Blog Post


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?

The forming of a national park in the Great Smoky Mountains created many benefits for the region: tourism, clean headwaters, good fishing, beautiful vistas, prime wildlife viewing, and so much more. Preserving the natural and cultural history of a place also means that the stories of that place are kept alive. The stories of the black bears, the salamanders, the Native Americans, the pioneers, the logging boom and countless others linger within the national park.

Next, the students/teachers/campers record vocal performances of their lyrics and, finally, film a music video to visually express their concept in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

We learn so much from interacting with protected and preserved places. Interacting with those places is what we do at Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont. Through our interactions, we find that stories of migration, ice ages, the Civil War, metamorphosis, climate change, seasonal changes and countless others are here, in the mountains, waiting to be discovered and told. We want you to come and discover for yourself, but in the meantime, we have decided to bring the stories of the Smokies to life for you – so that you can learn from Great Smoky Mountains National Park in your home, on your phone, and even in your children’s schools.

The national park is rich with stories of life, scientific discovery and human history, and we are committed to telling them. But how do we bring these stories to life for you, right there on your iPhone
or laptop? First of all, we are letting the thousands of students, teachers, and summer campers who come to Tremont each year be the storytellers – minds learn best when they are sharing and teaching. And how do we empower our storytellers to reach out to Knoxville and beyond from the depths of a national park? Music videos!

Our storytellers first learn more about a concept or topic and then rewrite the lyrics to popular songs to tell the story of their chosen concept. Next, the students/teachers/campers record vocal performances of their lyrics and, finally, film a music video to visually express their concept in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  When all is said and done, audiences can learn from, sing-along with, dance to and laugh with the storytellers and their stories. What better way to learn – for both the storytellers and the audience!

Discover the stories of black bears, salamanders, invasive species and more by viewing the music videos created by students this spring at Tremont. You can browse all of the videos at:, or by looking us up on Facebook at If you’d like to know more about the project or sign a group up to participate, please email Caleb at

A Michigan native, Caleb holds a degree in Environmental Studies from Michigan State University. Recently he was a naturalist with the “Inside the Outside” Outdoor Science School (Orange County Department of Education, California). He has also worked on an organic farm. An avid backpacker, he has hiked portions of the Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest and John Muir Trails. He is a Wilderness First Responder.

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