Washington, DC - Tuesday, Second Lady Karen Pence, joined by Deputy Secretary of Interior, Katharine MacGregor, visited the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to talk about the many mental health benefits the outdoors offers and shared more on the park’s progress on the second phase of restoring access to the public.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has created an urgent need for us to pay closer attention to our mental health and emotional well-being,” said Second Lady Karen Pence. “Our amazing national parks offer many mental health benefits and more than ever before, we must ensure that we are taking care of ourselves and each other.”
Upon arriving to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Mrs. Pence and Deputy Secretary MacGregor took part in the ceremonial Clingmans Dome road reopening, which has been closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Following the road reopening, Mrs. Pence delivered remarks at the Clingmans Dome Visitor Center to local community leaders and elected officials. In her remarks, in recognition of Mental Health Awareness Month, Mrs. Pence talked about the benefits of the outdoors for people’s mental health and emotional well-being. Research shows that spending quality time in the great outdoors can have positive health benefits such as reduced stress, lessened anxiety, and lowered risk of depression. Following the remarks, Mrs. Pence and the Deputy Secretary hiked to the Clingmans Dome Observation Tower.
Then, Mrs. Pence and the Deputy Secretary spoke to park employees at the Metcalf Bottoms Picnic Pavilion. Mrs. Pence thanked the employees for their work to maintain the Smokies during such difficult times and applauded their efforts for reopening the park in a safe and responsible way. In addition, the Second Lady highlighted the park’s mental health and resiliency plan.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is in the process of developing a program that will create a Park Peer Support Team to offer assistance to all park employees. The program will help teach participants how to recognize when peers are struggling with stress, trauma, and other mental health concerns and will give them the tools to help others. At the national level, the National Park Service is embracing and encouraging parks to create Employee Health and Wellness Programs, and Great Smoky National Park was part of this pilot program.
“With nearly every state in the nation taking some action to reopen, what a joy it is to be in Tennessee with Second Lady Karen Pence to reopen areas of our most visited National Park for the enjoyment of the American People,” said Deputy Secretary Kate MacGregor. “The Great Smoky Mountains offer over half a million acres to relax and enjoy some fresh air and Vitamin D. Today we are thrilled to expand access for Americans to enjoy the mental and physical benefits of this stunning landscape.”