Written by Lisa Wojciechowicz. Photos by Kristi Parsons.
On the first day, there was apprehension to hiking up Buckeye Trail, the path behind Tremont Institute’s activity center. Fifty-one students from Lonsdale Elementary’s fifth grade had just arrived, and this hike was the beginning of their first class. You could hear some grumbling from the line as we stepped over rocks and walked steadily upward into the trees.
One student interjected, “I can’t do this, I’ll die.”
A response from a teacher quelled the uprising. “If I can do it, you can do it,” he encouraged, and indeed the hike was accomplished by all, one step at a time.
Despite living a one-hour drive away from the Smokies, this was most students’ first overnight experience in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Another teacher noted gently that the students don’t get to hike in the woods very often. Lonsdale Elementary is located in northwest Knoxville and serves as a community hub for neighborhood residents in the middle of the city. Despite living a one-hour drive away from the Smokies, this was most students’ first overnight experience in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
When we arrived at our first destination, a sprawling forest dappled by sunlight shining through the branches high above us, the kids were thrilled to explore. They scattered throughout the forest, searching for nature mysteries to bring back for the group. The students identified plants and used hand lenses to get a closer look at their discoveries. They came out from the woods carrying gray rocks with red stripe hues, evergreen ferns, and solidified shelf mushrooms. They observed the bulb of a plant just peeking above the soil and investigated new worlds hidden under rocks and roots.
…the students will bring this same sense of wonder back with them to Knoxville.
Even though they couldn’t take any of the items out of the national park, the students will bring this same sense of wonder back with them to Knoxville. What will they be able to find in their own neighborhood? Will they find a colorful beetle crossing the sidewalk or watch gravity in action as leaves shake loose from the trees outside their classroom window?
During their stay, Lonsdale students hiked to a thundering waterfall and saw history come to life at Walker Cemetery. On the final day, a crisp Friday morning, the students composed nature poetry on Girl Scout Island and, with the sound of the rushing river in their ears, reflected on their time spent “at school” in the Great Smoky Mountains.