On a beautiful Saturday this month, the Youth Leadership Class of 2016 united to spend a fun day exploring the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. With folks in the Class coming from both Tennessee and North Carolina, this was a special day to spend bonding with each other and connecting with the Park. We started off the day at Oconaluftee Visitor Center in Cherokee, North Carolina, where we spent the morning touring through the Mountain Farm Museum. At the museum, we explored the outdoor structures, including the farmhouse, barn, and corn husker, which gave us a realistic sense of how families may have lived 100 years ago. The visitors center, adjacent to the Mountain Farm Museum, featured extensive exhibits on the cultural history of the Smoky Mountains. There were several personal accounts recorded from European settlers of the Mountains that instilled a sense of pride in the work that they did settling the area. Pictures of settlers covered the walls, and their weathered yet smiling faces portrayed their hardworking and simple lifestyle. These personal accounts afforded us the opportunity to understand the daily life of a settler in the Smoky Mountains by giving detailed descriptions of the maintenance of their homestead and everyday chores. After a delicious lunch on the porch of the visitors center, we headed to the Museum of the Cherokee Indian. Among all the artifacts that reﬂected Cherokee Indian culture, some of the most striking were the handmade jewelry and clothes that were used to distinguish between different leaders and statuses in the community. Equally as interesting were the accounts of Cherokee Indians on the Trail of Tears. The experience in the museum was authentic because of the personal stories that gave us a better sense of the events at the time. It is inspiring to see such a resilient and strong group of people take pride in their culture and unite together to preserve their lifestyle.
The importance of community and relationships with other people is one lesson that we can all take away from spending time in Cherokee this month. As a group of youth stewards for Great Smoky Mountains National Park, it is our job to make everyone feel welcome to explore the Park. Whether it is mountain biking, kayaking, ﬁshing, or hiking; connecting with the great outdoors is a great way to build relationships and unite people on a common ground. I love sharing my experiences in the Park and inviting people in my community to engage with the striking beauty of wilderness as well.
Needless to say, the Youth Leadership Class of 2016 will continue to welcome all people into Great Smoky Mountains National Park, keeping it one of the greatest places to visit, explore, and enjoy for years to come.
Many years ago the first European settlers moved near Oconoluftee.Despite numerous hardships and doubtless bumps in the road to their new home, they persevered. As the Class of 2016 traveled to visit Oconoluftee and the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, we also faced some bumps in the road, although far more minor. Multiple road closures obstructed our path as the trees did on last summer’s trip! Comparing our difficulties to those of the settlers made me realize how much easier travel is today than in colonial times. At the Oconoluftee Visitor Center I learned that common, everyday items that we take for granted would be precious in the early days. Even a lowly apple took much effort to preserve! No matter how advanced our society becomes, our humble beginnings will always make me grateful for everything I have.
By Bella Weeks
On our first trip there were many moments when some in our group started becoming very pessimistic about the rain and the cold. On one occasion Gina and Caleb stepped out of the equation and left us to use teamwork to figure out how to take that pessimist and turn their thinking around. As a group we kept on pushing them to keep going; and telling them that they could get where we were going. We “cheered” for and stayed positive for them. When we started getting closer to our destination it was a relief to hear them begin to be more positive than negative. All in all the trip was amazing, but it wasn’t just getting to our destination, it was the trip itself which made me marvel over how teamwork can keep a group going.
Hard work earns you real rewards and is the best way to learn about yourself. Working hard also shows your true work ethic,which in turn, gives you more motivation to work harder.
We had to work hard to stay optimistic throughout our first hike together. For the most part I was a bundle of energy, and believe me, I had to work hard to keep that up! I loved being where I was, doing what I was doing, and getting to know my fellow 2016′ers, as well as Gina and Caleb.
Something that everyone in this world fears on some level are the consequences for our stupid moments; moments when we act before stopping to think about our actions. Teamwork helps to slow us down, because when you are working with a team, you have to listen to everyone’s ideas, as well as input your own. When you are in a group you tend to stop and think about how your actions will effect, not only yourself, but you group as well.
We had to use teamwork throughout our trip. We had to work together to help everyone stay optimistic. We also did a lot of talking and thinking together. I love being in EYS Class of 2016, because I get to learn more about how to save our parks, and to keep them the way they are. I also love it because I know that I will make lifelong friendships with the people I have met so far.
I just wish that more people could share my love for the park, and I am going to try my best to persuade more people to get out and enjoy it!!!
By Aidan Galloway (Dori)
This summer, the Class of 2016 went on a 4 day back country backpacking trip. Before we even left on the trip though, the Great Smoky Mountains had a horrible storm involving numerous fallen trees. Most of which seemed to be in our path on Goshen Prong trail.
