Environmental Champion Mrs. Wilma Maples

During the past couple of decades it has been my privilege to meet some of people that I consider to be Environmental Champions. It has been a pleasure to talk briefly with Ray Anderson, Ed Begley, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. at different events and to see the passion in their eyes and to hear it in their voices.

I just added another name to my brief list of Champions: Mrs. Wilma Maples. The 86 year old proprietor of the Historic Gatlinburg Inn recently donated 104 acres of land in the United States to The Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This is the largest land gift to the park in more than a decade.

The property is near Cove Mountain between Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg in Tennessee. “The gift will provide greenspace and protect the scenic vistas, and give us additional opportunities for wildlife and plants,” Smokies Superintendent Dale Ditmanson said.

As a big fan of both this particular park and of our National Parks, in general, I could not resist picking up the phone and telling Mrs. Maples how much her gift means to those of us that appreciate conservation and our National Parks. In my opinion, she has created an outstanding example for the leaders of the lodging industry to follow. This gift is just one of her many gifts that will be form a lasting legacy of her commitment to preservation. She told me that she did not want to see the land sold and developed after she is gone.

On a separate note, PBS will begin airing Ken Burns’s ‘The National Parks: America’s Best Idea,’ a new six-part series about the history of the National Parks, on September 27.

I understand from our friend Susan Whitaker, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development that about 45 minutes will be devoted to The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which is the most visited of all the National Parks and  is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year.

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