Smoky Mountain Field School

UT Non-Credit’s resident Graphic Artist Pat Alley recently spent an afternoon in 3rd grade. Pat was asked to teach basic drawing to Carolyn Beal’s 3rd grade students at Hardin Valley Elementary School. The students learned that you can use basic shapes to draw almost anything imaginable. All it takes is a little practice, the ability to accept mistakes and a big imagination. They were then challenged to draw their favorite object and present it to the rest of the class. Some outstanding imagination and drawing skills were on display. The 3rd graders were so inspired that they invited Pat back to teach a special project for Halloween.


That’s what the Field School is all about. Below is a list of our September courses.  Whether your interest is elk or butterflies, maps and compass, or Cherokees or dayhiking, we have a course just for you!

Here’s what’s happening in September:

Bringing Them Back to the Smokies: Elk, Otters, Falcons and Wolves   – **NEW INSTRUCTOR**
Sat., 9/10/2011, Noon to 8:00 PM               Fee: $49

Learn about the successes and failures of wildlife restoration programs in the Smokies. Are there any wolves in the Smokies? Where can I see a peregrine falcon? Where do otters live? How did elk get here? Come, see, and hear bull elk bugling, sparing, and working to protect their harems. What happens if elk leave the Park? How do we capture and monitor elk? Learn about radio telemetry tracking techniques and capturing newborn calves. Learn the specifics on how elk have been managed since their release in 2000.

Introduction to Map and Compass 
Sat., 9/17/2011, 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM      Fee: $49

This course includes an introduction to the use of a forester’s compass and a basic understanding of reading a topographical map as used by land managing agencies for control and management of emergency incidents. This will be done through lecture, classroom activity, and outdoor exercise.

Advanced Use of Map and Compass
Sun., 9/18/2011, 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM          Fee: $49

This course will be an in-depth instruction of map and compass skills by incorporating the use of the forester’s compass and the 7.5 topographical map series of the U.S.G.S. to conduct a simulator multiagency search and rescue exercise in basically a “table-top” format. The team approach will be used. Prerequisite: Introduction to Map and Compass.

A Smoky Mountain Day Hike 
Sun., 9/18/2011 8:30 AM to 4:00 PM           Fee: $49

Take a walk in the woods that will highlight many of the delightful aspects of these diverse mountains. In a moderate, 7-mile hike, we’ll have views, see big trees, encounter bear signs, rock hop a stream, witness old homesteads, and meander through quiet coves. There is some uphill climbing at first, but most of this hike is gentle and easy with views and a variety of plants that make the effort all worth it.

A Day with a Naturalist
Sat., 9/24/2011, 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM           Fee: $49

Spend a day with an experienced field naturalist exploring the natural heritage of the Great Smokies. Learn about the geologic origins of the Appalachians and the Smokies’ exact place in the Blue Ridge Province. Visit various habitats like cove and northern hardwood forests, identifying distinctive birds, trees, wildflowers, and ferns associated with each. Discuss Park Service attempts to contain the adelgid that infests Fraser fir and other threats like the European wild boar and various “exotic” plants.  Walk along the moderate Kephart Prong Trail.  Then view the natural world of the Smokies with new eyes.

Elk in the Smokies 
Sat., 9/24/2011, 4:00 PM to 8:00 PM            Fee: $49

Come and learn about the experimental elk release in Great Smoky Mountains National Park! Elk have been extinct in North Carolina and Tennessee for approximately 150 years, but they roam again now in the valleys of Cataloochee in Western North Carolina. We’ll view elk and their behaviors during the mating season, hear bugling, and learn how researchers track and monitor elk in the Smokies.

Ancient Mountaineers: Cherokees of the Southern Appalachians
Sat., 9/24/2011, 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM           Fee: $49

The southern Appalachians have been inhabited by human beings for more than 12,000 years. Learn about the archaeological record of these mountains and the cultural history of the peoples who have inhabited them. Morning classroom instruction will focus on archaeology and the material culture of this region, culminating with a discussion of historic and contemporary Cherokee life in these mountains. Themes will include subsistence, settlement, and indigenous adaptation to sustained European presence. Take an afternoon excursion to several North Carolina sites where some of the archaeological investigations of the region will be detailed.

Butterflies and Flutterbies
Sun., 9/25/2011, 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM          Fee: $49

Spend a delightful day out in a field in Cades Cove. This is a wonderful time of year to explore this interesting, diverse habitat and for identifying butterflies. We’ll learn about the signs left by animals, the flowers that are currently blooming, the changes taking place during the fall season while also learning about the various butterfly families and their natural history. Identify all butterfly species in order to contribute to the park’s ongoing inventory and monitoring efforts. Overall, it will be a great way to experience the Cove in a hands-on and personal way.