When we looked at where the path used to be, all we could see were trees blocking our way. The whole group looked and started heading off the beaten path to go somewhat around the trees. We had to climb over several to even get to a spot where it was possible to get back to the path and that was an uphill climb.
That was the only time we had to leave the trail, but not nearly the last time we would have to climb over trees during our backpacking trip. All of us fell down once or twice, and we all had to get right back up and keep going.
If you think about it, we all have to do that in life, just usually not over trees. Whenever we mess up in life, we need to get up and keep on going, no matter how big we think we have failed. Even if we completely and utterly flop that doesn’t mean we should lie there and feel sorry for ourselves. Instead, we should have all the more reason to get up. Not only to prove that we can do it to others but also to oneself.
Sometimes, though, we can’t do things all by ourselves; we need to ask for help at times. It may be our parents or just someone we really trust, but at times, we just need to swallow our pride and ask. I doubt they’ll let you down, but there’s someone who’ll never ever let you down. Because, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail. — Ralph Waldo Emerson
By: Sterling Fisher
“The greater the obstacle, the more glory in overcoming it.” - Moliere
Every day for the last three weeks something has reminded me of our “EPIC” backpacking trip in July! Whenever I eat a granola bar or see the rain falling outside the windows of my warm, cozy house, I remember the challenges of that trip. Tidbits of memories from the trip come back to me constantly. Spending three very damp nights in “The Worm 4″, our tent, has really made me appreciate my bed at home! The dense fog during our trip seemed to keep us focused on just what was directly around us, bringing out the immediate beauty of the Smokies, even in the rain! I think of the stunning Turk’s Cap Lillies (Lilium martagon) we saw near Clingman’s Dome and the gurgling stream dotted with moss-covered rocks near Campsite 30. I will also always remember the guidance and encouragement of our leaders, Caleb and Gina. When I had trouble keeping up, Gina always offered kind words to help me go on. Caleb even gave me his dry shirt to wear when mine was soaked. The physical challenges of this trip pushed me beyond anything that I had ever done before. Conquering this challenge has given me a renewed sense of who I am and my role as a steward of the earth. For me, completing this trip was a monumental accomplishment, and I am so grateful to be a part of this program! I am looking forward to our future activities!
By Aidan Galloway (Dori)
Bird banding involves the setting up of 10 nets in the Tremont area and checking them every 30 minutes.
Another net check was called, and everyone got up, hoping that a bird would be caught this time. Everyone set out in their own group, one heading over the river and one staying on the camp side. My group made our rounds finding nothing more than a few leaves. We headed back to the Council Room, hoping the other group had better luck.
This time, it turns out they did; they came back with a small, already banded bird. A little disappointment came when we realized that the banding process wouldn’t be happening then and there. Soon, the campers that were staying there came around to see the Chipping Sparrow and learn more about birds. I even began thinking that it wasn’t that bad being there even if the birds weren’t being caught.
I became excited for every new net check, and even when no birds were found, I was fine with the conversations I had and the other creatures I saw, like the butterfly that we caught. If you think about it, it’s kind of funny how we caught the same amount of butterflies as birds.
At the beginning of doing this program, I was disappointed, but after thinking it over, I realized that we have truly no control of what may come or go. Some things are out of our power, and we just have to let them be, because we can’t always change them. Sometimes we have to just surrender and rest in our patience, however small. We need to just let things come as they may.
This doesn’t mean we should ever give up; we just need to know at times our limitations and the things we have no command over. Being patient is sometimes the only way we will see the wonder of the world that is around us.
Adopt the pace of nature; her secret is patience. — Ralph Waldo Emerson
By: Erin Erickson
As the last of the food and bowls were being packed into bear bags, and the first tired yawns of the night began to sound, the Youth Leadership Class of 2016 gathered around the fire pit. When night fell, everyone always looked forward to one of the most rewarding parts of the backpacking adventure: reflection time. Reflecting on the day helped the group develop a tighter bond and the routine became comfortable and welcoming every night.
Reflection time consisted of playing the game “Rose, Thorn, and Bud,” where we would all gather in a circle and one at a time tell what the best and worst part of our day was, and what we were looking forward to most for the next day. The “roses” and “buds” often included getting to spend more time together, and time swimming in the rivers. However, there were hardly ever “thorns” because the group’s attitude remained positive throughout the whole trip, despite some inclement weather and trail damage.
For a group of rising ninth graders to be so mature and thoughtful while reflecting on the day is rare, and getting to be a part of that was one of the best parts of the whole trip. Reminiscing on the days spent in nature makes everything more genuine. And as Socrates once said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” We made memories in the backcountry that we will someday tell our children, memories that we will look back on with smiles and try our hardest never to forget. But most of all, it is our job as the Youth Leadership Class of 2016 to ensure that future generations can make memories just as we did, in Earth’s most magical setting: nature.