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Great Smoky Mountains Association


Since our inception in 1953, Great Smoky Mountains Association has supported the preservation of Great Smoky Mountains National Park by promoting greater public understanding and appreciation through education, interpretation and research. A non-profit organization, GSMA has provided more than $32 million to the park during its 60-year history. Our funds are generated through retails sales to park visitors and our membership program. Anyone interested in deepening their relationship with Great Smoky Mountains National Park is invited to become a GSMA member.


Our Mission

Great Smoky Mountains Association supports the perpetual preservation of Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the national park system by promoting greater public understanding and appreciation through education, interpretation, and research.


Our History

In recognition of Great Smoky Mountains Association’s 60th year of preserving nature and history in the park, in 2013 we produced a timeline of our most impressive accomplishments, some of our challenges and several examples of park enhancements made possible through the generous support of our members.

1953 – Great Smoky Mountains Natural History Association is established, aided by a $100 interest-free loan from Mount Rainier Natural History Association. The loan was paid back within the year.

1954 – By unanimous vote, Viewmasters and pictures of the park would be made available for sale. Remember those?

1955 – A study of operations at Cable Mill was requested to determine if NHA “might consider doing those things which NPS could not do in Cades Cove.” The start of a beautiful interpretative partnership.

1956 – A children’s information booklet and a guide to the Pioneer Museum were both approved, adding to the growing list of educational materials being made available to the public.

1960 – It was decided that sugar cane needed for the sorghum-making demonstration should be grown onsite at Cades Cove. (Yum!)

1961 – The Association needed to decide what to do about its paperback books, since most libraries preferred hardbacks. (Today, the question is: “Digital?”)

1962 – GMSA President David Condon reported his work to produce one of the first movies about the park was under way. (Seen our YouTube channel. Oh, how far we’ve come.)

1963 – A checklist of some 1,500 flowering plants, called then “the most complete of its kind now in existence,” was approved for free distribution. (Thanks to the All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory, that list has grown to more than 17,500 known species in the park.)

1964 – “Notes on Birds of Great Smoky Mountains National Park” by Arthur Stupka went on sale for the first time this year.

1965 – After the death of the last remaining Walker Sister six months earlier, the Association purchased the furnishings in the house.

1966 – Muzzle-loading rifle demonstrations were added to corn grinding and sorghum making programs at Cades Cove during the summer.

1967 – The most sorghum molasses to date was produced, 1,017 gallons, even after 30 percent of the Cades Cove cane crop was damaged by bears and raccoons.

1968 – The first Association-published book on black bears was proposed at the annual board meeting this year. Today, “Frequently Asked Questions about Black Bears” is one of our most popular offerings, in traditional book and e-book formats.

1969 – Aid to the National Park Service since GSMA was started in 1953 reaches $69,000+ in 1969. Kinda’ poetic, don’t you agree.

1970 – At the annual membership meeting, it was pointed out that the association’s ox was used in the sorghum-making demonstration at Oconaluftee, “possibly the only ox-powered sorghum mill anywhere.”

1971 – Association members learned of progress being made in the University of Tennessee’s wild boar study, a project financially supported by GSMA.

1972 – Intriguing entry: “Moonshining was a new demonstration this year and performed on an unscheduled basis one day a week.” 

1973 – The association hired an architect to improve sale space at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center by adding 14 feet of new countertop. Too bad he couldn’t do anything about this guy’s socks!

1974 – Aid-to-Park funds totaled $85,000+ and included repairs to Mingus Mill, several interpretative programs, living history demonstrations at Oconaluftee and Cades Cove, as well as employment of a photographer to improve the park’s slide files.

1975 – Association sales assistants donned uniforms for the first time this year. Today, most folks see GSMA staff members and assume we are park rangers. While we are not, we are all proud to work in the park and enjoy assisting visitors with a variety of needs.

1976 – Any stamp collectors out there? GSMA earned $10,000+ on stamp sales during the year.

1977 – Listed as a major project for the year was the Smoky Vista, the precursor to today’s Smokies Guide, the park’s newspaper published four times a year.

1978 – GSMA’s 25th anniversary year! Our gross sales approached $500,000.

1979 - A computerized bibliography of the park’s natural history – including orchids, birds, ferns, fungi and general vegetation – was listed as a major project undertaken during the year. Could this have been the start of the All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory?

1980 – GSMA celebrated a milestone - $1 million donated to the National Park Service.

1981 – Jack Bowers (no, not that Jack Bowers) was appointed by the board to serve as the association’s business manager.

