For my last Experience Your Smokies, our class visited the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont and the National Park Service Collections Preservation Center in Townsend, TN. Appropriately, the focus of our day was on the value of experiential and outdoor learning.
We began our day at Tremont, where our class was split up into groups and given one of two assignments: identify trees or search for salamanders. As my group navigated West Prong Trail in search of a salamander to observe, we felt like, and at times acted like, young learners. My classmates shouted across the stream when they saw something moving, and all at once everyone huddled around trying to see what was there.
We didn’t realize it at the time, but as we moved around the trail laughing and searching, we were creating an experience. Once we found a salamander to observe, we didn’t focus on identifying it, but on considering its lived experience. We wondered, “How does it breathe?” “Where does it live?” “What does it eat?” and “Is it afraid?” We worked together to answer those questions and reflected on the larger environment surrounding us.
Tremont was the perfect place for the EYS Class of 2018 to conclude our lessons. Both organizations ground their students in the Smokies and invite them to learn about their park by doing.
On January 19, 2018, just two days before the start of the longest government shutdown in history, my classmates and I graduated. We now count ourselves among the thousands who have completed the program during its 19-year history. With this ending, I can’t help but reflect upon the relationships built and knowledge gained from the program. Having grown up in Sevier County, I’d like to think I already knew a lot about the natural and cultural history of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. But what EYS taught me is that there’s always more to learn, to experience and to protect.
My classmates and I are moving forward from the program as better-informed advocates of the most biodiverse and most visited national park in the country, and our park and community will be better for it. I encourage anyone interested in better understanding the Smokies to learn more HERE.
For more on the program’s 20th year anniversary in 2019, be sure to watch for this spring’s Smokies Life, in which we plan to feature the program’s many years of success.