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Smokies superintendent wins leadership award

Smokies superintendent wins leadership award

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Superintendent Cassius Cash was named the winner of the 2021 Agency Leadership Award from the Public Lands Alliance during a virtual conference May 24.

The award recognizes a public land management agency employee who has made outstanding accomplishments in championing, cultivating and leading partnerships. The Great Smoky Mountains Association nominated Cash for his leadership throughout the past six years and for outstanding guidance during a difficult year wrought with fear, isolation and social unrest. 

“The Smokies provide superintendents with nonstop challenges that play out on a national stage under the constant, relentless scrutiny of the media and area business leaders,” said GSMA Executive Director Laurel Rematore. “Superintendent Cash faces the challenges and pushes his park staff and partner organizations toward embracing the opportunity that lies within each challenge.”

In 2015, Cash became the park’s first-ever African American superintendent and has since led the Smokies through situations as diverse as the 100th birthday of the National Park Service, the devastating Chimney Tops 2 Fire in November 2016, and the immense visitation numbers during 2017’s Total Solar Eclipse — all while demonstrating an authentic, honest approach to relationship-building in the park, said GSMA. 

Last year, Cash led the development and implementation of a COVID-SAFE operations plan in collaboration with GSMA, which runs the bookstores in park visitor centers. At the same time, he used his partnership prowess to address two major issues in groundbreaking ways. 

First, Cash has made it a priority to involve local people in finding solutions to unsustainable visitation levels through Visitor Experience Stewardship discussions — holding Zoom meetings with gateway community members to make them aware of the issues, gather their input and seek solutions together. Secondly, in response to the deaths of unarmed African Americans and the nationwide social justice movement that followed, Cash created Smokies Hikes for Healing, an initiative in which trained facilitators joined each of eight guided hikes with 10 participants in order to lead those groups in thought-provoking private discussions to recognize and confront the long-standing ills associated with racism.

“I like to say, if I have left it better than when I found it, then I have done my job,” Cash said in a fall 2020 interview with Smokies Life magazine editor Frances Figart. “But that doesn’t just apply to my workplace. It’s also about my community. Addressing these issues and looking at how our communities can make changes or be a part of change, I think that is the job I’m here to do.”

For additional details on the 2021 Public Lands Alliance Partnership Awards, visit www.publiclandsalliance.org or watch the ceremony stream at www.facebook.com/publiclandsalliance

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