by Brent McDaniel
In North Carolina and Tennessee, you see specialty license plates all the time while driving down the highway — there are plates for universities, military veterans, clubs, square dancing, your favorite NASCAR driver, you name it.
Among the 100+ plates to choose from, what’s so special about a Friends of the Smokies plate? Why bother? Well, I’ll give you 800,010 reasons why:
That’s roughly the amount of money Friends of the Smokies’ license plates bring in from Tennessee and North Carolina each and every year. In North Carolina, $20 of your $30 specialty plate fee comes back to Friends of the Smokies, and in Tennessee, $30.75 of the $35 you pay comes back to support the park.
Depending on where you live, your county may have combined a Wheel Tax or other local fees with your license plate renewal or registration, but don’t let the sticker shock dissuade you. The specialty license plate fee has stayed the same since the program started, and that’s the money that is going to support your Great Smoky Mountains.
$35 each year is only about $0.10 a day, roughly the cost of … well, nothing. Nothing is that cheap anymore. You spend way more on your daily cup of coffee and more than that going out to dinner just once. And while the cost of a specialty license plate is relatively small for you, it really adds up for Friends of the Smokies. Money brought in by our specialty plates has helped fund a wide variety of programs in Great Smoky Mountains National Park like:
- The Parks As Classrooms program annually reaching thousands of schoolchildren with environmental education
- Appalachian Trail Ridgerunners helping maintain the 71 miles of AT in the Smokies
- Artists-in-Residence producing original works of art in the park
- Funding Student Conservation Association positions and seasonal internships for high school students and recent graduates
- Marking native ginseng roots to prevent poaching
- The Volunteers-in-Parks program supporting the amazing people who give their time and talent to improve your visitor experience
- Construction of the new NPS Collections Preservation Center in Townsend
- Monitoring water quality in rivers and streams throughout the park
- Preservation of historic structures like the Hiram Caldwell House in Cataloochee Valley and historic churches in Cades Cove
- Programs like Teacher-Ranger-Teacher at the Appalachian Highlands Science Learning Center at Purchase Knob
and that was just in the last year. These needs and many others would not be possible if it were not for the support of license plate funds. Since our plate program began in 1997, it has raised $11.9 million and counting.
That’s about how many minutes it took me to get my own Friends of the Smokies plate a few weeks ago. No, seriously.
I went to my local county clerk’s office, filled out the paperwork, paid my fee, and walked out with my license plate in hand in about 10 minutes. I was amazed at how quickly the process went. I even brought with me a book to read while I waited, but I barely had time to sit down in the waiting area before they called my number and I was back out the door. The staff was courteous, service was fast, and they couldn’t have made it simpler.
It’s so easy to get your own Friends of the Smokies specialty license plate. You don’t even have to wait until your tag expires — you can get a Friends plate any time. In Tennessee, just go to your county clerk’s office and in North Carolina, visit your local tag office or get your plate online.
Getting a Friends of the Smokies license plate makes a huge difference for America’s most-visited national park and that is reason enough.