There are many qualities and lessons parents hope to pass on to their children. For Wes Bunch, one of the traits he wants to encourage in his seven-year-old son is a lifelong appreciation of nature.
Living in Knoxville, Tennessee, Wes spends a lot of time exploring the Smokies. “Not everyone is lucky enough to have a national park in their backyard,” he acknowledges. He traces the beginning of his connection with nature and the Smokies back to a class trip to Tremont Institute in 1993.
A Different Kind of Classroom
Their classroom for the next few days would be Great Smoky Mountains National Park, one of the most ecologically diverse parks in the United States.
Wes still remembers the bus ride from his school in Kingston, Tennessee, and the excitement he and his middle school classmates felt as the bus pulled onto Tremont Road and crossed the bridge over the Middle Prong. Their classroom for the next few days would be Great Smoky Mountains National Park, one of the most ecologically diverse parks in the United States.
Tremont’s classroom without walls encourages learning through discovery and hands-on, immersive experiences. Wes recalls a night hike to the cemetery during that school trip. Students had fun during the hike, and their teachers used it as a way to teach the students a science lesson about rods and cones in the eye and how the eye adapts to darkness.
“I try to go hiking in the Smokies as often as possible and really enjoy being outside and in nature, and I attribute a lot of that to my experience at Tremont.”
Another highlight for the 11- and 12-year-olds? Learning the word “scat.” A song known as “The Scat Rap” still entertains students of all ages around campfires at Tremont, demystifying a gross yet unavoidable subject often encountered on hiking trails and important in identifying wildlife in the mountains.
Shared Family Experiences Outdoors
Wes shares, “I try to go hiking in the Smokies as often as possible and really enjoy being outside and in nature, and I attribute a lot of that to my experience at Tremont.”
He has started to share day hikes and short backpacking trips with his son. They recently hiked together to Spruce Flats Falls. His son loved not only the experience of the hike, but also hearing about his dad’s trip to Tremont as an 11-year-old.
“I want to give him that opportunity [to fall in love with the mountains] too, at an even younger age.”
The trip to Spruce Flats Falls and down memory lane inspired Wes to sign up for Tremont’s summer Firefly Camp. “My trip to Tremont for school is what made me fall in love with the mountains. I want to give him that opportunity too, at an even younger age,” he says.
At Tremont, we often witness the love of nature transcend multiple generations. Parents accompany their kids on school trips. Grandparents bond with grandchildren as they participate in community science projects such as monarch tagging. Sometimes we even see three generations of family participate in outdoor experiences through our Smoky Mountain Family Camp.
Looking Forward to Future Experiences
If this summer were like any other summer, Wes and his son would currently be enjoying hands-on experiences of Tremont’s Firefly Camp. Together, with other parents and grandparents bonding with their youngest adventurers, they would be exploring the forest, splashing in mountain streams, and watching fireflies light up the night.
But this week Tremont’s campus is quiet, much like it has been since the spring. Because of the risks associated with the coronavirus outbreak, we had to cancel summer camps this year. We dearly miss sharing this Smoky Mountain summer with our campers and their families. However, we know this is just a short season in Tremont’s 50-year history, and we look forward to gathering, exploring, and learning again with our Tremont family in Walker Valley.
And Wes is already looking forward to sharing the Firefly Camp experience with his son next summer. Through shared hikes and their upcoming summer camp adventure, he is not only sharing a love of nature with his son, but he is also teaching him how to be a thoughtful, lifelong steward of the environment. We at Tremont believe that is a lesson very worthy of passing on!