Eco-conscious faculty and staff pilot “Scots in the Smokies”

“Few colleges and universities in the United States are blessed to have the views and amenities of an amazing national park in their backyard, and we need to lead with that identity when introducing ourselves to prospective students, partners and donors,” President Bryan Coker said when unveiling the school’s new logo in 2021. The college continues to integrate the Smokies into its curriculum and extracurricular offerings.

Natural History of the Great Smoky Mountains (BIO 311) is an investigation of the landforms, flora and fauna of the region, especially those found in the Great Smoky Mountains. The course is a requirement of the new Appalachian Studies minor.

Mountain Challenge, an outdoor recreation company situated on the College campus, frequently leads “Open-Trips” to the National Park. All students are welcome to attend, and community members can tag along for a small fee. The schedule for the trips can be found on the Mountain Challenge website. 

The Great Smokies Experience is an 11-day program for rising high school juniors, seniors and recent graduates to learn about environmental issues in the Smokies. The students go kayaking, hiking and camping, while earning credit for a three-hour Introduction to Environmental Issues and Sustainability Studies (ENV/SUS 101) class.

Tremont staff helped students disconnect from their busy lives and connect with the environment around them. Courtesy of Brennan Checkalski. 

Thanks to a $200,000 financial gift from Professor Emeritus Dr. Dean Bolden and his wife, Mary Bolden, a program called “Scots in the Smokies” will give Maryville College students a unique opportunity to get even closer with the National Park. 

From February 24 to 26, 29 students took part in the pilot program for Scots in the Smokies. Students stayed at Tremont Institute, a residential environmental learning center located on the Tennessee side of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Tremont aims to disconnect visitors from their phones, and instead connect them to nature. 

The rainy forecast didn’t dampen the Scots in the Smokies pilot experience. Freshman Kalib Sugden poses on a rainy hike, with a smile still on his face. Courtesy of Brennan Checkalski.

As a Mountain Challenge staff member, I got to offer a helping hand for the weekend, and I absolutely loved it. The timing of the program could not have been better. Spending a few days away from my laptop helped me unwind ahead of midterm.

From the moment I arrived, I was on “Mountain Time,” as Jeremy Lloyd, Manager of Field and College Programs, called it. We spent our weekend hiking, identifying trees, learning survival skills, getting creative and making new friends. I was surprised by the quality of the food and amenities that Tremont offered. The weekend allowed me to get closer to nature, while still enjoying the comforts of a bed, warm showers and hot meals.

Even though students spent most of their weekend outside, they enjoyed three hot meals a day prepared by Tremont staff. Courtesy of Brennan Checkalski.

Dr. Jay Clark, Director of Environmental & Sustainability Initiatives and an adjunct professor of biology, shared that the College already has the last weekend of February scheduled for next year. The plan is to open the program up to 40 participants.

The Scots in the Smokies program was originally thought of as a program for sophomores. Clark shared that it hasn’t been decided if this program will be limited to just sophomores, or if it’ll be offered to all students.

Details about Scots in the Smokies will be refined by a committee of faculty and staff members. The committee is made up of Andrew Irvine, Andrew Gunnoe, Kristen Riggsbee, Mark O’Gorman, Tyson Murphy, Jackie Eul, Kirsten Sheppard and Brad Ward.

“We got feedback from the students. We’ll evaluate that, meet with the Mountain Challenge group leaders who were there helping, and meet with the committee to try to make a plan moving forward,” shared Clark. 

I’m crossing my fingers that Scots in the Smokies becomes an annual tradition. Sometimes, all you need is a little break in nature to get through the tough parts of the semester.

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