Great Smoky Mountains National Park superintendent unleashes nature's healing power with new diversity-fueled hikes

Photo contributed by the National Park Service / Great Smoky Mountains National Park Superintendent Cassius Cash, far left, leads a Smokies Hike for Healing trip in the park last year. The hikes were designed to help people unpack the heavy events of 2020.

Name: Cassius Cash

Age: 52

Occupation: Superintendent of Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Hometown: Memphis, Tenn.

Cassius Cash knew about the healing power of the Great Smoky Mountains long before the upheavals of 2020 - a pandemic that led to mass quarantines and a season of social unrest after the killing of George Floyd Jr. by police last spring in Minneapolis.

"I tell people I always come out of the woods feeling better than when I went in," says Cash, who became the first Black superintendent of Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 2015.

The park, which is within a one-day drive of half the United States' population, draws over 12 million visitors a year, and set records last year for attendance as Americans looked for a respite in nature from their cooped-up lives.

Cash, a native of Memphis, grew up watching the Mutual of Omaha's "Wild Kingdom" television series.