KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — A local non-profit has removed more than 4,600 pounds of litter from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park so far in 2022. Now, they are looking for more people to volunteer and help keep the park clean.
Benny Braden, who serves as vice-president of Save Our Smokies, said the group was created as more people visited the Smokies during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"The Smokies see roughly 12 million people per year and where people are trash is too," Braden said. "It is just an unfortunate fact."
Save Our Smokies volunteers picked up 10,000 pounds of litter in 2021 and in early 2022, it held its first park-wide cleanup event.
"In three hours we removed 4,600 pounds of litter," Braden said. "So, that is tremendous."
Braden said the group has been shocked by the kind of trash found piled up in the park.
"We remove washers, dryers, mattresses, shower stalls from here," Braden pointed out. "People use the Smokies as a dump site."
Braden worries the park will have to reduce hours or services if trash keeps piling up and since there are not enough staff to keep up with the amount of trash, it is crucial for people in the community to volunteer.
"Just thinking about the litter impact, if we were not here last year that would be 10,000 pounds that would still be on the ground," Braden said. "And this year, it would still be over 5,000 pounds that would still be on the ground this year. So, that is why it is so important to come out and volunteer and just do our part."
Aside from finding more trash on the ground and the water, Braden said the group has noticed an uptick in graffiti around the park's infrastructure.
Save Our Smokies decided to do something about it.
"A lot of people are coming in and marking on signs, on infrastructures like the stone walls, on pavement, spray painting, things like that," Braden said. "We have seen a very large uptick in graffiti. And so this year, we started a graffiti removal program inside of our organization that we have partnered with the park service, and what we do is we go in and just remove that negative impact that irresponsible visitors have left behind."
People interested in joining the Save Our Smokies team for a cleanup event are encouraged to click here.