Scavenger Hunt at Tremont draws 24 teams to compete while learning

The 2011 Smokies Scavenger Hunt drew 24 teams from as far away as Ohio and Missouri to scour the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in search of information and experiences.

Heather Davis, marketing and communications specialist for the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont, said response was strong for the annual event.

“We ended up with 24 teams for the scavenger hunt, which is the most we have ever had,” she said.

Traditionally held on the first Saturday in March when weather can be challenging, this year’s March 5 event provided teams with a beautiful, clear day.

Davis said that in years past, prizes were only given to the top three teams.

“This year we did things differently. This year the top six teams had the opportunity to win prizes,” she said. “There were more people winning, and they liked that. We had prize packages this year and if you won first, you picked first.

“We had teams from as far away as Indiana. They said they drove in for the scavenger hunt, and they were on the winning team,” Davis said.

Davis said this is the fourth annual scavenge hunt. A team can be as many people as you can fit in a car. Each team receives a sheet with 75 questions written by Tremont naturalists, and each question or challenge has a number of points associated with it, based on degree of difficulty.

Some questions require the teams to do research on the Internet while others require teams to drive and hike and find specific items and take pictures of them. “You strategize and see what you want to do, whether you are a hiking group or a research group, who you have on your team, dictates what you do,” Davis said.

The teams got their information on Friday, March 4, and then spent all day Saturday, March 5, doing the “hunt,” whether by completing activities or working to answer the questions.

“They then bring their score sheets back in (at the specified deadline) and have dinner here while park volunteers and naturalists tally the points,” said Davis.

Davis said the scavenger hunt is growing in popularity. “It’s a great one day event. We get families here, and they experience things you wouldn’t think to discover in Park.”

Prize packages included items such as a Coleman heater, a gift basket from Great Smoky Mountains Association and passes from Blue Moon Cruises.

Sponsors included the Knoxville News Sentinel, Foothill Striders, Mast General Store, Smoky Mountains Llama Treks, Auto Pro and Little River Trading Company.

For the second year in a row, the Three Amigos team came in first place. Other winning teams (in order) were Not Your Average Hikers, Shamoonies, Kaos, Desperately Seeking Salamanders and Snail Blazers.

The next Smokies Scavenger Hunt at the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont is set for March 3, 2012.

Teachers at Tremont

Teachers bring classes to Tremont throughout the school year but in early January, a group of educators from throughout the United States got their chance to learn what the students learn when they come to Tremont each year.

The Teacher Escape Weekend was held Jan. 8, and Tremont education director John DiDiego said the participants didn’t let inclement weather deter them from an enjoyable and educational experience.

“It went great,” said DiDiego. “We had people send registration forms from as far away as Missouri and Ohio. We had 58 teachers registered and 54 to 56 who made it despite some snowy and cold weather. We had great a weekend.”

DiDiego said the Teacher Escape Weekends are held twice a year and each are slightly different.

“The whole idea behind them is to give teachers information and experiences so they can help do part of the teaching when they bring school groups to Tremont,” he said.

For example, if the naturalist is leading a geology class and hiking to the waterfall near the institute, the classroom teacher does part of the lesson while the Tremont naturalist does the bulk of the lesson. “These weekends are like professional development time for teachers to learn as much as they can about the program and what their roles are going to be,” he said. “They have a chance to talk over some of the details with our staff.”

The education director said new teachers in the surrounding area are also invited to experience Tremont for the first time. “For a new teacher, this is critical. They don’t know a trail or the way around, and they get to experience Tremont. When they go home, they can tell parents and children what the dorm is like and what the food is like,” she said.

DiDiego said inclement weather changed some plans the Saturday morning the teachers were on site. “We split up and took all the brand new teachers to spend the morning touring around the facility. It was snowing like crazy. We had planned an outside activity that I had set up that morning. By the time we started, it was covered with snow, so we hiked up the road and looked for animal tracks instead,” he said.

Teachers also got to try out three mini-versions of some of the programs the naturalists teach the students. “We give the teachers a taste of three different classes,” he said.

On Saturday evening of the January Teacher Escape Weekend, a musical group called the Lost Mill String Band played for the teachers. “They bring instruments that are homemade. They demonstrate the instruments and let the teachers try them out.”

On Sunday morning, the teachers had options such as hiking to a waterfall for a geology class, taking a wildlife class or meeting with program specialists to plan a schedule for the students the teachers will be escorting.

To learn more about the scavenger hunts or Teacher Escape Weekends, visit

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