Race raises $110K to support the Smokies

Held Sunday, Nov. 12, in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Cades Cove Loop Lope raised more than $110,000 to support the park. 

Keeping watch: Mt. Cammerer fire tower restoration marks Friends of the Smokies’ 30th birthday

Gary Wade grew up in Pittman Center, Tennessee, just 7 miles from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park trailhead leading to Mt. Cammerer. But despite being a lifelong hiker, he didn’t reach the storied fire tower  at the summit until 1993, when he was in his mid 40s. 

Barn party sets Smokies fundraising record

Friends of the Smokies raised more than $400,000 for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park during its 25th annual Greenbrier Barn Party Friday, May 12, setting a fundraising record for the event.

Donation will open Smokies visitor centers for holiday weekend

Despite the ongoing government shutdown, two visitor centers in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park will be open over Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend thanks to a donation from Friends of the Smokies. Appropriations from federal recreation fees are also keeping a third visitor center, as well as a variety of restroom facilities, open during the shutdown.

Path to the past: Friends of the Smokies hike explores park history and natural beauty

out frThere was no doubt about how the Smoky Mountains got their name as day dawned on the Friends of the Smokies’ planned hike to Hemphill Bald. Sky seemed to meet earth as the carpool headed up the mountain from Maggie Valley, fog so thick the road 20 feet ahead could have been imaginary. It didn’t look like the bald at the end of the 4.4-mile hike would offer much of a view that day. 

The gloomy weather didn’t drive away Patrick Murphy, however, who’d come over from Bryson City to try out his first Friends of the Smokies hike. The morning was “dismal,” Murphy said, but not without its high points — the first one to arrive at the trailhead, he found himself sharing the spot with two elk.

Building a bridge of ideas and insight from the Smokies to Iceland

out frBy George Ivey • Contributing writer

What in the world would bring together the Great Smoky Mountains and the country of Iceland way up there in the cold waters of the North Atlantic?

No good reason for such a colorful plate debate

op frState senators from the mountain region — and we’re especially talking about those representing the southwest, Sen. Jim Davis, R-Franklin, and Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Spruce Pine — need to pull out all stops to save the colorful license plates that put money directly into their districts and benefit their constituents.

Campaign to save specialty plates hits road block in the Senate

An effort to save those colorful specialty license plates has stalled in the N.C. Senate, which seems reluctant to take a bill up that would spare the popular plates.

Supporters of the specialty plates have rallied to save them from the chopping block. Lawmakers last year passed a bill that would gut the iconic plates, stripping them of their full color images such as the black bear, the scenic

Full-color plates still not a sure thing

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.  

(Holly Demuth is the executive director of the N.C. Friends of the Smokies. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

Specialty plates to stay on North Carolina highways

The iconic black bear, the parkway’s winding scenic road and the Appalachian Trail’s solitary hiker have gotten a reprieve.

A bill will be introduced next month to allow a version of the full-color specialty plates. They’d been facing a death sentence under a law introduced last year that sought plate uniformity in North Carolina.

“This is encouraging news,” said Holly Demuth, director in North Carolina for Friends of the Smokies.

The specialty black bear plate has raised $2.5 million for Friends of the Smokies. One of the most popular, there is about 20,000 of the Smokies plates on North Carolina’s roads. There are 216 specialty plates total, running the gamut from an elk plate that supports the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation to a coastal plate supporting, you guessed it, coastal protection.

Gutting the colorful specialty license plates had caused a hue and cry across the state.

Demuth wasn’t prepared to sing a victory song yet, however.

“It takes some undoing to undo a law,” she said. “We still have our work cut out for us. We need a hero. Quite bluntly, we need a Republican hero.”

That hero looks to be Rep. Phillip Frye, R-Mitchell, who said that he or fellow legislator Mitch Gillespie, R-McDowell, expect to introduce legislation that would allow the colorful plates to continue.

A new state law, passed last year at Gillespie’s behest, would have eliminated the full-color designs for specialty plates. Instead, starting in 2015 specialty plates would feature only tiny logos shoehorned into one small corner of the plate. Gillespie sought the stiffer restrictions because, as he said at the time, law enforcement officers could not easily see the license number and that presented safety issues.

That assertion was not backed up by anything but anecdotal evidence, prompting a safety study by the N.C. Department of Transportation. The study found that any possible visibility issues — colored backgrounds allegedly interfered with the legibility of numbers — could be solved if the license numbers were backed by a white background. The rest of the plate’s design could stay in tact.

That new design — a full color plate but with a white rectangle superimposed on top — is what Frye based his bill on.

The new law as proposed by Frye and approved recently by the Joint Transportation Oversight Committee would repeal the ban on the unique color background for specialty license plates. It was unanimously approved.

The proposed change follows a report issued Friday supporting the white block as a standardized format. The recommendation has the support of the state Department of Transportation, the Department of Public Safety, the state Highway Patrol, the N.C. Sheriffs Association and more.

“We feel like this is a workable situation,” Frye said of the new proposed rules. “It’s a good compromise, and everyone seems to be on board.”

Also good news, those with old plates will be grandfathered in. Under the original bill, owners of the old plates would have had to turn them in to the Department of Motor Vehicles and been issued a new one.

There are currently 91,311 full-color specialty license plates on the roads right now. The estimated cost of replacing all of these plates by July 1, 2015 was set at more than $164,000, according to the report, with each plate costing $1.75 to produce.

Other organizations that make money off the colorful specialty license plates, like the Friends of the Smokies, were breathing sighs of relief last week.

The specialty license plates cost motorists an extra fee of $30 per year. Of the fee, $20 goes directly to the groups involved.

“I think everyone sees the overall importance of the program and have been expressing that concern,” said Carolyn Ward, executive director of the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation. “This is a fairly significant piece of revenue.”

With about 27,000 plates on the road the Parkway Foundation has raised more than $2.9 million since 2004.

During that same time, the foundation’s specialty plate has kicked in $1.7 million into state coffers, Ward noted. This is because $10 of the $20 fee goes into the state’s Special Registration Plate Account, which supports the following: issues and handling of special plates, N.C. State Visitors Centers, travel and tourism advertising, highway beautification and travel accessibility for disabled people.

Here’s what that means in real numbers last year:

• $82,300 went to highway beautification.

• $54,318 went to the Department of Commerce for out-of-state tourism and industrial development promotion.

• $27,982 went to the Department of Health and Human Services to promote travel accessibility for disabled persons.

Page 1 of 2
Smokey Mountain News Logo
Go to top
Payment Information


At our inception 20 years ago, we chose to be different. Unlike other news organizations, we made the decision to provide in-depth, regional reporting free to anyone who wanted access to it. We don’t plan to change that model. Support from our readers will help us maintain and strengthen the editorial independence that is crucial to our mission to help make Western North Carolina a better place to call home. If you are able, please support The Smoky Mountain News.

The Smoky Mountain News is a wholly private corporation. Reader contributions support the journalistic mission of SMN to remain independent. Your support of SMN does not constitute a charitable donation. If you have a question about contributing to SMN, please contact us.