Hikers enjoy Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Photo provided via Facebook.

As the weather cools and the East Tennessee mountain trails beckon, hikers and campers have a new way to support the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The park badly needs donations for an upgrade to its communications system. The recently released review of the GSMNP response to the devastating Sevier County wildfires of November 2016 included the upgrade as one of its primary recommendations.

In celebration of its 25th anniversary next year, Friends of the Smokies has announced a major capital campaign to fund the GSMNP radio system upgrade by this time next year. Total cost of the radio system upgrade is $2.5 million, but federal funding sources and other grants will match donations to Friends of the Smokies dollar for dollar. That means gifts totaling $1.25 million will meet the goal.

“The radio system is the backbone of the park,” said Chief Ranger Steve Kloster.  “If we do not have a radio system that’s functioning properly, we cannot communicate.”

He said the radio communications system currently used in the park has exceeded its recommended lifespan. Replacement parts are difficult to obtain and repairs and maintenance are expensive.

The proposed project will replace key equipment at nine radio tower sites around the park as well as portable radio units and mobile units in patrol vehicles and fire engines. This will allow park rangers and emergency dispatch to directly communicate with police, fire and emergency services in jurisdictions outside park boundaries.

“The ability to effectively communicate with different agencies in the field can make all the difference in a life-threatening situation where every second counts. A good communications system truly is the backbone of any emergency response and this state-of-the-art upgrade will put the Smokies on par with any unit in the National Park Service,” Kloster said.

To give, visit Donate.FriendsOfTheSmokies.org or call 800-845-5665.

 

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Written by Kelly Norrell
Columnist kellyknoxtntoday@gmail.com 865-806-0132