These pictures are not in order, but they still tell an amazing story… the story of our Summer 2014 trip.
“Why would anyone want to go walking in the woods? There’s spiders and bugs and its always hot there.”
I heard this remark from a student I tutored last semester after I shared that I would be doing some backpacking this summer. As I glanced at the other kids seated at the table, most seemed to agree that they’d rather spend time at the neighborhood pool or even sitting inside with electronics to keep them occupied. Clearly, these students who lived in urban Knoxville had never encountered the breathtaking natural world found just a 45 minute drive away in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. More than that, however, they had never been exposed to the nature that can be found in their own backyards. For them, “nature” means a far away place where only people such as world-class photographers go to snap pictures for National Geographic. In a sense, they see wilderness as a foreign concept that they can read about in a magazine or textbook, but not something to be experienced in a natural setting.
Unfortunately, the “Eco-phobic” sentiment that these kids have is not uncommon. With the rise of electronics in our everyday lives, people have become increasingly distant from their true roots: nature. Kaiser Family Foundation reports that kids 8-18 years old devote an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes using entertainment media in a typical day, which amounts to more than 53 hours a week (Generation M2). So, while many parents may have grown up turning over rocks or swimming in rivers, their children are not getting the same exposure to the peace that wilderness has to offer. A 2001 study conducted by professors at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign examined the connection between crime rates and the natural environment and found that children are spending half as much time outdoors as they did 20 years ago. They also found that urban areas (such as inner-city Knoxville) with more vegetation had significantly lower crime rates than those with less vegetation (Sullivan). A separate study conducted in 2005 by Dr. Burdette and Dr. Whitaker of University of California Berkley examined the benefits of children engaging in unstructured play and found that free play benefits a child’s social, emotional, and cognitive development (Burdette). Thus, giving kids such as my young friends in urban Knoxville the opportunity to explore nature in a less structured setting affords them the opportunity to develop a sense of responsibility and stewardship to the lands they inhabit or visit. If children listen to birds in their community park or sit on their front porch in search of spiders, their fear of what is wild and free will be replaced by a connection to the surroundings. Hopefully, the couch in front of the television will be replaced by a peaceful spot in the backyard as they learn that this Earth is their home to explore, enjoy, and take care of.
So what does this research have to do with the Class of 2016? Before I started the program, I did not feel anywhere near the same amount of responsibility to the Earth that I do now. Though I had been hiking many times in many places, I don’t think I had ever found a true “peace” in nature. Through backpacking trips the past two summers and in my own time in the woods, I gained an amazement of wilderness that developed into a sense of responsibility. Through getting to know the land you explore, you can forge a strong bond and sense of place that enables you and motivates you to care for that special crevice of nature. When I see some trash on a trail in the Smokies, I want to pick it up because I regard the Park as my own home. And when I see some interesting fungi, I want to share it with whoever is around me so that they can learn something new and amazing about the natural world.
In a sense, I was very much like one of the kids in urban Knoxville who did not have an appreciation for the outdoors before I came to Tremont and learned about environmental stewardship through the Class of 2016. One of the things that I shared with some of the young students I was tutoring that day was that they can find nature anywhere and learn to love and take care of it the way that I have grown to love and take care of places in the Smokies. Honestly, I am not sure that any of them actually changed their outlook on connecting with nature. Odds are, they are not outside exploring the community park or searching for critters in the grass. However as they come of age, I hope that they begin to lose their fear of the natural world and embrace it. I hope that as they venture outside and see what our Earth has to offer, seeds will be planted and they will mature into naturalists, explorers, and environmental stewards that will share with their own families and peers what it means to know nature and take care of it too.
Burdette, Hillary L., and Robert C. Whitaker. “Resurrecting Free Play in Young Children.” Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine 46-50 159.1 (2005): 46-50. Childrenandnature.org. Children and Nature Network, 10 Nov. 2006. Web. 3 July 2014. .
“Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8- To 18-Year-Olds.” Kff.org. The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, 20 Jan. 2010. Web. 05 July 2014. .
