Board of Directors

Great Smoky Mountains Association's Board of Directors is made up of business and community leaders who live and work in Tennessee and North Carolina, and who provide guidance and oversight of the organization. Their love of and appreciation for Great Smoky Mountains National Park is in large part the reason these dedicated volunteers give their time and expertise for the benefit of the association.

Explore our board service page to learn more about the board, register your interest, or submit an application.

Board Chair

Mitch Crisp

Mitch is a Seneca, South Carolina, resident and a retired CPA firm partner with a practice focus on entrepreneurs, nonprofit entities, and local governments. He is currently the board chair and has formerly served as vice chair, secretary, and treasurer. Mitch has also served as the board chair of the Jackson County, North Carolina, Chamber of Commerce, board member for the Southwestern Community College Foundation, and lieutenant governor for the North Carolina West District of Optimist International. Mitch’s connection to the Smokies runs deep. “Park memories are among my very earliest recollections,” said Mitch, who grew up in a county adjoining the park. “I’ve always treasured my time in the park and the feeling that is noticeable each and every time I cross the park boundary. It’s exciting to be able to contribute to this amazing resource being here for my granddaughters.”

Vice Chair

Geoff Cantrell

Geoff is a Waynesville, North Carolina, resident who works in the University Communications and Marketing office at Western Carolina University and previously handled public affairs for the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission in Raleigh. The eldest son of a national park ranger, Geoff’s childhood was spent in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where he played, fished and hiked, and learned the stories and history of the region. He attended the University of North Carolina at Asheville, where he was a reporter for the campus newspaper, and earned a bachelor’s degree in communications. Geoff is a descendant of Moses and Patience Proctor, pioneer settlers in the Hazel Creek watershed, an area now protected within park boundaries. An avid fly fisherman and outdoorsman, he is involved in several conservation efforts. “The Smokies are truly a special place and hold so many memories for me and my family. There’s a similar opportunity for anyone, from anywhere, to visit and create their own memories here,” Geoff said. “That opportunity exists because of the care, protection, and interpretation by the National Park Service and public partnerships like GSMA.”


Gaynell H. Lawson

Gaynell recently retired from her position as president/CEO and board chair of CBBC Bank in Maryville, where she was employed since its inception in 1973. A native of Blount County, she has been active in civic and community pursuits through the years, working with the Blount County Chamber of Commerce, Maryville College, and United Way, where she served as 2001 chair of the general campaign. In 2016, Gaynell received the Athena Award for outstanding leadership in Blount County. She and her husband, Daniel, have been involved with GSMNP and GSMA for many years in various volunteer roles. “I greatly value the many contributions by GSMA and am honored to serve on the board,” she said.


Janet Houston-Hickman

Jan is a native of Alcoa, Tennessee, most recently retired as a regional director for Delta Global Services after a 25-year career in the aviation industry. She now spends her free time with church activities, gardening, traveling, reading, and spending quality time with family and friends. She graduated from Alcoa High School in 1968 and attended the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, receiving a BS degree in business administration with an emphasis in marketing. Her community leadership and volunteer experiences are numerous and include serving as president of the Knoxville Chapter of the Links, coordinating the Delta Airlines Adopt a School Program, and serving as a contributing member of many other community organizations. “I’m thrilled to join the GSMA board,” said Jan. “As a child, my family had trips—picnic, swimming, and rafting—planned every weekend to the Great Smoky Mountains. It is my understanding that some people of color have not experienced the joy that my family did, and it is my hope that, with some work and investigation, our board will be able to learn how and why this perception has taken hold. My background in the airline industry may also help me contribute to the day-to-day operations of the visitor centers and other GSMA commitments.”

Board of Directors

Jamie Ballinger

Jamie resides in Knoxville and works at Baker Donelson as an attorney specializing in health care defense litigation and employment litigation. Named one of Knoxville Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 in 2015, she has been a GSMA board member since 2017. She has served on the board of other local organizations as well, including the Interfaith Health Clinic. Due to her community involvement and her advocacy for women, Jamie was awarded the Spirit of Justice Award by the East Tennessee Lawyers’ Association for Women in 2017 and received the President’s Award from the Knoxville Bar Association. She was also recently selected as a Fellow in the Knoxville Bar Foundation. “The park holds a lot of special memories for me and my family,” said Jamie. “I want to help ensure that it is protected and improved so that others can be awed by its majesty and timelessness.”

