Category: Outdoors

Gorillas Expecting Babies

By Knoxville Zoo

Zoo-MayKnoxville Zoo made an exciting announcement with the news that two of the zoo’s critically endangered Western lowland gorillas are expecting babies in the late spring.

Hope and Machi, the expectant mothers, came to Knoxville to be a part of the zoo’s first family group of gorillas which also includes another female, Kowali, and first-time father Bantu.  Hope is expected to give birth in late May, with Machi following soon after in early June. Read more →

Firefly Camp: An Early Exposure To Nature

by Jeremy Lloyd, Photos By Tremont



Little people want to play in the woods too! That’s why this summer Tremont Institute is starting our first-ever camp for 5-8 year olds and the big people in their lives – mothers, fathers, aunts, grandparents, etc. This overnight adventure, beginning and ending at noon each day, promises opportunities for bonding time, playing games that build confidence and awaken the senses, and getting to know the forest. We’ll take an afternoon dip in the river. And in the evening, as darkness falls, we’ll sing songs around the campfire and gaze at – you guessed it – fireflies. Read more →

Bridging Nature, Music and Technology: Smokies Storytelling

by Caleb Carlton, Teacher Naturalist at Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont



Have you heard? There are 18,200 known species of life in Great Smoky Mountains National Park! Estimations put the actual number of species in the national park between 80,000-100,000! Do you know that there are more than 1,600 black bears currently living the park? Do you realize that in the 1960’s, the black bear population almost went extinct in the Smokies? Can you believe that the monarch butterflies you see in Cades Cove in September are on their way to central Mexico for the winter? Read more →

The Wild Wild…East?

                by Michael Kull
Photos by Michael Kull and Eva Nations



The Citico Wildlife Wilderness is just  a short drive from Knoxville, and yet, it is a destination that feels worlds away from the familiar skyline most of us enjoy. This unique wildlife preserve is nestled in the bosom of the Cherokee National Forest, far from city lights, traffic noise and amenities like electricity and cellular service. It is a world unto itself, an enchanted place protected by a specially constructed fence designed to contain the wildlife within, as it protects them from the predators (coyote and bear, mostly) lurking just outside. Read more →

The Educational Benefits Of Summer Camp

By Michael K. Smith, Ph.D.


“It is a real art to construct educational activities that are enjoyable; many summer camps have perfected this combination.”

Summer camp brings kids together for learning and fun. Photo courtesy of Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont.

Summer camp brings kids together for learning and fun. Photo courtesy of Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont.

Both of our sons have participated in several summer camps the past few years. Somewhat belatedly, I asked them the other day if they liked any of the camps. Fortunately, both said yes. “What did you like about them?” I asked. They both agreed on three qualities: they enjoyed learning new things; they liked meeting other people who shared their interests; and the camps were fun.

The first summer camps originated in Europe in the late 19th century. These “holiday” camps brought children together to enjoy nature and fellowship while they made tree houses, sang songs, flew kites, and played adventure games. Some current summer camps continue this experience of learning about nature and outdoor activities. However, the variety of educational offerings in summer camps has mushroomed in the past few decades. For instance, my sons participated in Camp Webb where they learned more about science, how to do digital photography, the basics of creative writing, and using Legos to build robots. Other places offer immersion programs in a foreign language that allow students to live in a different country for a month. Tennessee offers a variety of Governor’s Schools for high school students. Although these month long residential programs are called “schools”, they are really more like specialized summer camps. Students can learn in more depth an amazing variety of skills: computational physics, guitar, filmmaking, and international studies, to name a few. There are hundreds of other possibilities for summer learning, as evidenced by current listings in this issue of Knoxville Parent. The educational aspect of these summer camps is appealing not only to students but also to their parents.

Students can also meet other students that share a common interest. This fellowship and collaboration on a common theme for a week or a month can help produce enduring friendships. My oldest son found a friend in Science Camp two years ago; they have continued their collaboration as they independently learn more about chemistry. My youngest son has participated in several basketball camps. He has made friends that he continues to see in various interscholastic basketball leagues.

Finally, summer camps can be fun. We should not overlook this engaging aspect of an experience that promotes learning and friendship.  Since summer camps are voluntary, their approach has to be interesting and entertaining; otherwise, parents would not recommend these camps to other parents.  It is a real art to construct educational activities that are enjoyable; many summer camps have perfected this combination.

Writing this article makes me long for summer camps for adults.  I wish my wife and I could take a week off from work, take the kids to their favorite summer camp, and then fly off to Italy for a gourmet cooking camp or to Hawaii to learn how to surf board. That would be my idea of lifelong learning! However, I am glad my children have a multitude of opportunities in the summer to learn, make friends, and have fun.


Michael K. Smith, Ph.D., is owner of TESTPREP EXPERTS ( ) which prepares students for standardized tests such as the ACT and SAT. He is also a consultant to Discovery Education Assessment. He can reached at

Transitioning Through Life With Nature

by Caleb Carlton, Teacher Naturalist at Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont


Untitled-12I like to think of human beings as living murals: each person is the sum of their life experience. As we pass through the various stages of life, we become who we are. We are ever-changing, becoming more complete with each passing moment and the accompanying experiences – the human mural is never finished.  Read more →

Enduring Memories

by Tiffany Beachy, MS


Untitled-12What are some of the enduring memories from your childhood?

When I answer that question for myself, I think about rustic forts and tiny communities built in tree roots for my imaginary friends; smelly concoctions of berries and honeysuckle flowers mixed with twigs, roots and water; long romps in the woods and treasure hunting on the beach. Read more →


by Kensey Baker, teacher/naturalist at Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont



I am thankful for the fall season in the Smokies. And, it’s not because of football season, pumpkin carving, or upcoming turkey dinners. I am thankful for fall because it’s a time when all life enters into a period of reflection and preparation for the coming months.

Fall is the time of year when nature admits that it has reached its climax for the year and begins shutting down. During this process, the movement of energy from the canopy to the forest floor causes spectacular changes to occur in nature. The fall season is one of the most glorious times to behold in nature. The changing colors, the falling leaves and the sights, sounds and smells of the forest in the Smokies, excite me like I was a kid again. Read more →

Discovering Their Prestige

by Zac Schnell, Summer Intern at Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont


Tremont-Oct2013There are many kids who show up at Tremont, and those who do have the opportunity to enjoy an experience like none other: living and learning in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Many people have asked me, “How does it work with 9 to 12 year old kids?”  With a smiling smirk, it is easy to reply with, “It’s like experiencing a magic trick over and over again.”

Many magic tricks contain three steps known as The Pledge, The Turn, and The Prestige.  A week at Tremont exemplifies these three steps. Read more →

The Nature Journal: A year-round family activity


by Caleb Carlton, Teacher Naturalist at Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont


Back to school means, for parents and students alike, the onset of a whirlwind. Let’s face it, even the thought of the modern-day school year is overwhelming. Students are scheduled to the limits, while parents struggle to balance professional demands and experiencing life with their children. Even when everybody’s home, there’s homework, television, smart phones, and pure exhaustion to detract from family time.


Journaling helps capture memorable experiences discovered in nature.
Photo by: Amy Wilson

It’s easy to arrive at the Thanksgiving break and wonder what happened to September, October and November, and, more worrisome, what your children have been up to throughout the Fall. The challenge is, then, to foster meaningful and consistent relationships with the ones you love the most in the midst of hectic schedules and tired minds. Read more →