KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — After a nationwide search for a new CEO of Friends of the Smokies, the new leader was found close to home.

Dana Soehn, a member of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s leadership team, has been picked as the new executive director and president of Friends of the Smokies. The search for a new director began in October when the Friends hired the national executive search firm Potrero Group. The group reviewed more than 150 highly qualified candidates before Soehn was selected by the Board of Directors. She will begin her new role on April 3.

“We are thrilled to announce the selection of Dana as our next President and Executive Director, an individual with a deep connection and dedication to the park,” said Sharon Pryse, Chair of Friends of the Smokies Board of Directors. “She has developed an extraordinary career in the region and in the National Park Service. Her experience and vision guarantee Friends will continue to make a profoundly meaningful and lasting impact on our beloved park.”

Dana Soehn

Soehn has years of experience in the Smokies, having worked for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park for more than 30 years. She is currently a park spokesperson and Management Assistant in the Superintendent’s Office.

According to the nonprofit, Soehn’s extensive experience in building relationships, creating partnership opportunities, developing strategic communications, and coordinating large events will be invaluable in her new role. She has been a part of the GSMNP leadership team for the last 10 years and has a wealth of knowledge regarding park needs. In addition as a longtime liaison with the Friends, she has an understanding of the group’s needs and opportunities.

“The Friends of the Smokies and I both share a 30-year investment in this remarkable park that I call home,” said Dana. “As we approach the 100th Anniversary of the park in 2034, I am excited to grow support and stewardship that helps ensure a healthy future for our park into the next century

Soehn earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Wildlife and Fisheries Science from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville in 1992 and her Master of Science Degree in Wildlife and Fisheries Resources from West Virginia University in 1995. She started working for GSMNP in 1989 as a college intern. Since then, she held several roles art the park including Biological Technician, Parks as Classrooms Coordinator, and Volunteer Coordinator.

The organization also said that in addition to her work in the Smokies, she has held several leadership roles for the National Park Service. She was the Acting Assistant Regional Director for Communications and Legislative Affairs and the Acting Chief of Public Affairs and Chief Spokesperson for the NPS.

Friends of the Smokies supports the National Park Service in its goal of preserving and protecting Great Smoky Mountains National Park. They raise funds, public awareness and provide volunteers. Since 1993, the nonprofit has raised more than $75 million in funding for historic preservation, wildlife management, environmental education, and more.