Smokies superintendent taking steps to educate latest generation

On a recent summer morning a group of middle schoolers joined Cassius Cash, superintendent of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, for a short hike along the Porters Creek Trail in the park’s Greenbrier district about six miles east of Gatlinburg.

It was a gentle trail — at least by Smoky Mountains standards — that allowed plenty of opportunity to savor the surroundings. The clear, rushing waters of Porter Creek were close by, and beside the trail there was ample evidence of the families who farmed this narrow valley until the mid-1930s, when the federal government purchased their land for the new park. The outing was part of the Junior Naturalists program hosted by the Smoky Mountain Field School.

As the National Park Service celebrates its 100th birthday, parks across the country are making a concerted effort to broaden their base and connect with a new generation of supporters. It’s a mission that fits Cash like a glove.

“I believe there is a whole generation out there waiting to be ushered into the outdoors,” Cash said. “I’m not just talking about the natural beauty of our national parks — I’m talking about how they can become sanctuaries for the soul. This is a leadership moment not just for me, but for the entire park service.”

The Smokies is hosting the Centennial Challenge, a yearlong program that invites participants to hike 100 miles on any of the park’s maintained trails between Jan. 1 and Dec. 6, 2016.

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