Smokies LIVE Blog


Great Smoky Mountains National Park education branch chief Susan Sachs accepts her award for Agency Leadership and speaks to her years of partnership building during the Public Lands Alliance’s 2019 conference in Denver, CO.

And the winners are…

For Agency Leadership: Susan Sachs

This award recognizes a public land management agency employee for outstanding accomplishments by championing, cultivating and leading partnerships. Education branch chief Susan Sachs has been a leader in citizen science in the Smokies for more than two decades. Not limited by park boundaries, she brings her experience and accomplishments at a local level to regional and national-scale initiatives for the benefit of the NPS as a whole and its national-level partners.

“When I ask staff and leaders from across the NPS who they think of regarding citizen science, Susan’s name always comes up,” says Washington-based NPS science access and engagement coordinator Tim Watkins. “Overall, Susan has developed a years-long commitment to citizen science in her park and has been generous and selfless in contributing her knowledge and experience to people and projects far beyond the Smokies. That generosity has benefited the NPS, its partners, and the American public generally and is greatly deserving of acknowledgement and reward.”


For Outstanding Public Engagement: The Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage

The Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage in Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a 68-year-old annual event that brings expert field biologists and the interested public together to enjoy nature and educate citizens about the importance of biodiversity and conservation in the national park. Through guided tours, evening speakers and citizen science programs, participants have the opportunity to expand their knowledge of the incredible wealth of flora and fauna found in GSMNP.

“Over the past 68 years, we have been educating the public about the natural world in the most biodiverse park in the continental United States,” said Dr. Ken McFarland, a botanist and retired professor at the University of Tennessee who organized the event for more than 20 years. “By fostering an understanding of nature’s complexity, we encourage environmental preservation. For some pilgrims, the experience is an awakening, while for others the programs broaden their understanding of nature in the world.”


For the Partners Choice Award: Into the Mist Tales of Death and Disaster, Mishaps and Misdeeds, Misfortune and Mayhem in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Volume 1

With more than 800 votes from association members like you, our submission for Publication of the Year won this friendly competition by a landslide. David Brill’s Into the Mist explores a range of subjects unified by two themes: all involve events and circumstances that directly threatened—and in some cases, claimed—human lives, and all took place within Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Beyond merely engaging readers, the book seeks to educate and inform. Though other books address the theme of death and disaster in national parks, Into the Mist assumes a more respectful tone, particularly with regard to the friends and family members of the victims. “These are stories about human beings—fathers, mothers, children, friends—who suffered mightily before they succumbed in some cases, or were rescued in others,” Brill writes in the book’s introduction. One of many reviewers on wrote: “David Brill is first a human, then a writer. He spins a narrative that captures the life and death facts with respect and sensitivity.” 


The Public Lands Alliance is a national consortium of more than 160 nonprofit partners of public lands. As a PLA member, GSMA is invited each year to submit nominations for several award categories that recognize excellence in publications, programs and partnerships. Our entries for 2018 were all winners, as was announced Wednesday, February 27, at the annual PLA conference, held this year in Denver.

Representing GSMA at the Public Lands Alliance annual conference in Denver, CO, this week were, from left, Ed McAlister, Barbara Muhlbeier, Karen Key, Brenda Ownby, Laurel Rematore, Stephanie Kyriazis, Susan Sachs, Mitch Crisp, Dawn Roark, Anna Zanetti (representing Friends of the Smokies) and Ellis Bacon.


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Great Smokies

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(subject to change)

Open year round (closed December 25)

January - February

Open Daily 9:00 am - 4:30 pm

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Open Daily 9:00 am - 5:00 pm

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The Great Smokies Welcome Center is located on U.S. 321 in Townsend, TN, 2 miles from the west entrance to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Visitors can get information about things to see and do in and around the national park and shop from a wide selection of books, gifts, and other Smokies merchandise. Daily, weekly, and annual parking tags for the national park are also available.

Physical Address

7929 E. Lamar Alexander Parkway Townsend TN 37882


865.436.7318 Ext 320