Safety at Tremont Institute

We pride ourselves on our safety record. We have very few injuries each year because we are proactive in risk management.

Our staff knows the terrain and is highly trained to make good decisions in the field regarding the safety of participants. This training is based on our First Aid Protocol manual that covers everything from treating a blistered heel to safety during lightning storms. All Teacher/Naturalists must maintain at minimum a certification in Wilderness First Aid (16 hour intensive training in wilderness medicine) as well as Cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) training. All staff who lead backpacking trips have even more rigorous Wilderness First Responder training (64 hours intensive training in wilderness medicine). All program staff carry first aid kits including epinephrine for severe allergic reactions. We have an Automatic External Defibrillator (AED) on site for cardiac emergencies.

Our campus is self-contained and number of our staff live on site. Finally, every person Tremont hires has undergone thorough reference checks as well as background checks.

We are proud to report that we have an outstanding safety record when it comes to kids and the outdoors. However, we do take the concerns of parents very seriously and below have provided some insight into risk factors during summer camp.

The Sun – Excessive exposure to the sun can lead to dehydration and/or varying degrees of sunburn. We work to prevent this by checking to make sure campers use sunscreen and drink lots of water. Fortunately, a good deal of the time our campers spend outdoors is under tree cover. We encourage campers to bring both water bottles and sunscreen for their personal use.

Swimming – Few things feel as refreshing at the end of a hot summer day as a dip in a cool mountain stream. We take every precaution and more when it comes to swimmer safety. A lifeguard is on duty at all times – plus many additional adult eyes. No jumping, diving, or running is allowed. Bare feet are prohibited; footwear with closed toes that protect the feet are mandatory. Campers are given a swim assessment at the beginning of the week, and those who feel less secure in the water are given life preservers to wear.

Little biters – The number of mosquitoes here is relatively small due to the fact that there is very little standing water here in the mountains. However, we do have our share of biting and sucking insects which also includes no-see-‘ums and wood ticks. While these are rarely dangerous by themselves, they all can be vectors for diseases. We work to minimize exposure to this by avoiding areas where we know them to congregate and by encouraging campers to use insect repellent as needed, and having campers perform ‘tickchecks’. Wood ticks are not known to carry Lyme disease.

Bees and Wasps – Stings from these insects are painful but not dangerous unless there is an severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis). While these are rare situations, our staff is trained in dealing with severe allergic reactions and administering epinephrine if necessary.

Reptilian neighbors – We are proud of our wide array of snakes in the Smokies. The two species that are venomous – copperheads and timber rattlesnakes – are among the shiest species. Our staff knows how to recognize them and of course do their best to spot them before they spot us. Like any wild animal, snakes try THEIR best to avoid contact with humans.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the Salamander Capital of the World!  We have an incredible 30 species of salamanders that call these lush mountain forests home.

But even in a national park, there are unseen dangers that threaten our amphibian populations.  Recently, scientists discovered a deadly disease in some of our salamanders and frogs that is capable of decimating entire species locally.  The pathogen is a type of ranavirus, which causes illness and death in amphibians, reptiles, and fish, making it a significant threat to the biodiversity of the Smokies (note: it is not dangerous to mammals – including humans – or birds).  To learn more about ranaviruses, read ‘The Rise of Ranavirus’ by University of Tennessee at Knoxville professors Matt Gray and Debra Miller.

Here at the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont, we cherish our salamanders!  A student’s trip to Tremont isn’t complete without an up-close encounter with one of these adorable amphibians.  We have been doing cutting edge research on our salamander populations for almost 20 years now, and our participants are the ones who collect and catalog the data.

Because humans are capable of translocating the virus on boots and gear, we take extra precautions to protect our amphibian populations.

Here’s what we do:

  • We spray a 1% solution of Virkon Aquatic, an environmentally friendly disinfectant, on participants’ shoes before they enter our streams
  • After any stream or salamander class, we spray gear (tubs, cups, nets) with Virkon Aquatic
  • We capture salamanders with sealable plastic baggies and don’t touch them with our bare hands.
  • We use the ‘one and done’ method where the bag is discarded after a salamander is caught; no bag is used twice.
  • School groups bring boxes of baggies (inexpensive plastic sandwich bags will work) for their students to use if they are taking our Stream Life or Salamander Monitoring classes.
  • We schedule monthly rest periods for our well-loved streams to give them a break.

If you would like to help us in our mission to connect people with nature by studying salamanders, you can give us the gift of salamander baggies!  Just click here to donate online for bags or send us a check with ‘salamander baggies’ in the memo line.  Thank you for doing your part!