Lisa Davis

Lisa is the chief financial officer of Ascension Saint Thomas in Nashville, Tennessee. She has been in this role since 2015 and has been part of Ascension in various roles since 1998. Lisa began her career at Ernst & Young in Nashville. An East Tennessee native, Lisa received her Bachelor of Science degree in business administration and her Master of Accountancy from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. She served as a board member for Alive Hospice in Nashville for six years and is currently serving as a member of the Finance Board and Credit Committee of the Nashville Diocese. Lisa was named to Nashville Medical News Women to Watch in 2019 and was previously a Nashville Business Journal CFO Awards finalist. “Having grown up in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains in Blount County, I have fond memories of spending my childhood hiking, picnicking, and enjoying the majestic scenery with my family,” said Lisa. “I am honored to serve in a role that gives me the opportunity to support and preserve this special place.”

Jerry DeWeese

Jerry has worked as a mechanical engineer for Duke Energy’s Hydro Fleet in Western North Carolina and South Carolina for the past decade. He graduated from NC State University in 1991 and has been practicing engineering in both the power generation and pulp and paper fields since. Jerry and his wife, Catherine, live in Sylva, NC, where he was born and has lived for most of his life. Jerry and Catherine have two adult daughters, Maggie and Katie. Jerry has served as a volunteer with the GSMNP fisheries crews since the mid-1990s. In addition to serving on the GSMA board since 2018, he has served on the board of trustees for Sylva First United Methodist Church for the past 18 years and has served on the Jackson County Board of Public Health for 15 years. Jerry is an avid fly fisherman, spending the last 27 years “in training” on the beautiful waters of the Smokies, assembling enough stories to “bore you to tears,” according to Catherine. “I feel that serving on the GSMA board is both an honor and a duty,” said Jerry. “I will work to preserve this amazing park for future generations and, in the process, be given the opportunity to give back to the place that has given me such great pleasure since I realized the awesome treasure right in my backyard.”

Kelly Leonard

Kelly currently serves as vice president of First Citizens Bank in Hendersonville, North Carolina. In addition to 36 years of banking experience, he has also been involved in economic development efforts in Henderson County throughout the last 15 years. With family roots in the mountains of Western North Carolina and Tennessee, he is reminded of how important it is to preserve, protect, and sustain the park so that others can experience and enjoy the history of the region. "I have been extremely fortunate to have been involved with GSMA since the early 1990s, serving as a board member throughout most of that time,” he said. “It is an honor to continue as a volunteer as the association transitions into a new era of leadership and growth.”

Ed McAlister

Ed is a local of Knoxville, Tennessee, and the president of River Sports Outfitters. Born in Union City, Tennessee, Ed earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree in engineering at the University of Tennessee before founding River Sports Outfitters in 1984. Ed is active in many outdoors and civic groups and has served on the board of the Outdoor Industry Association and the Grassroots Outdoors Alliance for six years respectively. An avid outdoorsman, Ed appreciates the refuge provided by the Smokies for some of his most cherished activities. Though he has spent the better part of his career giving advice and helping others find equipment for a variety of outdoor recreations, Ed said he particularly enjoys “all aspects of white and flat water, mountaineering, canyoneering, and triathlons.”

Daniel S. Pierce

Dan is an avid hiker, biker, and fly fisherman from Black Mountain, North Carolina. He is the author of the recent Tarheel Lightnin' (UNC Press) and GSMA releases Hazel Creek and Corn From a Jar and co-author of An Illustrated Guide to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. He serves as Interdisciplinary Distinguished Professor of the Mountain South and, in his words, “resident professional hillbilly” at the University of North Carolina–Asheville. Dan grew up going to the park and has spent many wonderful days there with friends and family. “Serving as a board member of GSMA is important to me as a way of ensuring that future generations enjoy the scenery, solitude, and solace found in these wonderful mountains,” he said.

