Margaret and Hank Dye

Tremonsters Margaret and Hank Dye

Written by Hank Dye, Board Chairman

If you are a volunteer at Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont, chances are you will sometimes be called a Tremonster—an endearing term reserved for those special folks who dedicate portions of their lives to the daily cause in Walker Valley, either paid or unpaid.

A few years ago, as a Tremont board member with, let’s say just a tad of marketing/promotional background, I made a hearty push to change the term to Tremonteer, but our CEO at the time, Jen Jones, didn’t like it—said it sounded too much like Mousekeeter. And I said, “That’s the point. It worked pretty well for Disney.” Jen prevailed so today you’re either a Tremonster or maybe just a plain Volunteer. Either way, you’re a critical and greatly appreciated part of all we do.

Volunteering in a National Park

Great Smoky Mountain National Park officials will tell you in a heartbeat that the Park simply could not function as it does without the 4,000 volunteers who help out in so many different ways throughout the Smokies. I happen to be one of those, working as an Education Resource Volunteer in Cades Cove, which officially means I am there to “enhance the visitor experience.”

I’ve seen firsthand the good work our volunteers do—and the fun they have doing it.

Volunteering at Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont is a microcosm of what goes on throughout the Park. There aren’t as many of us and our work is a bit more focused and directed—maybe mundane things like stuffing envelopes or washing windows or shoveling gravel and stacking firewood. Or assembling chairs and tables for an event or parking cars or manning an information booth or raising money. Some days it’s more exciting, working with Community Science and doing real, live research like banding birds or tagging monarchs, working a tree plot or counting salamanders.

The Many Roles of Tremont Volunteers

I’ve seen firsthand the good work our volunteers do—and the fun they have doing it. My neighbor Tom Dittmaier got really popular with the staff in a hurry when they discovered he had a power log splitter. He did such a good job turning big logs into little logs, he quickly began to get regular assignments from the maintenance crew, and they even let him drive the Cushman!

You can’t say “Tremont volunteer” without thinking of Debbie Claypool. Nobody has more institutional knowledge of how things get done. Walt and Lisa Peterson are relatively new to the volunteer corps, but I have seen them up to their elbows in dishwater and helping youngsters sort out their soggy money in the campus store. Always with a smile. Another neighbor, John Sheffield, is a master at car parking and sorting out salamander hotels—plus filling in from time to time as a certified van driver. And I do love watching Brian Aylward run his sound system and bringing the music at a Tremont event.

My Personal Volunteer Experience

As a board member, I’ve been privileged to be involved in lots of ways—from leading the search to find a new CEO to helping interact with Park leadership to most recently looking for land and helping put together the exciting direction for our new second campus.

My favorite personal volunteer moment was the night of the Gatlinburg fire. I got a call to help with evacuation of over 100 elementary students and teachers. I didn’t do much but hold a flashlight and try to stay out of the way, but I have never been more impressed than with the way Tremont staff quickly and safely carried out the evacuation. Not a single tear nor lost teddy bear.

Our Shared Goal

I am totally convinced if we could have every school child spend a week at Tremont, we could indeed change the world!

The goal for all us volunteers is the same: Enhancing the experience for all who come our way—from little kids to old folks like me, connecting people with nature, as we say. And all with a shared passion for the vision, a dedication to the mission and a certainty that it will all pay off with future generations of nature stewardship and advocacy for our Park.

I am totally convinced if we could have every school child spend a week at Tremont, we could indeed change the world!

So, no matter what name they give you (I’m still partial to Tremonteer), be assured you are greatly appreciated and enormously valued and that volunteering is way worth every minute of your time. Thank you for all you do!