Steve Kemp retires from the Great Smoky Mountains Association

Every once in a while I go to Great Smoky Mountains National Park and I don’t hike. Today was one of those days.

Smokies Headquarters

I was one of many, many people who met in the lobby of Park Headquarters to say good bye to Steve Kemp, interpretive products and services director at Great Smoky Mountains Association (GSMA).

Everyone who’s anyone was there including Superintendent Cash, Deputy Superintendent Clay Jordan, and other park officials, Laurel Rematore, Executive Director of GSMA, and much of her staff, Jim Hart, Executive Director of Friends of the Smokies, and Frances Figart, the new face of publications at GSMA.

Steve has been on the job for thirty years, growing the number and quality of the GSMA publications. He’s edited Hiking Trails of the Smokies, the beloved “brown book”, Wildflowers of the Smokies, Birds of the Smokies and all the “of the Smokies” book series. He started Smokies Life, a semiannual journal, with long, in-depth, thoughtful articles on some aspect of the park, a journal that published two of my articles.

After many toasts and reminiscences, Steve had the last word. He told a story that I wish I had caught on tape:

Steve grew up in Iowa, where, as he put it, the state motto was “There’s nothing to do around here”. With no public land available to hike or camp, he and his friends camped illegally in private fields by ponds. Farmers kept chasing them away.

Then one day, his posse found “Benny’s Happy Valley”.  Benny had a Welcome sign and allowed the public to camp and use his land. Steve and his  group were ecstatic and camped, fish and ran around along with others.

Cataract Falls

The moral of the story was that the Smokies and all the national parks have a welcome sign out for the public. And visitors really appreciate the chance to use the parks. Steve told the story with great humor, which reminded me of Garrison Keillor.

So whenever you pick up a GSMA publication and wonder who was responsible for the book or magazine, remember Steve, and soon, Francis. They are the “they” behind the interpretive products sold in the Smokies stores. See the picture above – Francis, Steve and Laurel.

PS What is the picture of Cataract Falls in the middle of this post? OK. I got to Sugarlands Visitor Center area early and I walked to Cataract Falls. I wanted to see the torrent of water after the rain. No torrent, not much more water than usual.

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