GATLINBURG, TN - Great Smoky Mountains National Park recently took delivery of seven Ford Escape Hybrid vehicles that were purchased using a $197,550 grant from the North Carolina Department of Transportation's Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) Program. The CMAQ funding is U.S. Department of Transportation money which came through the State of North Carolina and was allocated by the Rural Planning Organizations (RPOs) of the Land-of-Sky Regional Council and Southwestern Commission, according to a release from the National Park Service.

The goal of the CMAQ Program is to reduce air emissions in counties where air quality is in non-attainment of EPA Clean Air Act standards. The portions of Swain and Haywood Counties that lie within Great Smoky Mountains National Park are both in non-attainment due to elevated levels of ground level ozone.
The park's new hybrids will replace seven much more polluting vehicles, including two full-size pickups, three station wagons, and a sedan, some of which are over 20 years old, so emissions reduction are projected to be substantial. The new vehicles will be used in North Carolina Park operations ranging from Ranger patrols in the campgrounds to trail maintenance.

In 2006, the Park used a state grant to convert all its heavy equipment and large trucks to run on B-50 biodiesel received a second grant to purchase two emission-free electric vehicles. Those grants required at least a 20 percent match from the Friends of the Smokies, according to Park Deputy Superintendent Kevin FitzGerald.

With the addition of the seven new Escape Hybrids, the park now has 16 hybrid vehicles in service, according to the release.