Enduring legacy

Tremont fans gather to celebrate, support

“Heartland Series” host Bill Landry has a simple answer for how he and his crew lugged heavy filming equipment all over the Great Smoky Mountains National Park shooting episodes for the show.

“We were young, stupid, out of work and didn’t care,” he said.

“The Heartland Series” ended its 25-year run in 2009 and is now in repeats on WBIR-TV Channel 10. Its popular host was keynote speaker at the Legacy of Tremont Homecoming event Sept. 19 at the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont.

There were 183 who turned out for the homecoming, raising more than $11,000 for scholarships to send school children to the camps offered at Tremont, executive director Ken Voorhis said.

Landry praised the Tremont staff as “good people who understand the value of environmental education and conservation. It’s humbling to be here and see so many of you who do so much. Many of the stories we did over the years, we did here. You can’t come up here without thinking of the people who have been here before.”

Landry drew laughter when he recalled the great “elf” relocation effort. The April Fool’s Day story was a spoof of the National Park’s efforts to relocate elk. The “Heartland Series” crew did their annual April Fool’s show that year on relocating park “elves.”

Landry said he and the Park Service recruited elementary students who dressed as elves and ran out of the back of a truck like elk do on the day of the relocation. “All these first graders came running out of the trailer. They were doing cartwheels and their parents had signs that said, ‘We love you,’” Landry said. “Then a ranger looked in camera and said, in a dramatic tone, ‘I’ve waited all my life for this.’ Then this little kid was walking up the hill, and he said, ‘It’s hard work being an elf.’”

Legacy of Tremont is the non-profit organization the supports the institute. People from throughout the region turned out for the fourth annual dinner on the grounds under a tent just off the Middle Prong of the Little River.

Folks enjoyed a meal prepared by Miss Lily’s Catering in Townsend, listened to music provided by bluegrass band Special Delivery, bid on items in the silent auction and just enjoyed good fellowship and conversation.

Duane and Cindy Allen of Conyers, Ga., got married in the Smoky Mountains, returned here often to vacation, and made the Legacy of Tremont event part of their 30th wedding anniversary celebration.

Duane Allen remembered coming to Tremont on field trips as a student. “I love to help the kids out. Maybe the person who figures out global warming will come out of one of these classes,” he said.

Cindy Allen said she was happy when she realized they would spend their anniversary where they spent their honeymoon. “We loved it 30 years ago, and we love it today,” she said.

Bill Eanes with the Blount Partnership said Tremont offers great experiential learning for people of all ages who want to learn more about the National Park. “Tremont is just a great place to learn how it all works,” he said.

Voorhis said everything came together well for the event. “There seemed to be a lot of people who were real excited about being here for the event and finding out how to support us,” he said.

Diane Hicks of Maryville is in the Leadership Blount Class of 2011 that stayed at Tremont during their annual kickoff retreat in August. “We just learned so much. It was like summer camp for grown ups,” she said. “Their motto is ‘No Child Left Inside.”

Dick Ray, former chair of the board of Tremont, said it is also important to help improve and upgrade the facility. “The students who come here today are the stewards of the environment tomorrow,” he said. “If we don’t keep this place up, we’re not doing our job.”

Edward Pershing, current chair of the board of Tremont, said the facility offers adults the chance to get reacquainted with nature and gives young people the opportunity to experience nature for the first time.

“It can be life-changing for young people, and it can be that with adults, too,” he said. “The real enjoyment is in seeing kids’ faces when they experience nature for the first time.”

Andy and Susan Sneed of Maryville came to the homecoming at the behest of their friend John DiDiego, the education director. Living in Blount County, Susan Sneed said she supports Tremont because she feels the need to learn more about mountains, the National Park and preserving the environment.

“This is a place where creation is on display, and I asked myself, ‘Why am I not getting closer to it?’ Plus, I love a salamanders!”

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