KNOXVILLE - The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has received one of its largest cash donations ever, a $2.2 million gift from an anonymous donor.
The money will be used to pay off an existing construction loan that funded the Oconaluftee Visitor Center. The center near the park's Cherokee, N.C., border, opened in 2011.
Money from the gift will also be used toward a new loan to help construct the 13,000-square-foot Collections Preservation Center scheduled to be finished in fall 2015.
The Knoxville News-Sentinel reports the money will be directed through the Great Smoky Mountains Association, a nonprofit organization that supports the park's educational, scientific and preservation efforts.
Terry Maddox, executive director of the association, said the donation will be made in five annual installments between 2014 and 2018.
"This donation will allow (the association) to redouble its efforts to carry out its mission and allow funds that would have formerly been directed to debt to be employed toward the broader aims of the organization," Maddox said. "In effect, the donor leaves a legacy that will positively benefit millions of future visitors to Great Smoky Mountains National Park."
Maddox said the donor loves the park.
The Oconaluftee Visitor Center includes a state-of-the art museum as well as visitor center and bookstore.