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GSMNP superintendent gets award for leadership on racial justice from National Parks Conservation Association

Cassius Cash, the first Black superintendent of the Great Smoky Mountains, created the Smokies Hikes for Healing program in 2020.
Credit: National Parks Conservation Association
Great Smoky Mountains National Park Superintendent Cassius Cash gets the Stephen Tyng Mather Award from National Parks Conservation Association.

Great Smoky Mountains Natl. Park — On Thursday, the National Parks Conservation Association announced that Cassius Cash, superintendent of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, will receive NPCA’s 2021 Stephen Tyng Mather Award.

The award recognizes annually a federal employee who has risked his/her career for the principles and practices of good stewardship of the national parks during the previous calendar year, according to a release. The 2021 award ceremony and announcement were delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the wake of the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and so many Black Americans in 2020, Cash, the first Black superintendent of the Great Smoky Mountains, created the Smokies Hikes for Healing program, according to NPCA.

The program is designed to bring people with different experiences together as trained facilitators join group hikes on park trails, leading thought-provoking, open and honest conversations about the ills and impacts of racism in our country, according to the release. Hikers who start out as strangers bond together, and leave the experience equipped with tools and ideas to practice antiracism in their communities with the national park providing common ground for participants to share, understand and heal.

“It is an absolute honor to be recognized by the National Parks Conservation Association,” Cash said. “The recognition of ‘Smokies Hikes for Healing’ is particularly special to me as it highlights appreciation of our National Parks for the distinctive benefits they provide as a brave space for discussing uncomfortable topics during a difficult time in our country’s history. I am humbled that others found these hiking experiences powerful, healing, and worth repeating across our public lands.”

Cash’s Hikes for Healing program was developed despite a government mandate at the time that attempted to quell any trainings or activities by federal government staff that encouraged conversations about race, diversity, sexual orientation and other topics, according to the release.

“National Parks Conservation Association is proud to honor Superintendent Cassius Cash with the Stephen Tyng Mather Award,” National Parks Conservation Association President and CEO Theresa Pierno said. “Superintendent Cash embodies the values of conservation and public service, values for which the National Park Service has stood for more than a century. But Superintendent Cash’s leadership on racial justice demonstrates that he represents not only the best parts of the Park Service’s past, but part of its bright future.”

 “Amid a global pandemic and nationwide reckoning with systemic injustice, Superintendent Cash harnessed the power of our public lands to help communities come together and heal. His Hikes for Healing program serves as an example for other conservationists and national park advocates to follow, and I count myself among them. Congratulations, Superintendent Cash, and thank you.”

 Cash will receive the award during a special ceremony on Friday, Oct. 21.

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