Great Smoky Mountains National Park Superintendent Cassius Cash invites the public to participate in a new initiative he developed called Smokies Hikes for Healing. Up to ten people can join the superintendent on eight hikes led by facilitators who will provide an opportunity for an open conversation about diversity and racism while enjoying one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world. The public can also participate by coordinating their own experiences using Smokies Hikes for Healing materials.
“National Parks have long provided a place of healing, and I believe the setting of this mountain sanctuary is a powerful space to bring us together to engage in crucial conversations,” said Superintendent Cassius Cash. “This year has brought a lot of uncertainty and fear that tends to draw people to their corners. Through this opportunity, I’m inviting everyone to step out and have real conversations about the history of racism locally and globally. In learning about our past, we open the doors to our future.”
The park provides an ideal backdrop for sharing, understanding, and healing. The goal of this initiative is to provide a safe space for individuals of all backgrounds and ethnicities to begin difficult conversations that can lead to change. Through this initiative, Superintendent Cash extends an invitation for everyone to be a part of these important and pivotal conversations in one of America’s most special places.
The eight guided hikes will be held August through December in different locations across the park in Tennessee and North Carolina. During the hikes, a facilitator will lead each group in a thought-provoking discussion around race by first establishing an environment that is trusting and safe for individuals to recognize the long-standing ills associated with racism and how these have carried over into today’s society. Facilitators will equip participants with tools and ideas about how to identify biases through a deeper level of self-awareness and reflection so that participants can become intentional in addressing racism and race relations.
Space is limited to up to ten participants for each hike. Groups will follow guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including social distancing and wearing of facial coverings when the appropriate distance cannot be maintained. Interested individuals can find more information on how to apply for the hikes by visiting smokieshikesforhealing.org. A set of starter guidelines and questions will be available on the website for those interested in leading their own conversations about racism along Smokies trails with friends, strangers, or colleagues. Everyone is invited to join the conversation virtually through this digital platform where hike participants can share their stories, realizations, and commitments.
Longtime park partner Great Smoky Mountains Association assisted in the creative development of the program and website, along with additional financial support from park partner Friends of the Smokies. For more information on hiking in the park, please visit the park’s website.