In addition to those listed here, Great Smoky Mountains Association’s staff team includes some 80 full- and part-time employees who work in our 13 visitor centers and other contact points in and around the national park.
Chief Executive Officer
Laurel was recruited to GSMA and arrived in January 2016. Her previous positions include Program and Human Resources Management for Lockheed Martin Corporation, Membership and Development Director for the Yosemite Association, and Executive Director for the Mesa Verde Museum Association. As a Rotarian, Laurel works to improve the quality of life for Gatlinburg residents as well as to support international Rotary initiatives. She is a trustee of the Anna Porter Public Library in Gatlinburg, and she served for eight years on the Public Lands Alliance board of directors. Laurel graduated from Leadership Sevier in 2017 and East Tennessee Regional Leadership in 2018. She is motivated by her love of our national parks and her recognition that public lands and the agencies that manage them need effective partners now more than ever. At GSMA she seeks new ways to meet challenges that otherwise might not be addressed due to bureaucratic and political circumstances. “Public lands will only continue to be protected as long as our society considers them to be relevant and meaningful,” said Laurel. “The people and businesses who pledge their support to GSMA’s mission have a connection to this place, and it is their interest and stewardship that will preserve this park for future generations.”
Frances Figart, Creative Services Director
Frances joined GSMA in August of 2017. Her background includes editing a monthly magazine for the National Tour Association, serving as director of marketing and communications for a kayak tour operator in Canada and Costa Rica, and editing Asheville’s popular arts and culture monthly The Laurel of Asheville. She also authored the book Seasons of Letting Go: Most of What I Know about Truly Living I Learned by Helping Someone Die. At GSMA, Frances is tasked with managing the association’s many creative projects, including books and periodicals like Smokies Life journal and its sister online publication Smokies LIVE. Frances is also GSMA’s representative on Safe Passage: The Pigeon River Gorge Wildlife Crossing Project, helping to make a section of Interstate 40 near the park boundary more permeable for wildlife and safer for people. “I love helping a team of creative folks learn how to collaborate and capitalize on one another’s strengths,” she said.
Aaron Searcy, Lead Editor
Aaron began working with GSMA as a freelance writer and editor at the end of 2018 shortly after returning to East Tennessee from Melbourne, Australia, where he earned a master’s degree in writing, publishing, and editing. In January 2020, Aaron officially joined the GSMA Creative Team as a publications associate supporting GSMA’s books, periodicals, and podcast. With projects exploring everything from the park’s unique ecology and wildlife to its history, folkways, and music, Aaron couldn’t be happier to find himself back home in the Smokies. “What I love most about the Smokies is ever changing,“ said Aaron. “When I was younger, I mostly loved eating the sandwiches my parents packed for our trips to the mountains. Now, with a slightly firmer grasp of the natural and cultural history of these mountains, I love the park for what it protects and celebrates—an important refuge for biodiversity and diverse people, too.”
Valerie Polk, Videographer and Publications Associate
Valerie Polk is a filmmaker and contributor to GSMA's award-winning YouTube channel. For more than 10 years Valerie has documented the beauty, the history, and the extraordinary experiences that draw visitors to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Valerie also supports GSMA's Creative Team as a publications associate, putting her skills as a writer and editor toward publications such as Smokies Guide and Smokies LIVE. A native of Townsend, TN, Valerie's passion for the park began as a child with family picnics at Metcalf Bottoms and hikes to the Walker Sisters Cabin, the homeplace of her great-grandmother Sarah Caroline Walker Shelton. "I never imagined that I would be able to work in a place that is so meaningful to me," Valerie said. "This park is part of my heritage, and working with GSMA and park service staff allows me to see that the historical and natural treasures here are in good hands."
