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Episode 76 of 136

National Parks Traveler: Great Smoky Mountains Institute At Tremont

station description Exploring national parks and their issues.
National Parks Traveler Podcast
Duration: 51:17
Residential environmental learning centers are nonprofit facilities that connect people to nature. But they are tasked with serving a greater good -- to foster the development of better global citizens. Lynn Riddick speaks with Catey McClary of the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont to bette
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Residential environmental learning centers are nonprofit facilities that connect people to nature. But they are tasked with serving a greater good -- to foster the development of better global citizens. Lynn Riddick speaks with Catey McClary of the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont to better understand this organization whose roots in outdoor learning go back some 50 years.
Snippet Transcripts
three Great Smoky Mountains Instituted Tree, Mont. Offers residential outdoor learning programs for all ages and professional development opportunities for educators and other adult learners. Joining me to talk about the organization is Katie McClary, president and CEO. Hi, Katie. Welcome to the traveler. Hi, Lynne. Thank you so much for allowing us to join. I want to start with a sentence in your most recent annual report, which caught my eye quote in times of increased stress on our environment and in our daily lives. We believe that education is the most powerful tool we have in saving the places we love. Yet we also know that these places we love can save us in return. Tell me more about your organization and how it ties into this philosophy. It's funny that you mentioned I wrote that over a year ago, and today it starts to even bring more true, doesn't it? I think what what we have always known that Truman is that education is a powerful tool to connect people the nature it really allows them. Thio, open up this sense of curiosity and discovery and wonder. That's when you're in that mindset that you start to really explore and experience your world differently. But we also know that when you experience your world differently, it gives back to you. And so that is so much of our philosophy and that we're not just necessarily trying to teach people about nature and that we're not trying to just have them memorized the names of trees or the names of flowers. Certainly, that's part of it. But we want to teach people to be curious about nature, and that's truly where the magic starts toe happen. Tell me more about the organization. We celebrated our 50th anniversary last year, So Treatment has a long history of providing residential environmental education programs in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We were originally created through a partnership with the Park Service, as well as a local college, Maryville College. Um, at that time, the Park Service had some facilities that have been used for the job corps, and they were trying to decide what to do with it again. This was about 50 years ago, and so environmental education, education movement was taking hold, and some intrepid people got together and recognized that there was a need for an environmental outdoor education center in the park and made it happen. So we have been fortunate to have a long history of partnership within the national park, as well as local education centers and colleges and schools. The institute is located four miles from the towns and Tennessee entrance to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Can you describe the setting of your campus? Sure, Townsend is affectionately called the Peaceful side of the Smokies. And so when you enter, you do see a lot of hotels, but not quite the glitzy, glamorous side that that people come to expect in terms of Gatlinburg Pigeon Forge. So the entrance is a little bit more. I'm trying to think of the word. It's it's a little bit more quiet, and when you enter the park, most people are headed on their way to Cades Cove. But just as you turn into the park, there's Ah, left turn, and you go up, be what's called Fremont Road that is right along the Middle Prongs River the entire stretch, and it's such an incredibly gorgeous piece of river. When you think about the Smokies, you think about these blue ridge lines with Hayes. But you also think about these rich, lush streams with cascading boulders and green moss, and that's really what you experience on your drive into Tree, Mont. We talk about when school groups or when adult groups come. You almost feel like you're being hugged by the mountains around you because they feel close and they feel inviting and they feel warm. And so it's a really incredible place. We call it Walker Valley because it was there was a family that settled in the Valley back in the 18 hundreds, and his name was Will Walker. Of course, there have been many people who had lived in that area before then, but that that did become named after him. And so we talk very lovingly about our home in Walker Valley. It's a place where education has been a part of it. His sorry, and we're excited to be able to continue that education through the work that we do and the outreach that we do as well. You've recently expanded with the purchase of 200 additional acres in Townsend. Is that correct? That is, we purchase that land last year. We have long recognized that there are some challenges to the physical space that we program out of in terms of our layout in our design. And we really have thought of ourselves as being in a position to provide education to a broader audience and, as such, wanted to build a second campus that could help us allowed to reach more people in diverse ways, as well as providing