GATLINBURG, Tenn. – On Monday, May 24, the Public Lands Alliance presented Great Smoky Mountains National Park Director Cassius Cash with an Agency Leadership Award at the 2021 Public Lands Alliance Partnership Awards.
The Agency Leadership Award recognizes an employee of a public land management agency for outstanding achievement in promoting, cultivating and leading partnerships. Superintendent Cash was appointed by the Great Smoky Mountains Association because of his unwavering commitment to leading the Smokies over the past six years, as well as for showing exceptional guidance during a difficult year marked by fear, l isolation and social unrest.
Superintendent Cash received the award at Monday’s virtual celebration, live on Facebook. The ceremony can be viewed on the Public Lands Alliance Facebook page at facebook.com/publiclandsalliance.
In 2015, Cash became the first-ever African-American Superintendent of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and has since led the park through situations as diverse as the National Park Service’s 100th anniversary, the devastating Chimney Tops 2 Fire in November 2016. and the immense numbers of visitors during the 2017 Total Solar Eclipse, while demonstrating an authentic and honest approach to relationship building in the park.
“Superintendent Cash is changing the culture of the park by tackling important issues and having difficult conversations,” said Susan Sachs, Education Branch Coordinator at Smokies.
Last year, monitoring the most visited national park during a pandemic, Cash led the development and implementation of a COVID-SAFE plan of operations in conjunction with the Great Smoky Mountains Association, which operates the bookstores in the park’s reception centers. At the same time, he used his partnership prowess to solve two major problems in a revolutionary way.
First, like many other busy national parks, the Smokies experience unsustainable levels of visitation, and Cash has made it a priority to involve local people in finding solutions through discussions on stewardship of the land. Visitor Experience – by holding Zoom meetings with members of the Gateway community to educate them about issues, get their feedback and work together to find solutions.
Second, Cash has created an initiative that stretches beyond the boundaries of the park to have a positive impact across the Southeast region, garnering national media attention. In response to the deaths of unarmed African Americans and the national social justice movement that followed, Superintendent Cash boldly created Smokies Hikes for Healing, an initiative that used the park for eight guided hikes that would each allow ten people from the area to participate. He selected highly trained facilitators to join each hike and lead groups in stimulating private discussions to recognize and address the longstanding ills associated with racism.
In an interview in fall 2020 with Smokies Life Frances Figart magazine editor Cash said, “I like to say if I left it better than when I found it, then I did my job. But that doesn’t just apply to my workplace. It is also my community. In addressing these issues and looking at how our communities can make change or be part of the change, I think that’s the job I’m here to do.
Laurel Rematore, CEO of the Great Smoky Mountains Association and the organization’s main liaison with park management, explained that “The Smokies provide the Superintendents with relentless challenges that unfold on the national stage under constant and relentless control. media and business leaders in the region. Superintendent Cash faces challenges and pushes his fleet staff and partner organizations to seize the opportunity that lies in every challenge.
“Cash pays attention to concerns expressed by partners, then works so that all involved have a common understanding of those concerns, examine the issues and come to solutions by consensus,” continued Rematore. “Building consensus takes a lot of time, trust and hard work, but Cash doesn’t settle for anything less.”
The PLA Partnership Awards program is designed to celebrate the best of partnerships on public lands, recognizing individuals, organizations, publications, products, programs and services who embody cutting-edge achievements in the preservation of public lands and enrichment of visitors. Through its awards, the program recognizes excellence in partnerships with public lands, innovative solutions to challenges and exceptional programs that enhance the visitor experience.
For more details on the 2021 Public Lands Alliance Partnership Awards, visit publiclandsalliance.org or watch the ceremony streaming at facebook.com/publiclandsalliance.
– Release of the Great Smoky Mountains Association