The Great Smoky Mountains Association has announced that in late 2021 the organization was able to contribute $300,000 to Great Smoky Mountains National Park in support of a $2.5 million project to replace the park’s radio communications system.

The new radio system will allow the park to improve and expand communications with its surrounding gateway communities, which is crucial during emergencies including severe weather and search and rescue operations.

This contribution was made possible thanks to visitors of the park’s eight retail stores, which are operated by GSMA, a nonprofit partner of the park. Each time items are purchased at any of the visitor center stores throughout the Smokies, patrons are presented the option to round up their totals or add an extra dollar to support the national park through GSMA’s register donation program. For years, customers have been faithfully rounding up their purchases, and GSMA has collected these donations into a fund for the park. Now, GSMA is ready and able to come to the park’s aid when specific needs arise, thanks to the generous support of its customers.

“This grassroots fundraising effort reminds me of one of the many stories about the park’s founding, when school children were encouraged to ‘pledge their pennies’ in support of purchasing land to create the park,” said Laurel Rematore, chief executive officer of GSMA. “Contributing in this simple way is part of the Smokies’ origin story. And now, several generations later, park lovers are continuing the tradition of pooling their pennies to create a large sum of support.”

The register donation contribution, supplementing the major support from Friends of the Smokies, allowed the National Park Service to match federal funding and meet the total needed for this project.

“We are so grateful for the support of our partners and donors who helped us secure the necessary funds to make these critical infrastructure improvements,” said Alan Sumeriski, acting superintendent of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.