Friends of the Smokies collected $208,321 in donations Wednesday during its 23rd annual Friends Across the Mountains Telethon from hundreds of callers, online donations and support from sponsors Dollywood, Mast General Store, Pilot Flying J, and SmartBank. Since 1995, Friends of the Smokies’ telethons have raised more than $3.7 million in support of America’s most-visited national park. The telethon was broadcast live Wednesday night on WBIR in Knoxville, TN, WLOS in Asheville, NC, and Facebook.
“Time and time again, the people who love this special place continue to step up and help us care for it. We are so grateful for the Friends and the Smokies community who have responded with such generosity,” said Cassius Cash, Superintendent of Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP).
Wednesday night’s broadcast celebrated the launch of a new capital campaign to replace and upgrade the park’s emergency radio systems. The $2.5 million effort will leverage $1.25 million in federal funds and grants to match every donation made to Friends of the Smokies. The stateof-the-art radio upgrades will allow rangers to respond more quickly and effectively to emergency situations in the park, keep more than 11 million annual visitors safe, and communicate with emergency services in surrounding communities. This fundraising campaign will pay for radio upgrades on top of nearly $1.4 million in annual support the Friends is already committed to provide GSMNP in 2017 and additional funding for continued fire recovery efforts including trail repairs and invasive species removal.
During Wednesday’s program, SmartBank presented a check for $15,000 and Sugarland Cellars presented a $30,000 check to contribute toward the new radio system.
Friends of the Smokies’ president Jim Hart thanked the generous donors who called and donated online, “We are so encouraged by the positive energy right here in our own back yard and all around the country for this important project. This park is a very special place to so many people and their love and support rang out across the mountains last night.”
Matching telethon donations can still be made online at FriendsOfTheSmokies.org/donate or by calling the TN office of Friends of the Smokies at 800-845-5665 or the NC office at 828-4520720.