Smokies plate helps Friends help the park

The new specialty license plate for Friends of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, sporting a black bear against a mountain ridge line, continues to show record support among drivers.

Friends of the Smokies brought in $338,280 from its special black bear license plate program in 2008, an increase of $95,520 or 39 percent over 2007.

“We are truly thankful to see such strong support for the tag program during these uncertain economic times,” said Elaine Stewart, manager of the North Carolina office of Friends of the Smokies. “It’s harder for people to give a lot these days, but when a lot of people give a little, it really adds up.”

Of the extra $30 cost for the specialty tag, $20 goes to Friends of the Smokies to support projects and programs on the North Carolina side of the park. Launched in 1999, the Smokies license plate has now raised nearly $1.5 million.

With these funds, Friends of the Smokies has supported a wide variety of projects and programs in 2008:

• Assisting with black bear conservation initiatives.

• Helping purchase two electric vehicles for use in Smokemont and Cataloochee.

• Providing educational programs for park visitors and local schoolchildren.

• Launching plans for new educational exhibits at Oconaluftee Visitor Center.

• Protecting the park’s hemlock forests from the deadly hemlock woolly adelgid.

• Supporting the Appalachian Highlands Science Learning Center in Haywood County.

• Improving backcountry safety and management programs.

• Supporting air quality research.

• Sustaining the country’s largest Student Conservation Association internship program.

• Providing support for the park’s Volunteer Visitor Assistance Program.

“Next year we will celebrate the park’s 75th anniversary,” said Stephen W. Woody, Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors of Friends of the Smokies. “We have so much work to do then to support conservation, education, trail improvements, and more, and we hope people will continue to contribute to our efforts one plate at a time.”

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