unique opportunities that we couldn't quite provide in our current setting. Um, that we look forward to providing in the future. Let me ask you about specific building plans With our second campus, we have decided Thio pursue the living building challenge. It is something that other residential environmental learning centers have done across the nation, And I think it really speaks Thio the future of what environmental education can potentially be because living buildings are inspiring a new generation of sustainability minded citizens. It's a new framework for building. And it says, instead of doing bad for the environment, how can buildings do good? And when buildings do good, how does that then impact the participant? How does it ask them? Thio perform both within the space, but also to take action when they go home to create a better world. So it's this whole paradigm shift to say What if our buildings did more for the environment? And when you think about it in that terms, you think about the opportunity for change and the opportunity that this type of education, when you do environmental education and place that is the most innovative, the greenest building that is really doing good for the environment, how much more impact can you have? That's really exciting thing for Tree Mont. To think about in the next 50 years. In our next 50 years, what kind of impact do we wanna have? And we wanna have a really big impact. We believe that time is now that outdoor education is more critical than ever that the education in our communities needs to rely more heavily on teaching and outdoor spaces. And we believe that we can provide that type of instruction. And we believe that it's important to do so in a space that that walks the walk and doesn't just, you know, ask people that to come for a little quick experience, but that really resonates with them and stick with them. Let's talk a little bit about some of the programs that you offer. Are they all coordinated out of your main facility there in treatment they are, and we talk about, you know, the building, the second campus. But it's also important to note that the main facility is truly our homes. So that's where you know the heart of our operations lie. And we're excited to continue that. We do have all of our administrative buildings in the national park. We have a small gift shop that is open most of the time to the public. It's currently closed due to the pandemic, but we provide visitor services as we can and really run the organization out of that one space talk a little bit about some of the programs for young people. The majority of our programs, in terms of number of participants, is our school programs. Those air residential providing three nights and five night experiences. Typically where we serve students from over 13 states, we bring them to the national park. We get them a knopper to nitty, to really live and learn in the national park. They sleep in our dorms. They eat meals, family style. As a group, they go outside for classroom and outdoor learning. We will go experience salamanders and investigate nature's mysteries. We do all sorts of stuff on our campus. Do you have any programs that you think maybe make a bigger impression on kids than others? I think what we find with our programs is for students. They all take individual things away from the programs. Sure, they like to get down and dirty. And they like Thio, You know, explore in the creeks. We do things like we create rock paint, and that's typically a favorite. But when we often asked at the end of an experience what kids were taking home with them, we find that it truly varies. Sure, we might get the the common answers of I didn't know I could live without my cell phone for four days, or I never knew that the national park was so diverse. You get a broad range of activities, but I think for kids, it really is truly just about getting outside, getting to explore with their peers and also getting to explore with their teachers. We have an education style that is very different from the traditional school model, where you know many teachers get up at the front of the classroom and you know they teach lessons. Well, here they learn together, the teachers air learning alongside their students. And when you create that dynamic, some of those takeaways aren't just Oh, I learned about salamanders. It's oh, I now see, I saw my teacher in pajama za e take. You know, I see them as a different person, and so the dynamic between the classroom begins to change as well. And so it's a really unique experience, and when you start to think about, you know, it's not just a field trip. It's not just a science lesson that these kids were learning, but it's really a holistic experience that they take with them in a variety of ways. Where does your staff come from? Our staff comes from, Ah, lot of different places. Typically, most the staff are in a environmental education degree or science degree. They might have their masters. I joke often that a lot of our our teacher nationalists have hired higher degree than Ideo, and they might have expertise in very specific areas of of ecology. We have some that are expert birders, some that are you know involved in reptiles and amphibians. There's all sorts of different, different ways that we find thes staff that really have the passion and the drive to do this type of education. We do a lot of recruiting through some of the more traditional models in terms of schools that we work with and colleges and universities that we have relationships with. But we also tend Thio get staff from other nature centers, you know, as they are coming through graduate programs through other nature centers, they might be aware of Fremont and looking to continue work in this field.
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