Karen Key, Design Team Manager
Karen has served on GSMA creative team since 2006 and is a full-time senior publications specialist providing graphic design and administrative work that helps generate numerous publications. She is responsible for the overall layout of the park newspaper, Smokies Guide, designs articles for Smokies Life and created the moonshine book, Corn From a Jar. Her recent design projects include Into the Mist by David Brill and the CD Big Bend Killing. Award-winning publications she has designed include the Bearpaw newsletter, Hike the Smokies and Frequently Asked Questions about Smoky Mountain Black Bears. Karen has also provided graphic assistance for Public Land Alliance awards submissions. “It feels like I’m using my skills for the prosperity of an amazing place,” she said. “I love the idea of communicating to park visitors, so they can pass down their appreciation and knowledge of the natural world to their loved ones.”
Emma Oxford, Graphic Designer
Emma’s career with GSMA began in 2016 as a sales assistant in the Cades Cove and Townsend stores, and her background as an artist was quickly put to use with her illustrations featured in Smokies Guide, Smokies Life and other projects. In 2018 she became a full-time member of the Creative Team and now includes in her duties creating layouts and illustrations for GSMA publications, designing products for retail, and developing marketing and membership materials. Growing up in Michigan, Emma’s love for the Great Smoky Mountains was sparked during her childhood family trips to the Smokies every spring. One of her favorite memories is climbing around the rocks in the river at Chimneys picnic area, and she became intensely fascinated with the natural history exhibits at Sugarlands Visitor Center at a young age. “I love ecology and considering where people fit into our greater relationship with the land and the other species we share it with,” Emma said. “It’s almost impossible to learn more about the living things around us and not feel a responsibility to consider our impact.” To compliment her talents as an artist and her passion for nature, Emma obtained a naturalist certification from the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont.
Miranda Bemis, Graphic Designer
Miranda Bemis joined the GSMA Creative Team in 2022 and comes to the Smokies from Brazil, Indiana, where she served as a graphic designer in the Communications and Marketing Department of DePauw University. Beyond her experience creating digital art and collaborating with partners on a range of print and digital products, Miranda brings to her work a deep commitment to serving the Great Smoky Mountains—a special place she once visited regularly when she wasn’t exploring local rivers and hiking trails back home in rural Indiana. She has an affinity for fungi and moss species and enjoys photographing birds with her husband Joshua and their two children, Melina and Jameson. “I have been working in the design industry for 15 years, creating publications and collaborating with others to establish and maintain brands in retail and higher education,” said Miranda. “Now I’m excited to combine my graphic design skills with my passion for the Smokies and their preservation by creating publications at GSMA.”
Zak Lancaster, Chief Financial Officer
Zak joined GSMA’s Accounting Department in December 2020, where he has served as
a research accountant and controller before assuming the role of chief financial officer
in 2023. He holds degrees in accounting and economics from Emory & Henry College in
Virginia and has worked in accounting positions of increasing responsibility since 2015.
Zak grew up visiting Great Smoky Mountains National Park from his nearby hometown
of Morristown, Tennessee, and today he remains an avid hiker and angler. After
becoming a father in 2023, Zak hopes to pass on his love for the Smokies to his son,
Fischer. “From hiking with my wife to fly fishing in the many streams, my fondness for
what GSMA is and has been doing continues to grow,” he says. “I am so thankful to be
part of an organization that helps preserve a such a wonderful place that I spent so
much time enjoying as a kid, and that hopefully someday my kids will be able to enjoy
Rachael Hall, Staff Accountant
Rachael came to GSMA from her home state of Ohio where she grew up in a family of
six, including her identical twin sister, Debbie. The two still enjoy taking advantage of
their lookalike appearances to amuse and confuse others. Working at the Columbus
Zoo and Aquarium spurred Rachael’s interest in nonprofit work, a path that would lead
her to the Smokies. She now handles accounts for GSMA’s Sugarlands and Gatlinburg
stores and works closely with membership, webstore, wholesale, and mail order
operations. Some of her favorite activities include reading, watching movies and anime,
attending Renaissance festivals, and anything that allows her to dress up in costumes.