Sullivan, William C., and Frances E. Kuo. “ENVIRONMENT AND CRIME IN THE INNER CITY Does Vegetation Reduce Crime?” Environment and Behavior 343-367 33.33 (2001): n. pag. Outdoorfoundation.org. May 2001. Web. July 2014.
By Bella Weeks
On our first summer trip, we learned a lot about the natural history of the park. Last year, we learned a lot of interesting things about the history of the culture of the park. This year, I hope to learn more about the park, just as I know everyone else is; and, along with getting to know my fellow 2016 members, I also look forward to getting to know myself more deeply than I currently do.
As for my fundraising attempts? Last year, I went around parts of Sylva, and Bryson City, and talked to different people and businesses about our group, and our need for funds. To be honest, it was not much of a success, but I did get a few donations, and I sparked an interest in some people, even though they did not all donate. TO me, the simple fact that people listened to me talk about our group is a success in itself. My family has also helped me give out some flyers that I made. I plan on putting an add in the paper, and maybe talking to local News stations. I do not really know yet. One thing, I do plan on trying, as soon as I have the chance, is contacting a restaurant about doing a charity dinner, for our group. I had one planned, but had to cancel it. I think it would be a good idea for other members to try or think about.
I can not wait for this summer’s trip. I miss everyone, and I always love going to Tremont, and getting to get away for awhile, while learning about the Smokies.
We’ve had a lot of fun on our past trips. We’ve learned more about The Smokies’s natural history on our first trip. The last trip we took we learned about the Cherokee and Pioneer culture. This year we’re going on a whole new adventure up at Purchase Knobb. I know I want to learn more about the Great Smokies Mountains, but most of all I want to deepen my relationships with the rest of the Class of 2016 and our leaders. I hope we have a lot of fun on this trip like we have on our other trips and learn more about each other. I’m also very excited to see the views from our backpacking trip.
by: Erin Erickson
So far, The Class of 2016 has been an amazing adventure for me because it has lead me closer to the Park and provided a plethora of opportunities that have given me a better understanding the natural world as a whole. After being accepted as a member of the Class of 2016, I was excited, however I had no idea that I would get to partake in so many unique activities and learning experiences. For example, I have loved getting to know everyone in the Class of 2016. We are all enthusiastic about our role as youth stewards for the Park, and we are able to lead maturely while having fun. I have also loved learning more about the Park at student volunteer days, where students like us help monitor streams and the critters who live in them. Essentially, we have the opportunity to contribute to scientific research that is used to better understand the ecosystem. Another part of the 2016 program that I have found to be influential has been helping out with Citizen Science projects, including salamander identification and monarch tagging. There are few activities that are as relaxing yet engaging as frolicking in a wide field in Cade’s Cove, searching for monarchs and other butterflies to identify.
Before going, I was really excited and nervous because i wasnt going to know anybody. I was excited to be going and learning about the park. when i got there, i felt a lot better because everyone was really nice and were all like a family now. Before i left to go home i was pleased with everything that i had learned.
I learned a lot, but one of the things that taught me something was when we did the mountain challenge at maryville college. I was afraid to be going up that high, I was scared of falling and i didnt really think i could do it.I learned that you have to push yourself, just like the first time i went hiking. i was sick of walking and my legs were hurting, but i liked what i saw around me. So if you push yourself, you will be rewarded
About one-and-a-half years ago, I was chosen to be part of the Class of 2016 which Tremont was sponsoring. It was a group that was created to teach about nature and ecology to high schoolers that were graduating in 2016. While being part of this program, I have learned many things about myself and about the Smoky Mountain National Park; some of which I will discuss here.
One of the major things I have learned about is how to better take care of the world we live in. I have learned of the detriments of invasive species and how we can help stop the spread of these species. I’ve learned how much I am actually able to do. Before joining this program, I would have never believed that I could hike up to seven miles a day with 50 pounds on my back. One of the best things I’ve learned, however, is knowing that kids like me can all come together for one purpose—to take care of the park we know and love.