Great Smoky Mountains honored with two national awards

Press release from Great Smoky Mountains Association:

Great Smoky Mountains Association won national recognition in two categories in the 2022 Public Lands Alliance Partnership Awards, celebrated with a virtual ceremony held Wednesday, April 20.

At this year’s event, the Storybook Trail of the Smokies was recognized for Outstanding Public Engagement for Program/Service, and the GSMA-published chapter book for young readers “A Search for Safe Passage” took home the coveted Publication of the Year award in the category for organizations with more than $1.5 million gross revenue.

Written by Creative Services Director Frances Figart and illustrated by Graphic Designer Emma DuFort, both of GSMA, the educational adventure book “A Search for Safe Passage” introduces readers to the problems and solutions surrounding the global issues of road ecology and species migration from the perspective of bear, dear, elk and other animals. The book was inspired by Figart’s work with Safe Passage: The I-40 Pigeon River Gorge Wildlife Crossing Project, a large regional collaborative working to make a 28-mile stretch of highway in Western North Carolina and East Tennessee safer for both wildlife and humans. It includes a nonfiction section with educational lessons about animal habitat requirements, behavior, migration patterns, and road ecology problems and solutions developed with input from international and local experts.

“I so appreciate PLA bringing greater attention to this fable, which is intended for kids and adults to read together,” Figart said. “My hope is that the book will inspire the future road ecologists and wildlife engineers who will change our way of thinking about transportation infrastructure and save our iconic species from extinction over the next century.”

“A Search for Safe Passage” is available in the park’s visitor center bookstores and at GSMA’s online store at More information on Safe Passage: The I-40 Pigeon River Gorge Wildlife Crossing Project can be found on its website,

The Storybook Trail of the Smokies launched in April 2021 as an initiative dedicated to promoting literacy in nature. A partnership between Great Smoky Mountains National Park, University of Tennessee Extension Institute of Agriculture, and Great Smoky Mountains Association, the program was funded by a grant secured by the UT Extension Office through the Juanita H. Fasola Foundation Inc. Five different books—aimed at various reading levels—were highlighted along the Cosby Nature Trail and accompanied by educational prompts to encourage interaction with the trail.

“With the help of this phenomenal team we were able to bring this idea to fruition, reaching 25,000 people visiting the national park,” said Great Smoky Mountains National Park Ranger Katie Corrigan. “Thank you to the Public Lands Alliance for the recognition of this award. We are honored to serve our communities and to inspire our future stewards of our public lands.”

The PLA Partnership Awards program is designed to celebrate the best in public lands partnerships, recognizing individuals, organizations, publications, products, programs, and services that embody leading-edge achievements in the preservation of public lands and the enrichment of visitors. Through its awards, the program recognizes excellence in public lands partnerships, innovative solutions to challenges, and outstanding programs that enhance visitor experience.

For additional details on the 2022 Public Lands Alliance Partnership Awards, visit or watch the ceremony stream at

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