Rachael values the landscape and history of the Smokies and cherishes her family
vacation memories here, all of which make her proud and excited to go to work every
day. “Family is one of the most important things to me,” she said, “so the memories I
was able to create then and now are incredibly special to me.”
Tonya McElveen, Staff Accountant
Tonya oversees accounts for GSMA’s North Carolina stores and assists with accounts
payable when needed. She didn’t discover the Smokies until she was an adult, but she
is now thrilled to make her home here with her husband and their little dog, Zoe. They
first visited the area more than 20 years ago and were immediately drawn in. “There’s
something magical about these mountains that kept us coming back year after year,”
said Tonya. “When our last child graduated high school, we finally felt we could make
the move to our ‘happy place.’” She described the move from their South Carolina home
as one of the hardest decisions she has ever made, but the timing was right to find out
what mountain living was all about. Now she and her husband are part of a local Jeep
club and spend their free time exploring the national park and chasing sunsets. “Beauty
is all around us here,” she said, “and I don’t want to ever take it for granted.”
Brandon Murphy, Staff Accountant
Brandon is an East Tennessee native, growing up in Knoxville, TN, and now making his
home in Sevierville. He handles accounts and inventory for GSMA’s Cades Cove and
Townsend stores. Brandon is a graduate of King University where he received his
bachelor’s and master’s degrees. A sports fan, he enjoys college baseball, basketball,
and football and officiates local high school basketball and football games. Brandon
loves spending time outdoors with his wife, Sara, and his son, Landon, and he is
pleased to contribute his talents to supporting Great Smoky Mountains National Park so
that generations to come may be able to enjoy its wild splendor. “Being from East
Tennessee, the Smokies have always been special to me as a place to come and visit,”
Brandon said. “I love that there is so much natural beauty that we can enjoy right in our
Peyton Proffitt, Membership Director
Born and raised in Sevier County, TN, Peyton returned home in 2016 after receiving her BA in Environmental Studies from Wofford College and her registered yoga teacher certification in Bali, Indonesia. She also spent time abroad studying food and energy policy related to climate change and worked as a campaign finance director in South Carolina. At GSMA, Peyton is responsible for maintaining the organization’s membership database and ensuring all 30,000+ members engage with the Smokies through the Get Rooted program and its benefits. “This park, its extraordinary biodiversity, rich cultural history, and ancient mountains are deeply intertwined with my family and heritage,” she said, “So I feel grateful to be back in my community, working to protect and preserve Great Smoky Mountains National Park for future generations.”
Anne May, Membership Program Manager
Anne grew up in East Tennessee and has wonderful memories of visiting GSMNP as a child. One of six children, her parents regularly brought the family to Great Smoky Mountains National Park for hikes and picnics. After moving to Sevier County in 1992 to raise her own family, she continued the tradition with participation in the Parks as Classroom program with her two children and regular hikes with friends. Anne’s formal education was in Music Pedagogy, and she maintained a private piano studio for more than three decades before getting her first job at a nonprofit in 2014. She is excited to be bringing her experience with nonprofits and her love of the national park together to make a difference at GSMA.
Charlene Shiver, Membership Associate
Charlene joined GSMA in 2018 as a part-time temporary employee and was promoted to a full-time position in 2020 as part of the Membership Department. She is responsible for keeping our members’ information up-to-date so that they can stay connected with Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Charlene grew up in Florida with one parent who was born and raised in the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia. She grew up with a love of the culture and history of the people that lived the mountains. "If history is not sought out, recorded, and shared with future generations, it is lost,” she said.
Jane Maurer, Business Outreach Specialist
Jane began her career with GSMA in 2021. With fourteen years of experience in the corporate sector and seventeen in elementary education, she combines her business and teaching backgrounds with her love of nature and public land preservation as GSMA’s Business Outreach Specialist. “I enjoy learning about and working with businesses in our park’s gateway community. Through initiatives involving culture, history, science, and economics, there are so many ways for our area businesses to connect with the park and for us to support them.” From the flat land of central Indiana, Jane relocated to western NC with her husband in 2015. They are enjoying the mountains and nature to its fullest while living in this region.
