How Associations Have Responded to the Tennessee Wildfires

Wildfires in and near Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains have caused significant damage and loss of life in one of the country’s most popular tourist areas. Associations have responded by offering help and pledging support to the region.

“I’m just astonished this is my town.”

Those were the words of Marci Claude, a Gatlinburg, Tennessee, spokeswoman who represents the local convention and visitors bureau, while on a media tour with the Associated Press in the wake of the deadly wildfires that caused significant damage to both the city and nearby facilities.

The toll of the wildfires on the popular tourist hub, beyond the seven fatalities and multiple injuries, included much in the way of local history. The fires damaged 700 buildings, including iconic hotels and popular tourist attractions in and around the mountain-surrounded town, according to NBC News. It also forced thousands to evacuate the region near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

While the fires have died down from their peak earlier this week, the work of associations continues. A look at how a few have responded to the natural disaster:

Offering a helping hand: As the fires picked up, the Tennessee Hospitality & Tourism Association offered a helping hand to Sevier County, announcing on Facebook that it was accepting donations to help victims of the wildfires—including some Gatlinburg tourist hot spots, like Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, whose staffers had to evacuate while leaving the animals behind. In comments to Fox News, the hospitality group’s CEO, Greg Adkins, noted that it was working to help Gatlinburg residents through Together We Prepare, a natural disaster relief initiative organized by the American Red Cross.

Accepting donations for park rangers: The Great Smoky Mountains Association, after learning that three National Park Service rangers lost their homes in the fires, launched a relief fund of its own. “Through this account, 100% of donated funds will be divided among NPS and park partner fire victims to help them rebuild their lives. Thank you for your support,” GSMA stated on its website.

Protecting the birds: The American Eagle Foundation, a local nonprofit that works to maintain bird habitats, went out of its way to ensure the birds at Dollywood, the local amusement park named for Dolly Parton, were safe. “It wasn’t graceful, but we did our best to retrieve every bird and then load about 40 to 50 pounds of raptor food along with [them],” noted the foundation’s founder and president, Al Cecere, according to comments reported by the Knoxville News Sentinel. A nearby bird sanctuary, Parrot Mountain and Garden of Eden, also noted its birds were safe.


A smoke plume in the Great Smoky Mountains earlier this week. (National Park Service/Reuters/Handout photo)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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