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National Park volunteers receive regional recognition

GATLINBURG, TN - Great Smoky Mountains National Park is pleased to announce that a number of dedicated Volunteers-In-Parks (VIPs) have received regional recognition through the George and Helen Hartzog Awards Program for Outstanding Volunteers. The Hartzog Award was created in honor of George B. Hartzog, who served as the National Park Service (NPS) Director from 1964-1972, and his wife, Helen, who was an avid volunteer in national parks.

national park volunteers
Chmielewski Award: (L-R) Matt Kulp, Lori and Charlie Chmielewski, Caleb Abramson, Cassius Cash - Image courtesy of GSMNP

Park VIP Charlie Chmielewski was honored with the NPS Southeast Region “Enduring Service Award” for his dedicated volunteer service with the park’s Fisheries Division since 1993. In addition, a cadre of volunteers, known as the “Laurel Falls Rovers” were recognized with the NPS Southeast Region “Outstanding Volunteer Group Award” due to their deep commitment for visitor service and resource stewardship. The honorees are among nearly 250,000 volunteers across the nation who donate their time, skills and talents to the NPS each year.

“Both our visitors and our park resources have benefited greatly from the dedicated service of these crucial volunteers,” said park superintendent Cassius Cash. “Charlie’s work is truly enduring. I can’t think of a better word to describe the meaningful and longtime impact of his volunteer service with the park’s fisheries program. The Laurel Falls Rovers have prevented countless injuries, and, due to their deep commitment for visitor service and resource stewardship, have helped innumerable visitors make a rewarding connection to the park. We are truly grateful for their dedication and support.”

While working as a park volunteer over the last 25 years, Charlie Chmielewski has shared invaluable experience and insight with the park. As an active member of Trout Unlimited, he acts as a liaison between the park and a cadre of about 1300 other volunteers who have dedicated 17,000 or more cumulative hours to the NPS, while his own service hours exceed over 23,000. Mr. Chmielewski has taken the lead in teaching youth and adults about how they can participate in field projects including water quality monitoring, stream studies, and brook trout restoration. Data collected by him and the many volunteers who have worked with him since 2008 has allowed for the development of a comprehensive stream recovery plan for the park.

national park volunteers
Laurel Falls Rovers and park staff - Image courtesy of GSMNP

At 3 miles round-trip, Laurel Falls is in a highly accessible location and rewards hikers with views of an 80-foot cascade, making it a top visitor destination in the park. Since 2010, a cadre of knowledgeable park volunteers, known as the “Laurel Falls Rovers” have helped more than 300,000 visitors enjoy an informed and safe experience along the trail. The Laurel Falls Rovers advise people of varying age and experience about how to be prepared for the uphill trek and get the most from their exploration of the area. They tirelessly explain park safety regulations, pick up litter, demonstrate how to view bears and other wildlife from a safe, and non-intrusive distance, and educate about the practice of Leave No Trace which helps protect not only park visitors, but also the fragile ecology and abundant wildlife that makes Laurel Falls so popular.

Each year, more than 2800 Volunteers-In-Parks perform a variety of activities at Great Smoky Mountains National Park. These include: providing valuable visitor information, removing litter, eradicating invasive plant species, assisting with cultural demonstrations, participating in special events, providing practical support for visitors along roads and trails, assisting with data collection, maintaining backcountry campsites, helping biologists monitor wildlife populations and working as campground hosts. To become a park VIP, visit

Published August 25, 2018

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