André Brousseau, Membership Engagement Specialist
André joined the GSMA Membership Team in 2022, and serves as the Membership Engagement Specialist. He has a B.S. in Business Administration from Indiana State University and has a depth of experience in association and nonprofit management, development, and marketing. He holds the CAE credential from the American Society of Association Executives, as well as the CNP credential from the Nonprofit Leadership Alliance.André has lived all over the United States and is thrilled to have settled in the region surrounding the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. As an avid hiker and photographer, he has been a frequent visitor to GSMNP and other wild spaces throughout his life. He is excited to be able to apply his professional background towards the preservation of such an important place.
Dawn Roark, Retail Director
Originally from England, Dawn has lived in Maryville since 1977 and took her U.S. Citizenship oath in 2017. After serving for eight years as Senior Store Manager for GSMA’s Blount County Team (Cades Cove, Townsend and the Cove's Orientation Shelter), she was promoted to Retail Director in 2013. In this role she is responsible for finding and developing new products, buying and maintaining correct inventory levels, overseeing all store locations and supervising the Senior Store Managers. Because Dawn oversees many people who interact with thousands of park visitors every day, creativity, tenacity and empathy are all important to her position, which she thoroughly enjoys. "It's every woman's dream job,” she said. “I actually get paid to shop!”
Brenda Ownby, Assistant Retail Director
Brenda is a Sevier County native who has been with GSMA since 2001. Her responsibilities include purchasing merchandise, looking for new items to offer based on current trends and keeping visitor centers fully stocked. “Years ago, my daughter Robin picked up an application at the GSMA warehouse and filled it out for me,” said Brenda. “I was planning to take that summer off and do some home projects, but much to my surprise I got the job and I’m very glad I did.”
Russell Heenie, Wholesale Sales and Off-Site Events Manager
Russell is GSMA’s Wholesale Sales and Off-Site Events Manager—a position that includes supplying GSMA publications to local businesses, promoting GSMA products beyond the Smokies, and supporting GSMA events. Working with GSMA since 2012, Russell brings to his role a valuable background in book and magazine sales, knowledge of book distribution logistics, and a personal affinity for audio books. But whether he’s working behind the scenes, helping visitors directly, or setting up an event, Russell’s favorite part of his job is deepening others’ knowledge and appreciation of the Smokies. “I first visited the park as a child vacationing from Florida and in my 20s used Cades Cove as a base camp for hiking,” Russell said. “It’s been nice to return to the area, raise children in such a scenic place and have the ability to share the experience with appreciative visitors every day.”
Senior Store Managers
Judy Bowman, Senior Store Manager
Judy Bowman is Senior Store Manager for GSMA’s Team Sevier, the unit responsible for Sugarlands Visitor Center and Gatlinburg Welcome Center. She has worked for GSMA since 2009. As Manager of one of the busiest visitor centers in all of the National Park System, Judy finds that laughter is important for keeping happy, motivated staff and happy customers. Despite the busy pace, she takes the time to help each visitor enjoy their vacation. “We learn something new every day here and feel we made a difference in the preservation of this park,” she said. “In return, we have the opportunity to share some time with the different folks we meet from all over the United States and the world.”
Matt Drauszewski, Senior Store Manager
As an Assistant Store Manager in the park’s visitor centers, Matt works on rotation at Clingmans Dome, Oconaluftee, Bryson City and sometimes Mingus Mill. His responsibilities include maintaining a positive image of GSMA and Great Smoky Mountains National Park through visitor interactions, promoting GSMA's membership programming and coaching staff to better provide these same opportunities to visitors. He has been in his position since 2016. Matt cites his proudest accomplishment as simply being able to support GSMNP with his park family in both North Carolina and Tennessee. “I've been told by my co-workers that I am patient, kind and dedicated,” Matt said. “I trust their judgment and, since I have been hearing these compliments with increased frequency, there must be some accuracy.”
