Although it was a lake setting and not a mountainous one, the venue certainly set the mood.
The Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont was the focus of a dinner for around 200 neighbors and friends at the Friendsville home of Bill and Donna Cobble, Marblegate. Only one item was on the agenda, which featured Gov. and First Lady Bill and Crissy Haslam: raise needed monies for Tremont’s educational endowment fund.
The Cobbles hosted their guests under a large canopy tent at their 250-acre farm that boasts 9,000 feet of shoreline on Fort Loudoun Lake.
Guests enjoyed a farm-to-table dinner with live music, story telling, a live auction and remarks from Gov. Haslam, Bill Cobble and Ed Pershing, Tremont’s board chair. The goal was to raise $100,000.
Haslam’s remarks centered on the importance of Tremont as it relates to children’s education.
Haslam said the three R’s in education used to be reading, writing and arithmetic, but they have since been replaced by “Rigor, Relevance and Relationship.”
The governor said the Haslam children had the opportunity to take advantage of the programs at Tremont and came away with a greater appreciation for the national park.
“For kids, they get one of the best field trips you could ever have,” he said.
Tremont is a private, non-profit institute that works closely with the National Park to provide educational programs for both children and adults. The goal is to increase the awareness, appreciation and understanding of the natural and cultural resources of the National Park, and to promote stewardship of the resources.
Bill Cobble, who is a Tremont board member, said, “We are excited to have the governor with us for this special evening. This evening is designed to celebrate Tremont’s environmental education mission. We want to emphasize the need to get our children outside and developing an appreciation of the natural world and the National Park.”
The money raised on Sunday evening, June 19, was to be earmarked for Tremont’s Endowment Fund.
The fund, said Cobble, “will support Tremont’s ability to provide financial aid to children who might not otherwise get to attend the environmental programs that Tremont offers year around.”
Cobble said Tremont charges about $200 for a child to participate in a five-day program. “That’s $40 a day, and a lot of kids can’t afford that,” he said. “We think it is important that any child be financially able to come and enjoy Tremont.”
Donna Cobble said the event directly benefits less fortunate children so that they have the opportunity to learn more about the environment and the National Park. “All the money raised goes for kids who can’t afford to pay to go to Tremont,” she said.
In 2010, Tremont awarded almost $70,000 in financial aid in the institute’s needs-based scholarships for students, to teachers participating in the Smoky Mountains Science Teacher Institute and in National Park Service-designated grant funds to support participants in a number of programs.
Ken Voorhis, executive director of Tremont, was on hand for the Sunday evening fundraiser. “Tremont is the only residential environmental learning center located within Great Smoky Mountains National Park,” he said. “The kids who come have an adventure and fun, but they also learn the Park’s rich cultural history and biological diversity as they use the Park as their outdoor classroom.”
Board member Rick Smith said the event was a chance to help others. “All of us have been blessed in life, and we have an obligation to give back and return those blessings,” he said.
U.S. Rep. John Duncan thanked the Cobbles for opening their farm for the fundraiser. “This is a beautiful place, and this is a nice thing for the Cobbles to do,” he said.
Dale Ditmanson, superintendent of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, said Tremont Institute personnel play an important role in educating children and guests about the flora, fauna and cultural history of the National Park. “What Tremont offers in the Park is a residential environmental educational opportunity and you don’t get that often in a Park,” he said.
The superintendent said that less than a dozen of the country’s national parks have residential programs.
Maryville City Councilman Joe Swann and his wife, Becky, said they participated in the Experience Your Smokies program this past year and learned even more about the programs Tremont offers. “I’m extremely impressed with Tremont,” Becky said. “Tremont is a great program of enormous value to our community,” added Joe.