THE YEAR WAS 1969. A group of intrepid citizens, including local educators, dreamed of opening a center in the Smokies where students could learn about nature firsthand in the outdoor classroom. There was a growing movement in those days to start up residential environmental learning centers all over the country. Walker Valley seemed like the perfect place to do so inside Great Smoky Mountains National Park. But could buildings once built for a Job Corps center now slated for demolition be saved in time? What would classes look like? Would people even come?
These questions were answered, and that dream became a reality. In our fifty years in Walker Valley, we’ve found that education works best when practiced in an environment that promotes discovery and wonder. We are proud to serve more people than ever before.
While we celebrate the past, it’s the future we really have our sights on. In our 50th year, we now find ourselves asking new questions. What should experiential education look like in the 21st century—not just here in Walker Valley but in every school? How do we reach more students and more teachers, especially those who need such experiences the most? How does our work help build a citizenry able to address society’s most pressing issues with a sense of urgency and joy?
We will work hard on our journey ahead as we seek answers to these questions. We look forward to taking each step ahead and hope that you’ll join us along the way. We’re excited about what the future holds in our next 50 years and what we can accomplish together!