I’ve just been voted onto the board of the Great Smoky Mountains Association and I’m getting a first-hand look at how the association runs. Like all Cooperating Associations, GMSA is non-profit 501(C)3 organization, with an official agreement with the National Park Service to provide books, maps, and other educational materials on the Smokies and sell them in visitor centers. We work closely with the park and there’s a great trust level between us – the GSMA office is across a small courtyard from the park headquarters.
We can’t tell the Smokies staff how to run their national park and we don’t take positions on park issues as an association. This must have been difficult during the long, protracted North Shore Road issue, one where almost everyone favored a financial settlement rather than building another road through the park.
Terry Maddox, who has served as the association’s executive director for 20 years, says “the park decides what projects they support. We try to help them.”
The Association has over 11,000 members and a budget of $7.5 million. All members get 15 percent off on anything they buy in visitor center stores and on the web. With a basic membership of $25, a membership quickly pays for itself. GSMA books and maps are not easily available in most other bookstores and are not sold on Amazon. So if you want Hiking Trails of the Smokies, the hiking bible describing every trail in the park – accept no substitution – you have to buy it from GSMA. In addition, with your GSMA discount card, you can get a discount in other park associations stores.
The Great Smoky Mountains Association currently publishes 38 books, and many nature trail booklets, maps and DVDs. Unlike commercial publishers, their books seldom go out of print. Mountain Makin’s Cookbook, published in 1957, was the association’s first book and is still offered today. Probably the best-known publication from national park associations is the park newspaper, which comes out four times a year.
In addition to books and educational materials produced by GSMA, visitor centers in the Smokies sell other products, including my two hiking guides. A park committee votes on whether an item is appropriate for Association stores. The sales also help out the Smokies, as GSMA returns 17 percent of its gross income to the park. In return, the park doesn’t charge rent.
Lots more when I learn more about what my role is.