1982 – The World’s Fair held in Knoxville this year was given credit for increase sales within the park stores.

1983 – The largest contribution amount to date from GSMA to NPS was given this year: $160,000+; publications specialist Becky Butcher was hired; and the CCC celebrated its 50th anniversary.

1984 – GSMNP celebrated its 50th anniversary; Annette Evans, who retired just this month, was named the park’s new librarian in 1984.

1985 – Major renovations and repairs of Mingus Mill took place.

1986 – All three store locations within the park – Sugarlands, Cades Cove and Oconaluftee – began accepting credit cards.

1987 – Current publications director Steve Kemp started work at GSMA on Sept. 28.

1988 – In this its 35th year of operation, GSMA was ranked #7 compared with other associations in gross sales and #6 in aid-to-park funds; total sales through this year were $11.5 million.

1989 – The City of Gatlinburg began construction on its new Park and Ride facility on the Spur, now called the Gatlinburg Welcome Center, where one of the current seven GSMA stores operates.

1990 - GSMA makes a $1,000 gift to the Smoky Mountain Hiking Club in support of its Ridgerunner program; the association also purchased its first FAX machine this year; and end-of-the-year membership total was 800.

1991 - The year of the fire that destroyed the association headquarters inside the park. It was also the year that discussions began with the Blount County Chamber of Commerce about GSMA moving into its new building in Townsend to offer national park information to visitors.

1992 - With funding support from GSMA, the Otter Reintroduction Program in GSMNP got under way on Feb. 10.

1993 - Circulation of the award-winning Smokies Guide park newspaper exceeds 600,000 copies.

1994 - From the membership ranks came the suggestion to start an "adopt an historic building program; the official "Adopt a Cabin" inside GSMNP was initiated in 2012 to an overwhelmingly positive response.

1995 - The Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians installed their first female chief, Joyce Dugan, in a ceremony attended by many park representatives. Three days later, Hurricane Opal crashed through the Smokies, leaving a trail of devastation in its path.

1996 - The Oconaluftee Mountain Farm Museum brochure was expanded from 12 to 16 pages with additional information about the area's fences, gardens and family roles.

1997 - With funding from GSMA, national park "super" volunteer Robin Goddard led a group of nine students and three teachers to Smolensk Lakelands in Russia, the second half of an exchange program that brought Russian students to the Smokies in 1996.

1998 - Wilderness Wildlife Week in Pigeon Forge was highlighted by two GSMA presentations this year. This event continues to be a favorite of the community for providing educational opportunities in the winter months.

1999 - A search of the minutes from December found no mention of the term "Y2K," but they did mention that expansion of the Sugarlands Visitor Center GSMA sales area was celebrated with a gala.

2000 - The Smoky Mountain Visitor Center, a new GSMA official park store and information center opened just south of Franklin, NC, in June on U.S. 441. 

2001 - The "mini" visitors center at the Orientation Shelter at the beginning of the Cades Cove loop began limited operation this summer.

2002 - The Great Smoky Mountains Natural History Association dropped two words from its name and became Great Smoky Mountains Association.

2003 - Some 196 GSMA members attended the organization's 50th Anniversary Annual meeting in Bryson City. "The event was considered a success."

2004 - GSMNP Superintendent Dale Ditmanson was introduced to the GSMA board and expressed his desire for a long-term service to the park. (Note: Dale did exactly that and has just recently announced his retirement as of January 2014.)

2005 - Synchronous fireflies were all the rage this year (and they haven't yet gone out of fashion). Firefly merchandise added to the stores this year included book bag, coffee mug, art print and poster, as well as site bulletins for visitors.

2006 - The Save the Hemlock bumper stickers was introduced in the official park stores and more than 2,100 copies of "The Smokies Yukky Book" were sold this year. It's still a strong favorite with kids.

2007 - The first Smokies Life magazine landed on the news stands this year. Not only was it well received, it's been winning awards and endearing itself to visitors and members ever since.

2008 - A huge crowd pleaser, the 4-foot by 8-foot 3D relief maps of GSMNP were installed this year at several visitor centers.

2009 - The 75th Anniversary of Great Smoky Mountains National Park dominated activites this year. GSMA greatly enhanced its revenue - and, in turn, its ability to support the educational and scientific efforts inside the park - because of the public's desire to own a piece of history.

2010 - The new Clingmans Dome Visitor Center opened to the public. 

2011 - The new Oconaluftee Visitor Center opened to the public on April 15.

2012 - The Kephart Knife was introduced to the public.