Patricia Lumpkin, Senior Sales Manager
Patricia grew up in Tyler, TX and now lives in Maryville, TN. She has many years of retail experience. In her role as Senior Sales Manager for Blount County, Patricia is responsible for staffing, scheduling, inventory, and daily management of Townsend Visitor Center, Cades Cove Visitor Center, and the Cades Cove Orientation Shelter. In addition to these duties, Patricia provides visitors with information about the park, including trail information and recommendations, directions, and the history of GSMNP. “I love walking along Cades Cove Loop Road in the early morning during winter,” she says. “It’s truly the most serene feeling, just you and wildlife with frost on the ground.”
Assistant Store Managers
Dave DeBruicker, Assistant Store Manager
Dave DeBruicker is an Assistant Manager with the Sevier County retail team, which includes Sugarlands and Gatlinburg visitor centers. He has been with GSMA since 2009. In his current role, he interacts with guests, promotes GSMA memberships along with the sales of GSMA published items and coaches staff in doing the same. He recognizes the importance of consistent product availability and a commitment to excellent customer service and enjoys making customers happy by assisting them in finding just the right product to take home. “I hope GSMA can continue to grow in various ways and continue to connect more people with our park through its membership program,” Dave said. “Once the Smokies gets in your blood, it rarely leaves.”
Alice Kellogg, Assistant Store Manager
Alice joined the GSMA team in 2007 and has been in her current role since 2019. As a member of the Sevier County management team, she works to ensure that daily store operations run smoothly and that staff and customers are happy. She also ensures that all products are well presented and easily shoppable. Her adaptability, diligence and artistic eye enable her to create displays that engage visitors and tell the park’s story as well as to design a traffic flow that makes customers comfortable and happy. “I enjoy the challenges of creating displays for new merchandise and for the seasonal events like wildflowers and fireflies,” she said. “I also enjoy just talking with visitors and explaining how unique this park is.”
Margaret Munkus, Assistant Store Manager
Margaret is an Alabama native who moved to Sevierville from Florida in 2006. She has worked for GSMA since 2016. As an Assistant Manager for the Sevier County Team, she is responsible for opening and closing stores, reconciling registers, checking in truck shipments and assisting with customer service and sales. Her patience, strong work ethic and respect for other people enable her to do her job well. “I am particularly proud when a customer comes in, remembers me from their last visit and compliments the help I gave them,” Margaret said. One of her favorite suggestions for park visitors is an early drive through Cades Cove followed by a picnic lunch at Chimney Tops picnic area.
Holly Nelson, Assistant Store Manager
Holly is the store manager for GSMA’s Blount County team. She oversees visitor centers in Townsend and Cades Cove, where she also manages the historic Cable Mill and orientation shelter. Originally from Sarasota and Myakka City, Florida, Holly has lived in Townsend with her husband for 21 years and began working with GSMA in 2014 as a seasonal employee. Now as a store manager, Holly enjoys serving visitors with her park knowledge, motivation, and positive attitude and hearing about the different places others come from to see the Smokies. “In Cades Cove, it's not always easy for rangers to be around,” said Holly, “so we need to make sure we are giving visitors the correct information.” When asked about her favorite place in the park, Holly said, “Cades Cove of course! But I also love the Tremont area.”
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Visitor Centers and Stores
GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS ASSOCIATION
is a proud partner of Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the National Park Service
By submitting this form, you are consenting to receive eNews from Great Smoky Mountains Association, P.O. Box 130, Gatlinburg, TN, 37738, US, http://www.smokiesinformation.org. You can revoke your consent to receive emails at any time by using the SafeUnsubscribe® link, found at the bottom of every email. Emails are serviced by Constant Contact.
GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS ASSOCIATION
is a proud partner of Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the National Park Service
115 Park Headquarters Rd. Gatlinburg, TN 37738