Pull up a chair and listen to the old timers talk about their lives in the valleys and hollers of the Smokies. See a taxidermied scalded pig. Read about how the early Cherokee hunted. The new cultural museum in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park’s Oconaluftee Visitor Center, located at the entrance of the park near Cherokee, North Carolina, preserves the area’s cultural heritage in a very personal and dramatic way.
This long envisioned project has become a reality thanks to private donations. “The park is humbled by the continual support from individuals, the nearby communities, and those from afar,” said Park Superintendent Dale Ditmanson. “To the Friends of the Smokies license plate holders, donation box contributors, and foundations alike, thank you for your support.”
Cultural museum made possible by community support
Friends of the Smokies North Carolina license plate holders can be proud that their support of the park helped to bring the first museum dedicated to the cultural history of the over half million acres to reality.
Philanthropic organizations stepped up to the plate to fund this important project. The Cherokee Preservation Foundation, Blue Ridge National Heritage Area, Cannon Foundation, Eastern Band of Cherokees Community Foundation, and Swain County Community Foundation all contributed to making this long-time vision a reality.
Visitors to the park from all over the country and the world also made the exhibits possible. Donations placed by park visitors in the donation box at the former temporary Visitor Center were a key component in funding the exhibits.
The Friends of the Smokies spearheaded the fundraising effort for the $550,000 exhibit project, which nearly quadrupled the number and variety of exhibits that enrich the visitor’s experience at Oconaluftee. The exhibits focus primarily on land use over time and how that changed.
From the chair that FDR sat in at the dedication of the park in 1934 to items families donated to the park when it was created, visitors come to have a better sense of the Smokies, who settled there and how they lived.
The investment in the new exhibit is paying off. “Since the opening of the museum in April, visitation has increased nearly sixty percent,” shared Oconaluftee Supervisory Park Ranger Lynda Doucette. “This dramatic increase in visitation looks to be sustainable. We are seeing people return two and three times, wanting more time with the exhibits and sharing them with friends and family. Park visitors from near and far are experiencing a much higher level of service.”
The exhibits have created a destination that did not exist before. With visitors lingering longer, Oconaluftee and the surrounding region is becoming more of a destination. “This is an investment in the park visitor’s experience that already, in less than two months, is showing a payoff. The caliber of these exhibits is first-rate,” asserted Friends of the Smokies board director and Bryson City native Luke Hyde. “The country’s national treasure of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park deserves no less.”
The Friends of the Smokies license plate which helped in part make these exhibits a reality is available any time from any North Carolina license plate agency office or at www.ncdot.org/dmv. Friends of the Smokies is a not-for-profit park partner organization working to preserve, protect and provide for Great Smoky Mountains National Park. More information is available online at www.friendsofthesmokies.org or by calling (828) 452-0720.
Since 1993, Friends of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a 501 (c) (3) not-for-profit organization, has raised more than $33 million to support educational programs, historic preservation projects, conservation of natural and cultural resources, and wildlife research and protection in the Smokies.