Senator Lamar Alexander, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and Acting Superintendent Pedro Ramos all converged in Townsend, Tennessee to announce plans to build the Joint Curatorial Collection facility in the back of the Smoky Mountain Heritage Center.
I knew I was going to like Ms. Jewell when I heard that she, the superintendent and a few Friends of the Smokies members hiked up Chimney Tops in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Hey, how come I wasn’t invited?
Here was a Secretary of the Interior who would actually go into the interior. The trail is two miles up and steep. Friends of the Smokies is funding the rehabilitation of the trail under the Trails Forever program. Jewell walked the rehabbed section and the muddy section yet to be worked on.
Superintendent Ramos stressed the love and passion that we have for our national park; yes, it’s my national park as well. He claims he’s never seen the kind of support that private partnerships, like Friends of the Smokies and Great Smoky Mountains Association give to the park in any other national park. “We, the park, can’t do it all ourselves.”
Sen. Lamar Alexander from Tennessee has been a long time supporter of the Smokies. “Lots of people have supported the idea of the curatorial facility, but Sally Jewell had to make a decision and she decided that we will go ahead with the building.”
As he put it, this building will hold the items that people owned: the Walker Sister quilts, Jim Thompson photographs, the chair that FDR sat in when he dedicated the park and Alexander’s favorite, the largest collection of stills in the country. Nearly half of the estimated $ 4.3 million cost of the facility has been provided by our park partners along with the donation of the 1.6 acre parcel of land provided by the Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center.
Sally Jewell said that “Friends groups used to provide the margin of excellence. Now they’re providing the margin of survival for parks.”
That seemed to be her mantra as she repeated it several times. “I’m your advocate in front of Congress”. But she pointed out that “your voices are important. The legislature needs to hear that parks are important to us.”
Two questions stood out:
* A man questioned why the park was considering removing daffodils from the landscape. Yes, daffodils are exotic but they’re part of the heritage. When you see daffodils, chances are that there was a home here. Ramos said that maybe we could consider daffodils part of the heritage, like cabins.
* Next question. When is Congress going to pay Swain County for the settlement for the North Shore Road?
Jewell said that she had to recuse herself from talking about the settlement because she had been on the board of National Parks Conservation Association. But Senator Alexander stepped up and said he could talk about it and did.
“The Government owes money to Swain County and I’m going to do my best to see that the Government pays”.
So the question is: Where are our two senators from North Carolina on this issue?
On a more amusing note, retired superintendent Dale Ditmanson came and quietly sat in the back. He grew a beard.
Look who’s really retired?