U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today praised the kickoff of the Centennial Challenge Parks Initiative – a program that calls for an extra $100 million per year for the Parks and non-federal money to match it dollar-for-dollar – and highlighted the $340,000 included for the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.
“The Centennial Challenge brings $340,000 to our most visited National Park – the Smokies – and will go a long way toward improving park facilities, aiding preservation and creating interactive learning tools,” said Alexander. “The start of the Centennial Challenge is a perfect kick-off to National Park Week and brings other needed improvements for more than 100 additional sites across the nation. As we approach the 100th anniversary of the National Park System, we need to keep looking for big ideas – like the president’s Centennial Challenge – that will aid efforts to preserve and celebrate the Great American Outdoors.”
At a Senate hearing last week, Alexander urged Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne to reexamine why the Great Smoky Mountains is funded at lower levels than other Parks, even though the Smokies host more visitors per year than any other National Park.
Funding for the president’s Centennial Challenge was included as part of the Fiscal Year 2008 Omnibus bill that became law in December. The Smokies projects in the first-round of the Centennial Challenge that Alexander highlighted are:
• $100,000 for planning, designing, fabricating and installing new exhibits for a 2,000-square foot museum space that is part of a new 6,492-square foot visitor center complex that is being planned for the Oconaluftee Area.
• $200,000 for the preservation efforts in the Elkmont District – a national historic site of seventy-four cottages and outbuildings purchased in the 1920’s and 1930’s.
• $40,000 to develop a series of educational video podcasts to enhance park visitors’ experiences and improve park safety.
Senator Alexander is a member of the Senate Senate Appropriations Committee and its Interior Subcommittee that oversees funding for the National Park Service. He is a proponent of clean air initiatives, full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, solar energy tax credit, and was chairman of President Reagan’s Commission on the American Outdoors. Beginning when he served as governor, Alexander led the charge against the North Shore “Road to Nowhere” through the Great Smoky Mountains