Ron Storto

Ron is currently enjoying a well-deserved sabbatical from a long and diverse career in the lodging and restaurant industry and has been actively involved in the Western North Carolina community he’s called home for over 20 years. In addition to serving on the GSMA board, Ron is a member of the AB Tech Foundation Board, a founding member of the Asheville-Buncombe Regional Sports Commission and the Southern Conference Local Organizing Committee, and the former chair of the Asheville Lodging Association, a division of the NCRLA. His past leadership roles include serving as a board member and chair of Junior Achievement of WNC, board member and chair of the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority, member of the Mayor’s Civic Center Task Force, advisory board member for SunTrust Bank, member of the UNC Asheville Foundation Board, member of the Asheville Regional Airport Corporate Advisory Group, as well as chair and board member of the Tourism Product Development Fund. Among his many interests, he enjoys hiking and fishing. “My connection with the Smokies grew when my family moved to Western North Carolina and I became an avid fly-fisher,” said Ron. Serving on GSMA’s board deepens that connection further in an area Ron and his family have called home for decades.

Tom Taylor

Tom is a Maryville native and served as the city’s mayor from 2008 to 2020. He co-owned and operated local businesses Commercial Cutting Equipment, Drake Auto Parts, and Morningside Inn. Prior to his business career, Tom attended Maryville College and the University of Tennessee graduate program in ecology, taught biology at Maryville College, and was director of the Tremont Youth Conservation Corps in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. He has been involved with many nonprofit organizations including Boy Scouts of America, American Red Cross, Blount County Community Action Agency, and Blount County Public Library. Tom served on the GSMA board from 1995 to 2000 and on the Great Smoky Mountain Heritage Center board from 2005 to 2009. He rejoined the GSMA board in 2016. “I returned because I appreciate the members’ creativity, hard work, and data-driven decision-making,” Tom said. “And selfishly, because I simply enjoy working with them.”

Jill Thompson

Jill is a lifelong resident of Knoxville, Tennessee, and the executive director of the Greater Knoxville Hospitality Association, a nonprofit organization serving lodging facilities, restaurants, venues, attractions, service and suppliers to the hospitality and tourism industries. She has been a board member of Hospitality Tennessee and the Hospitality Tennessee Education Foundation for several years. She serves on the advisory boards for the University of Tennessee Department of Retail, Hospitality, and Tourism Management, the Tennessee Department of Education College, Career, and Technical Education and Hospitality and Tourism Management programs, the Pellissippi State Community College Culinary and Hospitality program, and the Tennessee College of Applied Technology in Jacksboro. In 2015, Jill was awarded the Women in Hospitality and Tourism Stars Award from Hospitality Tennessee. She is on the executive board of Knox County Schools Partners in Education Foundation, working to connect businesses with schools. “My passion for connecting people and places began during my work in hotels, and hearing about our guests’ experiences after they visited the Smokies always lifted my spirits. It is an honor to serve on a board that has the same passion for sharing our beloved mountains.”

William Turner

Bill is a sociologist and African American studies scholar hailing from Harlan County, Kentucky, and currently residing in Houston, Texas. In addition to his consulting work in diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility, Bill co-hosts GSMA’s podcast miniseries Sepia Tones: Exploring Black Appalachian Music. After earning his doctorate at Notre Dame University, Bill went on to post-doctorate work at Duke University and the University of Pennsylvania, co-editing the influential Blacks in Appalachia (1985) and spending many years as a research assistant for Roots author Alex Haley. Bill retired as Distinguished Professor of Appalachian Studies and Regional Ambassador at Berea College. He has served as a consultant for the Appalachia Regional Commission, earned a place in the Kentucky Civil Rights Hall of Fame, and received a lifetime of service award from the Appalachian Studies Association. His memoir, The Harlan Renaissance (2021, West Virginia University Press), was recognized with the Weatherford Award for nonfiction. “I am—by birth and raising and family history—a ‘mountain man,’” said Bill. “I look forward to working diligently for the GSMA board as it serves the diverse populations—the unique American quilt of distinct cultures, viewpoints, backgrounds, and ideas—that are drawn to the Smokies.”