Groundbreaking ceremony held for Sam Houston plaza

Maryville City Councilman Joe Swann (left) and co-chairs of the Sam Houston statue committee Ed Harmon and Joe Emert stand at the groundbreaking for the plaza in August 2015 on the grounds of the Maryville Municipal Building, where the statue has been erected and stands today.

Joe Emert, of Walland, has been appointed to serve on the U.S. Department of the Interior National Park System Advisory Board.

In a news release Monday, Emert expressed appreciation for the support of U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander and U.S. Rep. John J. “Jimmy” Duncan and said he is “honored to be tasked with the responsibility of advising Secretary Zinke and, upon confirmation, David Vela as a member of the National Park System Advisory Board.”

Emert is a seventh-generation East Tennessean who grew up in Maryville and whose family were among the first settlers of Tennessee, founding Emerts Cove in Sevier County. They later moved to Tuckaleechee Cove in Blount County.

Contacted by phone, Emert said, “I just want to make sure the national parks continue to be the crown jewels of the country I think they are.”

He said Blount Countians are fortunate to live next door to Smoky Mountains National Park, but noted he was not aware of all the challenges facing the park until he participated in the “Experience Your Smokies” program. That introduced him to the logistical requirements that come with managing America’s most-visited national park.

“The national parks are too important to be a political football. I hope that people from any political spectrum can come together and support our parks,” Emert said.

In January, The Washington Post reported that more than three-quarters of the members of the federally chartered board advising the National Park Service had quit out of frustration that Zinke had refused to meet with them or convene a single meeting last year.

Emert credited the Great Smoky Mountains Association, the Friends of the Smokies and the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont for being invaluable assets to maintaining the park through volunteer efforts.

Emert had planned to travel to Washington today to attend his first advisory board meeting on Wednesday, but obviously that was canceled with the death of former President H.W. Bush, whose coffin will lie in state in the Capitol until Wednesday.

Emert was raised on family stories of the area while spending time in the Smokies, especially the Townsend, Tremont and Cades Cove areas. He and Cindy, his wife of 42 years, have visited, hiked and backpacked national parks across the country.

They were early supporters of the Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center, the Appalachian Bear Rescue, and founded and co-chaired the group that built the Sam Houston Statue, “You Shall Hear of Me,” erected at the Municipal Building in Maryville.

Emert serves on the East Tennessee Historical Society Board of Directors as past president and on the Board of Directors for the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont.

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