The autumn splendor and wispy fog of Great Smoky Mountains National Park may seem like a world away from the Apostle Islands, yet those Tennessee mountains were the backdrop for the recent fall 2022 Friends Alliance conference sponsored by the National Park Foundation.
Nestled among the valleys of the Smoky Mountains, Gatlinburg, Tennessee served as the site for the annual gathering that brought together over 200 people representing 84 organizations – from Alaska Geographic and the Alliance for Florida’s National Park to the Zion Forever Project – and an array of personnel from the National Park Service, all in the name of supporting our national parks.
The conference kicked off with a keynote address by Chuck Sams, the 19th Director of the National Park Service and the first Native American to hold that position.
In his eloquent and moving remarks, Director Sams laid out an array of sometimes daunting issues facing the National Park Service – from the effects of climate change to sky-rocketing visitation and crumbling infrastructure.
“When I took this position, I never thought I would be in charge of over 5,000 bridges,” Sams joked. But the Director also took the opportunity to inspire the gathered crowd, reminding us of the beauty and importance of our parks and challenging us to “interpret the real stories reflecting both the breadth and diversity of voices in our national parks and their history.”
National Park Foundation President and CEO Will Shafroth then spoke about the growing role of Friends organizations, citing recent statistics showing that park partners nationally contributed over $400 million to park projects last year. Our park partners, Shafroth stated, are “a force multiplier” for our parks allowing the National Park Service a “jump start” in a wide array of projects and programs that may otherwise go unfunded for decades.
Those remarks, and a welcome from Superintendent Cassius Cash of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, set the tone for two days of presentations, panel discussions, and breakout sessions covering such topics as “Building a Collective Vision for the Future,” and “Philanthropy Best Practices,” as well as “The Growing Importance of Volunteerism” and “Corporate Giving in our Parks.”
Executive Director Jeff Rennicke attended the conference representing Friends of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore and participated in a panel discussion called “The Future of Leadership in Partner Organizations” highlighting the growing influence of the work of Friends of the Apostle Islands and its importance to the park.
“Conferences like this are valuable in a lot of ways,” Rennicke says, “in bringing together so many people who love their parks and deal with many of the same joys and triumphs that we do here in the Apostle Islands. They are a chance to share ideas, learn, and be inspired to come back to your home park and work even harder.”
The 2022 Friends Alliance Conference was held in Gatlinburg, Tennessee from November 1st to November 4th. Friends of the Apostle Islands would like to thank the National Park Foundation for the award of a NPF Travel Grant which allowed our organization to be represented at this important gathering while ensuring that member donations continue to go to support the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.