Press Release from Great Smoky Mountains Association:
GATLINBURG, TN — Great Smoky Mountains Association is pleased to announce the publication of “A Search for Safe Passage,” an educational adventure for readers ages seven to 13 written by Frances Figart and illustrated by Emma DuFort.
“A Search for Safe Passage” tells the story of best friends Bear and Deer who grew up together on the North side of a beautiful Appalachian gorge. In the time of their grandparents, animals could travel freely on either side of a fast-flowing river, but now the dangerous Human Highway divides their home range into the North and South sides. On the night of a full moon, two strangers arrive from the South with news that will lead to tough decisions, a life-changing adventure, and new friends joining in a search for safe passage.
“Frances’ new book is a very accessible introduction to the problems and solutions associated with highways, traffic, and wildlife,” said Senior Research Ecologist Marcel Huijser (pronounced ‘Houser’) with the Western Transportation Institute at Montana State University in Bozeman. “Through easily understandable stories of the animal characters, we learn that a busy highway can be a barrier to the search for food, water, mates, and new areas to live.”
The book is closely connected to Safe Passage: The I-40 Pigeon River Gorge Wildlife Crossing Project, a new road mitigation campaign in Western North Carolina and East Tennessee. It includes an additional nonfiction section with educational lessons about animal habitat requirements, behavior, migration patterns, and road ecology problems and solutions developed with input from international and local experts.
Figart’s passion to get involved with this cause began as a teenager in the Appalachian foothills in Eastern Kentucky not long after learning how to drive. After running over a snake on the way to work one day, she was so devastated she returned home, called in sick, and cried for hours.
“Today, each time I see a dead creature along the roadway, deep down I still react like that teenager who was devastated by one individual death,” said Figart. “I simply refuse to accept roadkill as a natural part of traveling in a mountainous region, and I know many others who feel the same way. There are viable and affordable solutions that have succeeded all over the world, and the time has come to do something about this issue in our biologically diverse Southern Appalachian landscape.”
After joining Great Smoky Mountains Association as the Creative Services Director in 2017, she got involved with a group of federal, state, tribal, and non-governmental organizations discussing the need for wildlife-crossing structures along Interstate 40 near the park boundary. That group, with GSMA playing a key role, formed Safe Passage: The I-40 Pigeon River Gorge Wildlife Crossing Project.
“When Taylor Barnhill, one of my colleagues on the Safe Passage project, asked me when I was going to write a children’s book about the need for wildlife crossings, at first I protested that I had too many other obligations,” Figart said. “But over the next six weekends, I wrote the eight-chapter book, channeling the 11-year-old kid in me and creating a narrative I would have enjoyed reading with my own mother at that age.”
This is the first children’s book by author Frances Figart and the debut book-length work by illustrator Emma DuFort. Figart also wrote “Seasons of Letting Go: Most of What I Know about Truly Living I Learned by Helping Someone Die.”
“A Search for Safe Passage” is available in the park’s visitor center bookstores and at GSMA’s online store at smokiesinformation.org.