Record amount of federal funds headed to the Smokies

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Sevier County (WVLT) – More federal money is headed to the Great Smoky Mountains than in any other year.

According to Dale A. Ditmanson, the park superintendent, “the new Omnibus Bill includes a $1.5 million boost to the Park's $17.2 million annual budget.”

The increase will allow the Smokies to completely fund new pay raises and the increased costs of fuel and utilities.

Additionally, they will be able to hire 55 seasonal employees to help with maintenance; visitor’s information and protection as well expand their volunteer program.

“In addition to that operational increase," Ditmanson said, "Rep. Heath Shuler (D-NC) and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) were successful in including $6 million in the 2008 Department of Interior budget to be available as the first payment of a monetary settlement to Swain County, North Carolina. The settlement is called for in a recently-issued Record of Decision which resulted from an Environmental Impact Statement that evaluated alternatives to a proposed North Shore Road."

The federal budget also included a dollar matching plan called the Centennial Challenge.

Under it, the government will share help fund projects in the parks that are being paid for by non-government organizations.

Currently, the Friends of the Smokies, the Great Smoky Mountains Association and several other partners have 13 projects planned for 2008 at a cost of about $4.3 million.

The Centennial Challenge means the government will help them with some of the cost.

”Overall we couldn't be happier about the outcome of this year's budget process," Ditmanson said.

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