May 16th, 7:31pm

We met last week with Laurel Rematore and Steve Kemp, Executive Director & Products and Interpretive Services Director at the Great Smoky Mountains Association, an educational organization that works to support the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. They manage 11 visitor center gift shops, where they’ve curated and created a collection of publications and merchandise that offer a wealth of information about the park, it’s history, and its people. Visitor purchases also directly support the park - a vital lifeline of funds for the only fee-free national park in the country.

Being directly responsible for store merchandise means they are in tune with what the public wants - bears, waterfalls, hiking, and Cades Cove history. We were curious about the stories they hope that Campfire Stories would capture, stories about the Smokies as a sanctuary set aside for over 19,000 unique species (aka Salamander Capital of the World), and the culture of the Appalachian mountain people.

We also learned about stories we shouldn’t include, ones that perpetuate myths or misunderstandings about the people of this region: that mountain people weren’t pioneers, weren’t totally isolated, and weren’t “barefoot and uneducated,” but were extremely resourceful and innovative, and lived a rich, happy, and simple life in these rugged mountains.

Some of the books they have published, under the direction of Steve, include: the Smokies Life magazine, Hiking Trails of the Smokies, The Salamander Ball, and most recently, Women of the Smokies! To peruse their collection, visit www.smokiesinformation.org.