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Friends of the Smokies license plates raise more than $15 million in Tennessee and North Carolina

The program, which was launched 20 years ago, is for specialty plates that fund a variety of projects and programs in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, including those related to the park’s black bear population.

TENNESSEE, USA — Drivers in Tennessee and North Carolina have raised more than $15 million in support of Friends of the Smokies through specialty license plate sales. 

The program, which was launched 20 years ago, is for specialty plates that fund a variety of projects and programs in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, including those related to the park’s black bear population.

"Last year, the plates also provided support for a new Preventative Search and Rescue program, a coordinated volunteer effort to provide valuable information to hikers at trailheads about trail safety, trail difficulty, and proper preparation before beginning a hike," a release from Friends of the Smokies said.

The Tennessee Smokies plate underwent a multi-year redesign and hit the roads in winter 2018. It features a silhouette of a black bear against the original orange and purple sunset design.

The iconic black bear is depicted on both states’ plates and contributes to their popularity on both sides of the mountains.

Less than six months later, sales increased by 30% over the same time in the previous year, the release said.

In 2007, a black bear was added to the North Carolina Smokies plate and the release said sales have seen a steady increase since then, placing the Smokies plate among the most popular in the state with representation in all 100 counties.

“It’s a wonderful feeling knowing that from the Outer Banks of North Carolina to the banks of the mighty Mississippi, there are generous people who support this national park with our specialty license plates,” said Tim Chandler, Executive Director and COO of Friends of the Smokies. “These plates provide meaningful and dependable support for the critical projects we fund in the Smokies.”

The North Carolina Smokies plate was designed by Micah McLure. The Tennessee Smokies plate was designed by Kristin Williams.

Credit: Friends Of The Smokies
Brent McDaniel (Friends of the Smokies Director of Marketing), Sherry Witt (Knox Co. Clerk), and Jake Ogle (Friends of the Smokies board member) show off the bear plate at the entrance to Great Smoky Mountains National Park

“We are heading into another busy year for the Smokies,” says Chase Pickering, Friends of the Smokies board member, “visitation was at an all-time high last year, and that trend looks like it’s going to continue for 2019. It’s amazing to think you can do something as simple as getting a license plate to support your national park. Having a bear on the plate is just a bonus.”

RELATED: License plates boost bear safety on Appalachian Trail

For more information or to get a plate visit BearPlate.org or stop by your local Tennessee County Clerk’s Office or North Carolina Vehicle and License Plate Office.

Friends of the Smokies is an official nonprofit partner of Great Smoky Mountains National Park and has raised $65 million to support critical park programs in North Carolina and Tennessee. Discover and donate at FriendsOfTheSmokies.org.