Almost exactly forty years ago on April 28, 1982, an internal park service newsletter announced some terribly exciting news—Great Smoky Mountains National Park would be receiving its very first computer.
“Eureka!” the editor’s note proclaimed. “We have one … a computer, that is …. Well, almost. The Natural History Association has graciously voted to appropriate $5,000 for the purchase of a microprocessor (computer) to be used by the Resource Management unit of the park.”
The Great Smoky Mountains Natural History Association often provided funds to make a new tools and technologies available to park managers. Today, the same partner organization, now known as Great Smoky Mountains Association, continues to provide about $2 million in funding and additional aid for the park service every year.
“The computer will be dedicated primarily to the modernization of the backcountry reservation system, but enough slack and afterhours time should be available to load lots of other resource management data into its electronic brain,” the announcement continued. “We’ve come a long way, baby!”
The technology used in Great Smoky Mountains National Park had certainly come a long way by 1982. And in the 40 years since, it’s safe to say we’ve come even further still.
Steve Kemp—the founding editor of Smokies Life and now a regular contributor to the magazine and the namesake of GSMA’s Writers-in-Residence program—recently stumbled upon the newsletter while researching a story.
"It was nice to see GSMA's donation helped both the backcountry reservation system and the park's Resource Management division,” said Kemp. “As I recall, former chief of resource management Stu Coleman put out this useful publication to keep everyone in the park informed about resource management discoveries and accomplishments.”
The purchase of the park’s first computer was part of a broader effort to update and streamline campsite reservations in the Smokies—an important project that the park accomplished with help from its nonprofit partners.
“While combing the park archives with NPS Archivist/Librarian Michael Aday, we also found that GSMA had helped fund research on backcountry users as well as the campsite cable systems that keep our food beyond the reach of bears,” said Kemp. “Way to go, GSMA!"