By: Jen Jones, PhD, Tremont President & CEO

We have a big ‘classroom’ here in the Smokies—500,000 acres of forests, streams, meadows, mountaintops, and more. As the National Park Service celebrates its centennial anniversary, we are thankful for this park, a place that inspires, educates, and conserves our natural and cultural landscapes. Nurturing a ‘sense of place’ is a core part of Tremont’s mission, and the Smokies provide a truly special setting.

‘Sense of place’ encompasses more than just a physical location and the natural world therein. A sense of place includes an emotional and intellectual experience. It is developed when we personally link geography and environment to history and people, both past and present. A sense of place is fundamentally grounded in human experience based on feelings of connection and identity. A sense of place is about relationships, with nature and with each other. Relationships are the heart of the matter. Tremont impacts the lives of thousands of people each year because of our place in the Smokies, but also because of the people—the entire Tremont team and greater family of Tremont participants, partners, and supporters.

Embracing a ‘sense of place’ also involves behaviors, our everyday practices based on an ethic of how we believe we ought to live. This principle of stewardship is another component of the Tremont mission; we hope our learners take home new memories, new scientific insights, and new skills, as well as a promise to themselves to act with increased thoughtfulness and purpose regarding their connection to nature.

During this 100th anniversary year of the National Park Service, I have been moved to moments of deep reflection. In contemplating the work of Tremont, I have come to sense that in addition to being about place, people, and practice, Tremont represents something even more far-reaching, more grand and profound. Tremont exists as an idea. It is an idea that can be present in our everyday lives beyond the Smokies. It is an idea that urges us to marvel in the nature around us on a daily basis; an idea that continuously stokes a passion for lifelong learning; an idea that compels us to recognize opportunities for hands-on science in our own backyards. Tremont embodies an idea that inspires us to strive for happy and healthy communities in all of our places.

Envisioning Tremont as an idea that people take home from their time in the Smokies also has me reflecting on possibilities for how Tremont as an organization might reach beyond the boundaries of the park to influence, shape, and impact our communities. Are there additional opportunities for us to share our spirit, our passion and our expertise with teachers, youth, community leaders, and folks who may never get to visit the park? Is there a need, nay a responsibility, for Tremont as an idea to reach beyond the borders of the national park? If so, should Tremont Institute help fulfill this need and what might that look like? For now, this is simply a thought exercise as I ponder the coming 100 years. These are questions that challenge each of us to think in new and creative ways regarding our role in creating the future we wish to see.

The national parks have famously been called ‘America’s best idea.’ They are places that inspire, educate, and invite us for recreation, a word which literally means to recreate, to restore, to renew one’s self. As an education organization rooted in a national park—our focus of practice and inspiration—Tremont as an idea suggests the power of the Smokies can extend beyond 500,000 acres of formally protected land. As an idea, Tremont can be part of our daily lives and help direct our life’s journeys, wherever they may lead.