Friends of the Smokies has worked for the last four years to meet a challenge grant from the Aslan Foundation of Knoxville to establish the $4 million Trails Forever endowment. Today a small group of donors hiked the Forney Ridge Trail with the Trails Forever crew and volunteers to experience the results of this major trail reconstruction program.
Nearly 1,000 donors from 37 states have contributed to the endowment so far; people give because they love hiking in the Smokies, or because they have experienced the transformation of a favorite trail by the Trails Forever crew. Many donors have given to honor Lindsay Young, a founding board member of Friends of the Smokies who started the Aslan Foundation of Knoxville.
A half-million dollars in gifts and pledges from the friends and family of Knoxville wellness advocate Tom Cronan were instrumental in meeting Aslan’s initial challenge match. Local hikers who make annual donations to Friends of the Smokies in memory of legendary Mt. Le Conte trekker Margaret Stevenson added another $42,000 to the Trails Forever balance. Pathfinder Funds within Trails Forever were set up to accept gifts in Tom Cronan’s, Margaret Stevenson’s, and Lindsay Young’s names.
While Tuesday’s event was a celebration of the program’s initial successes, Friends President Jim Hart explains what’s next for Friends of the Smokies, “We have achieved great success by reaching our initial four million dollar goal. It is important that we continue to add to the endowment to ensure adequate funds will maintain a healthy trail system into the future.”
With major, sustainable reconstruction along all 1.8 miles of Forney Ridge Trail finished, the priority project for the Trails Forever crew over the next three years will be Chimney Tops Trail. Under the direction of Tobias Miller, Facilities Operations Specialist- Trails, and Christine Hoyer, Trails and Facilities Volunteer Coordinator (Park Employee of the Year for 2012), work began earlier this month.
Since 2008, 976 volunteers have donated 15,314 hours to Trails Forever projects on 34 popular Smokies trails like Lakeshore, Ramsey Cascades, and Smokemont Loop. Students from as far away as New York University have spent their spring breaks as crew members. Donations to the endowment will help with the Chimney Tops project, and volunteers can apply to work alongside the crew.
To learn more about the Trails Forever program, visit www.SmokiesTrailsForever.org
or the Friends of the Smokies website at www.FriendsOfTheSmokies.org