks. “I am honest, driven and I never give up,” he said.
Dave DeBruicker, Assistant Store Manager
Dave DeBruicker is an Assistant Manager with the Sevier County retail team, which includes Sugarlands and Gatlinburg visitor centers. He has been with GSMA since 2009. In his current role, he interacts with guests, promotes GSMA memberships along with the sales of GSMA published items and coaches staff in doing the same. He recognizes the importance of consistent product availability and a commitment to excellent customer service and enjoys making customers happy by assisting them in finding just the right product to take home. “I hope GSMA can continue to grow in various ways and continue to connect more people with our park through its membership program,” Dave said. “Once the Smokies gets in your blood, it rarely leaves.”
Alice Kellogg, Assistant Store Manager
Alice joined the GSMA team in 2007 and has been in her current role since 2019. As a member of the Sevier County management team, she works to ensure that daily store operations run smoothly and that staff and customers are happy. She also ensures that all products are well presented and easily shoppable. Her adaptability, diligence and artistic eye enable her to create displays that engage visitors and tell the park’s story as well as to design a traffic flow that makes customers comfortable and happy. “I enjoy the challenges of creating displays for new merchandise and for the seasonal events like wildflowers and fireflies,” she said. “I also enjoy just talking with visitors and explaining how unique this park is.”
Margaret Munkus, Assistant Store Manager
Margaret is an Alabama native who moved to Sevierville from Florida in 2006. She has worked for GSMA since 2016. As an Assistant Manager for the Sevier County Team, she is responsible for opening and closing stores, reconciling registers, checking in truck shipments and assisting with customer service and sales. Her patience, strong work ethic and respect for other people enable her to do her job well. “I am particularly proud when a customer comes in, remembers me from their last visit and compliments the help I gave them,” Margaret said. One of her favorite suggestions for park visitors is an early drive through Cades Cove followed by a picnic lunch at Chimney Tops picnic area.
Holly Nelson, Assistant Store Manager
Holly is the store manager for GSMA’s Blount County team. She oversees visitor centers in Townsend and Cades Cove, where she also manages the historic Cable Mill and orientation shelter. Originally from Sarasota and Myakka City, Florida, Holly has lived in Townsend with her husband for 21 years and began working with GSMA in 2014 as a seasonal employee. Now as a store manager, Holly enjoys serving visitors with her park knowledge, motivation, and positive attitude and hearing about the different places others come from to see the Smokies. “In Cades Cove, it's not always easy for rangers to be around,” said Holly, “so we need to make sure we are giving visitors the correct information.” When asked about her favorite place in the park, Holly said, “Cades Cove of course! But I also love the Tremont area.”
Deborah Williams, Assistant Store Manager
Deborah is an Assistant Manager for the GSMA’s Sevier County Team. She works at the Sugarlands and Gatlinburg visitor centers, making sure the money is accounted for, the shelves are stocked and the staff is managed. Prior to her current position she worked at GSMA’s Dollywood store, where she was promoted to display manager. After a brief stint in her home state of Louisiana to assist her ailing mother, she returned to GSMA. “I’m a talker, so I really enjoy people,” Deborah said. “I like hearing where they’re from, finding out what they want to do and see while they’re in the park and matching them up with merchandise that will enhance their visit.”