Posted on March 3, 2014
By Samantha Manning
TOWNSEND (WATE) - Hundreds of thousands of artifacts from the Smokies and other historic East Tennessee sites will soon be housed in a new preservation facility.
The Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center donated land right next to its own building for the 13,000 square foot preservation facility.
"We feel like we own the park because many of our families once did," Sen. Lamar Alexander said during a press conference Monday. "It's a way to celebrate the way of life that was here and that continues to be in this region of our United States."
The preservation facility will house more than 800,000 items including vintage weapons, farm tools and other logging-era equipment as well as archival records.
The total cost of the facility is $4.3 million with more than half coming from private donations.
"It will be a place where families will give things in the future," Alexander said. "Things they've kept in their homes but they want those things to be in a safe place."
"It is really important that we not just have these artifacts, but that we take care of them because they won't be around for generations to come if we don't take good care of them," Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell said.
The preservation center will also hold historic items from other East Tennessee sites including the Cumberland Gap National Historic Park and the Andrew Johnson Historic Site.
Jewell said the bidding process for contractors will be expedited and they are hoping to begin construction this summer. They expect the facility to be completed by the fall of 2015.
The announcement comes as the National Park Service releases data from 2012 showing that the Smokies was the most visited park in the nation.
According to the NPS report, visitors at the Smokies spent more than $540 million in 2012.
"You are a model here in the Smokies for public private partnerships for working together as a community to take care of this resource that drives economic activity to your region," Jewell said.