GATLINBURG — Great Smoky Mountains National Park has a new sister in Southeast Asia, and except for the language they could almost be twins.
Dale Ditmanson, superintendent at GSMNP, on Friday signed an agreement with his counterpart at Khao Yai National Park in Thailand to create a working relationship toward the common goal of protecting and conserving a natural area for the enjoyment of all.
Representatives of Thailand’s national parks are touring the United States to observe park operations and forge bonds with them on a variety of levels.
Krissada Homsud, superintendent of Khao Yai, said during the signing ceremony that the two parks are very similar in size and terrain as well as biodiversity, streams, waterfalls and wildlife.
Like GSMNP, Khao Yai — which translates as “Big Mountain” — is home to bears, wolves and other wildlife.
It even has synchronous fireflies, the display of which is becoming one of the Smokies' most popular annual events.
Homsud said the agreement will allow personnel from the two parks to exchange knowledge and ideas and “study problems together.”
Ditmanson said the U.S. park system “tends to think we’re the experts.” But he said the partnership with a similar park should help boost both the management and problem-solving at both.
Khao Yai comprises a group of mountains known as Dong Phayayen. The highest peak is Khao Rom, which rises to about 4,500 feet above sea level.
Much of the park, like the Smokies, is forested. Ditmanson said one of the “major issues” for the Thai park system is deforestation taking place nearby.
Khao Yai, like the Smokies in the United States, is the most visited park in Thailand, presenting both with a significant tourism challenge to be managed. It was established in September 1962 and receives about 1 million visitors a year.