When you imagine studying history, you probably conjure an image of a classroom with chalkboards and uncomfortable desks. Maryville Intermediate School students and teachers had an entirely different “classroom” experience when they attended the Living History program in the picturesque environment of Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont.
“It’s a powerful way to learn about our distant past in a thought-provoking manner,” said Amber Parker, the education director of Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont. Parker has been presenting the Living History information to program participants for six years.
Through the Living History presentation, the MIS students were encouraged to use their imagination to its fullest potential as they embarked on the tour of the Walker Valley area of 1924. The students’ assignment was to choose a role of a forester, photographer, geologist, government official or banker. They were to gather information on how a national park would impact the lives of the residents. They obtained their data by interviewing residents of the area that was to become Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Their assignment was commissioned by Mrs. Anne Davis, who originally proposed the idea of a national park in Smokies. Davis, who was portrayed by Jen Martin, a Tremont senior naturalist and teacher, came up with the idea of a national park after traveling to Yellowstone National Park.
The students learned that the proposed park area consisted of 6,600 separate tracts of land, 1,200 farms and 5,000 lots with 18 timber companies owning 85 percent of the land. Two-thirds of the land was cleared or in second-growth timber.
By interviewing a farmer, a school teacher and a hotel employee whose job relied upon timber workers, the students learned the lifestyles of residents in the area during 1924.
Farmer Tip Stewart, portrayed by Tremont senior naturalist and teacher Jeremy Lloyd, told the students that the absence of trees on the land makes dirt run downhill into creek beds. As a result, he couldn’t fish for speckled trout anymore.
A school teacher, portrayed by Tremont teacher and naturalist, April Morris, demonstrated to the MIS students how she used the environment to teach her students who were children of timber workers and farmers in the area.
“It’s been a really good experience,” said Whitney Tipton, MIS Science teacher. “The students learn more when they’re interacting with people.”
The Living History Program is just one of the scheduled activities that the MIS students experienced at Tremont. During their three-day stay, they studied geology during a hike, they learned about air quality and also about the creatures that live in the area now. For example, this area is the salamander capital of the world, and the students learned why the 30 species of amphibians in the park are important to the ecology of the environment.
“What the students are doing here at Tremont, they can take it back to Maryville,” said Tremont public relations director Meredith Goins. She said the programs at Tremont give participants lifelong skills so this generation will be prepared to be stewards of the land.
Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont, a non-profit organization, is situated in the middle prong watershed of the Little River within the Smoky Mountain National Park. The environmental learning center has dormitory styled housing, cafeteria dining, outdoor gathering places and more than 20 miles of hiking trails. Every year they offer programs for students as well as adults and families. Tremont has provided hands-on experience to more than 5,500 students from 94 schools from 12 states. Every year, they receive more than 11,000 visitors to the Welcome Center.
For more information about Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont, go to www.gsmit.org or call 865-448-6709.