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.