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.
This summer, I had to opportunity to help out at Tremont’s Discovery Camp, where I connected nine through-twelve-year olds with the great outdoors. Obviously, I am passionate about introducing kids to the wonder of nature, so I enjoyed every minute that I got to spend with my campers. This position at Tremont stemmed from my involvement as a member of the Class of 2016, and I couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunity. Although the days were long and tiring, I got to share such awesome things with the campers, including interesting cultural history facts about Walker Valley and boat races down the Middle Prong. I will never forget the time when a shy and reserved camper stepped out of her shell and squirmed with excitement when she spotted an Eastern Box Turtle on a hike. Every time a camper turned around with a wide grin spread across their face after finding a Water Penny, their excitement gave me a sense of fulfillment knowing that I introduced them to the invaluable natural features of East Tennessee. In fact, these priceless reactions have helped me realize my interest in education, and I hope to become a teacher so that I can share the importance of the National Park and nature preservation with kids.
Clearly, it is crucial that the National Parks stay relevant to Americans, and our job is to stay engaged with GSMNP through these four years and beyond. We are really becoming well informed citizens who care for the Park and understand the threats facing it. I definitely would not be so enthusiastic and passionate about the National Park Service had I not joined the Class of 2016, and I am looking forward to the leadership roles we take on as youth stewards in the future.
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.
As I first came to the program, I had no clue about all the wonderful experiences and memories the 2016 class would give me. I have learned all about the park and its inhabitants, both human and animal alike. This program has really taught me what it means to live next to such a wonderful oasis of nature in today’s ever-expanding world. Through Tremont and this program, I’ve met tons of new people, seen loads of new places, and learned numerous invaluable skills that I will use throughout my adult life to become a better person and teach others about our magnificent National Park..