It’s our great pleasure to announce that three Great Smoky Mountains Association projects are in the running for Partnership Awards, a program of the Public Lands Alliance.
The Partnership Awards celebrate the best in public lands partnerships, recognizing individuals, organizations, publications, products, programs and services that embody leading-edge achievements in the preservation of public lands and the enrichment of visitors.
This year, GSMA has these projects up for awards: Millers Historical Demonstrations for Outstanding Public Engagement; Species-a-Day Perpetual Calendar for Innovative Product of the Year; and George Ellison and Janet McCue’s Back of Beyond: A Horace Kephart Biography for Publication of the Year.
An additional nomination for Agency Leadership remains confidential until winners are announced on March 4 at a ceremony at the annual PLA conference in Arlington, Virginia. Vote for your favorite project to win the Partners Choice Award.
Nomination: Outstanding Public Engagement
Nominated for the 2020 Outstanding Public Engagement award, this program provides park visitors with an authentic Smoky Mountain experience — both at Cable Mill in Cades Cove and Mingus Mill near the Oconaluftee Visitor Center in North Carolina.
The Outstanding Public Engagement award recognizes exemplary products, displays, programs or services created in partnership by a nonprofit organization and a land management agency that advances meaningful and sustainable connections between individuals and America’s public lands.
Great Smoky Mountains Association employs full-time millers at both historic mills seven days per week from mid-March through October, as well as on Fridays and weekends in November. These millers interact with more than 1,000 visitors on many days and speak to them about the functions and significance of these mills.
“Often, visitors walk into the various historic structures in Great Smoky Mountains National Park expecting them to be empty but are pleasantly surprised to be greeted by the millers,” said Beth Bramhall, Cades Cove ranger. “The operators in the mills are there to share stories about how important the mills were to residents in the past and to provide a glimpse into how a gristmill works.”
Originally restored in the 1930s by the CCC and kept in working order by the park’s preservation crew (with support from GSMA and Friends of the Smokies), these two mills and their dedicated historic demonstrators provide parkgoers with a window to the past — enhancing visitors’ understanding of these mountain communities, how people raised and stored their own food, how they used a barter system and how their resourcefulness allowed them to accomplish impressive things.
At the heart of the park’s most visited destination, Cable Mill, built by John Cable around 1870, is a two-story structure with a large-working waterwheel. Visitors are able to walk along its wooden flume, following the water until it spills over to into the buckets of the giant wheel. The heavy wheel is then propelled into motion, transferring its movement to a series of gears and, ultimately, turning the bulky “running” stone inside the building. Crossing the footbridge and entering the dark, cool structure of the mill, park visitors are welcomed by the sound of rumbling granite and the aroma of freshly ground cornmeal. There, they will also find one of the millers, who keeps the operation running smoothly and is poised to interact with the visitors inside.
A similar experience is found at Mingus Mill, a large, three-story mill built in 1886 by Sion Thomas Early for Dr. John Mingus. Mingus Mill provides an excellent example of a turbine-powered gristmill, which provided enough power during the 50 years of its original operation to operate a corn-grinding mill, as well as a wheat-grinding stone, a wheat-cleaning machine and a bolting chest on the second floor.
“The park could not provide such culturally educational opportunities without partners like GSMA and their staff,” Bramhall continued. “With shortages in park staffing, GSMA provides a corps of educated millers who fill in the gaps in park interpretive offerings. Without this dedicated crew and the funding to staff these positions, it is unlikely that there would be regular mill demonstrations at either Mingus or Cable mills.”
Nomination: Innovative Product
Up for the 2020 Innovative Product of the Year award is one of the park bookstore’s hottest new items: the Species-a-Day Perpetual Calendar. The Innovative Product award recognizes an interpretive product that embodies a pathbreaking approach to achieve a public lands mission.
A collaborative project between Great Smoky Mountains Association, Discover Life in America and the National Park Service, this desktop perpetual calendar (meaning it can be used repeatedly year after year) highlights one species found in Great Smoky Mountains National Park each day.
Every page includes a full-color photo or illustration, as well as a few lines of interpretive text that give the lay audience a bit of background knowledge about that day’s featured species. Once a month, a page is dedicated to a “new-to-science” species — one that’s been recently described by Discover Life in America in the All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory, a groundbreaking effort to identify and understand every one of the estimated 80,000 life forms within the park.
Being a perpetual calendar, the Species-a-Day Calendar has utility for a greater span of time than most calendars and is a perfect fit for both educational environments and those who just want to add a little touch of the Smokies to their office or home on a daily basis.
“Many of these species are unknown to the average visitor, so I wanted the calendar to highlight them as well as our well-known charismatic residents,” said Emma DuFort, GSMA publications specialist and creator of the calendar. “My great hope is that it can be both visually appealing and functional, as an interpretive product that enhances the public’s knowledge of this park’s amazing network of life.”
Nomination: Publication of the Year
The Publication of the Year award recognizes a book or other publication that embodies innovation in educating and interpreting public lands to its readers and impacts a substantial audience. This 2020 nomination is a historical account of Horace Kephart and the creation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, written by George Ellison and Janet McCue. The book has already garnered significant critical acclaim, winning the prestigious Thomas Wolfe Memorial Literary Award in 2019.
Back of Beyond delves into the life of the librarian-turned-woodsman, conservationist and “dean of American campers,” bringing to light details about the enigmatic figure whose legendary charisma and journalistic prowess were influential in securing a park in the Smokies.
Creating Great Smoky Mountains National Park was a long and difficult task, and Kephart was part of a core group of activists whose passion sparked this momentous effort.
For five years, the authors researched, wrote, and revised the manuscript aided by an extensive community archiving project launched by Kephart’s great-granddaughter, Libby Kephart Hargrave. It was Hargrave’s commitment to unearth additional family letters, manuscripts and ephemera that revealed new details about Kephart’s family relationships and his determined foray into writing fiction. Her efforts and the family’s commitment to look through family files and boxes scattered across the East Coast and the West led to contributions of research materials to Western Carolina University, Cornell University and the Collections Preservation Center of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Kephart came to North Carolina after having endured a breakdown of his health and his marriage. In the Smokies, he pieced together a life as an author and an advocate, and his belief that the mountain wilderness saved his life prompted his campaign to ensure the establishment of the national park. Only by protecting the land, he asserted, could others benefit from its restorative powers.
The authors, both well-known across the region, have collaborated before on several other Kephart publications, including the introduction to Camping and Woodcraft (2011) and the biographical chapter in the Horace Kephart Reader (2019).
Since the book’s release in March 2019, GSMA has sold around 1,500 copies of Back of Beyond, generating more than $17,000 for GSMA, which goes directly toward projects that benefit Great Smoky Mountains National Park.