By Holly Demuth
What does your car believe in? Here in Western North Carolina, many people choose to express their love of the Smokies, the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Appalachian Trail, state parks, and the elk and ducks with their full color license plates. But soon that opportunity to show your support will not exist in its current form.
Full color license plates are slated to be taken off the road in 2015, according to North Carolina law. The plates that financially support attractions that are at the core of much of Western North Carolina’s travel and tourism economy, that provide more than 1 million voluntary dollars pumped into Western North Carolina in 2011 — gone. The program that made the state more than $800,000 in non-tax dollars in 2011 — eliminated.
The attractive Friends of the Smokies plate has helped generate since its inception more than $2.6 million to enhance Great Smoky Mountains National Park — one license plate at a time. Among many projects, these plates funded history exhibits at the new Oconaluftee Visitor Center near Cherokee, where visitation has increased 80 percent since its grand opening last year. It also supports the ongoing conservation of elk herds in Cataloochee Valley, which draw hundreds of thousands of visitors annually.
Improving Great Smoky Mountains National Park makes financial sense for North Carolina. In 2010 alone, more than 9 million park visitors spent $818 million in surrounding communities and helped create more than 14,000 jobs.
Laws can be changed. It takes a great effort, but it can happen. Fortunately, there is hope that our state legislators will repeal the provision when they go back to Raleigh this year.
A recent report from the N.C. Department of Transportation recommends continuing the full color plate program. The state Highway Patrol agrees. And a legislative study committee recently recommended that the General Assembly repeal the 2015 sunset.
Let’s hope that our elected representatives are listening.
Eliminating North Carolina’s popular full-color license plate program will hurt the state’s travel and tourism economy, and beloved tourist destinations like Great Smoky Mountains National Park without improving public safety.
People who love these special places and business who benefit from them can help change the law. Ask your state elected officials to protect this important revenue source and support repealing the sunset on the North Carolina full-color specialty license plate program. More information can be found at www.friendsofthesmokies.org.
While we’re at it, let’s do all we can to support these special resources and show Raleigh what an effective program it is – if you don’t have a full-color plate yet, please go out and purchase one.