Last week the Smoky Mountain Field School spent a few days at the Land and Wildlife Expo at Gaylord Opryland in Nashville.  The Expo is a three-day event with the nation’s leading experts in land conservation and wildlife management. It brought in people from all over the entire United States. Guests who stopped by the SMFS table traveled from as far away as Alaska, Florida, New York and Texas.

While in the Nashville area, SMFS also met with the eight-county Sierra Club at Radnor Lake State Natural Area. SMFS Co-director Joel Zachary said, “I had a very enthusiastic crowd that showed considerable interest.”


This trip to Nashville is a first of many for the SMFS. The overwhelming interest in programs was very encouraging.

Learn some history, safety, or what you can eat in the wild through the courses offered in the Smoky Mountain Field School. Here’s what’s happening in August:

Horace Kephart: The Back of Beyond
Sat., 8/13/2011, 9:30 AM to 4:30 PM   Fee: $49

Explore the life and writings of Horace S. Kephart, author of Our Southern Highlanders, Smoky Mountain Magic, and other works. Kephart used an old Irish phrase to describe the Smoky Mountains, calling them “the Back of Beyond.” After personal failures in St. Louis, Mo., he moved to the Smoky Mountains and spent the last 26 years of his life roaming the mountains and writing about the people and places he experienced. Examine Kephart’s role in promoting the national park idea, his influence as a writer, and his tragic death in 1931. The program begins at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center with an illustrated talk, then carpools to Bryson City, N.C., for an easy walking tour.   Instructor: Arthur “Butch” McDade.

Safety in the Backcountry
Sat., 8/13/2011, 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM     Fee: $49

Each year Rangers are involved in hundreds of search and rescue operations in the Smokies and other National Parks. Almost all of these incidents result from accidents and circumstances that are avoidable, and most involve accidents and situations that are repeated over and over. Through a combination of lecture and hands-on exercises you’ll learn how to prevent accidents and protect yourself while in the backcountry, and how to be properly prepared with equipment, clothing, food, water, what to be aware of, what to avoid, safety around wildlife, and backcountry hazards. We’ll also discuss and demonstrate wilderness survival techniques to use in an emergency, and provide an introduction to legally and safely foraging for wild natural food in the National Park in order to survive a backcountry emergency.Instructor: Rick Brown.

A Book Review of Meigs Line 
Sat., 8/20/2011, 9:00 AM to 3:00 PM    Fee: $49

Join two retired park rangers, Joe Kelley and Dwight McCarter, as they review their book Meigs Line which tells of a survey line established in 1802 through what is now the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and was, at that time, the boundary between the United States and the Cherokee Nation. Over a period of 40 years, they actually travelled this boundary, and found existing tree blazes and monumentation points. They’ll share stories and special events that occurred while they worked in the Great Smokies during the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. Hear selected readings and some favorite passages from the book.  Instructors: Joseph Kelley and Dwight McCarter.

Incredible Edibles and Traditional Medicinals 
Sat., 8/27/2011, 9:30 AM to 4:00 PM     Fee: $49

Climate and age of the Appalachian chain created a diversity of plant species that is greater here than anywhere in North America. This diversity of life has sustained man for 10,000 years. Spend a day discovering how to identify plants and trees Native Americans and early settlers used for dye, food, medicines, crafts, and other items of daily life. Sample delicious wild flavors appropriate to the seasons. The instructor will share the herb-lore from “medicine men” and “granny women” while the group searches the woods and fields of this temperate rain forest for its hidden treasures.Instructor: Ila Hatter.

Escape the summer heat to a cool mountain retreat and learn something new while there.  There are many courses offered in July from which to choose.  Find one that interests you below.

Here’s what’s happening in July:


Photography for Naturalists

Sat., 7/9/2011, 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM     Fee: $49

Photography is an important tool for many naturalists and one worth pursuing both for the presentation of our subjects and for the pure enjoyment of this creative outlet. We’ll explore basic techniques and skills of photography for naturalists and how to use these skills to showcase your specific natural topics. We’ll begin in the classroom. Bring your camera – you’ll be out in the field as well! Instructor: Elizabeth Domingue.


Edible and Poisonous Fungi of the Smokies

Sat., 7/9/2011, 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM      Fee: $49

The Smoky Mountains are world-renowned for mushrooms and home to more than 2,000 species. We’ll take short hikes in the Park to observe and learn about the many kinds of mushrooms and how to identify them by size, shape, and color. Through these field explorations, we’ll learn about the ecology and habitats for mushrooms, toxicology, and the association between fungi and tree roots. Instructor: Coleman McCleneghan, Ph.D.


Intermediate Photography for Naturalists

Sun., 7/10/2011, 7:00 AM to 2:00 PM      Fee: $49

This intermediate course focuses on refining your basic photography skills as a naturalist. Experience this more in-depth look at improving your skills of observation and enhancing your abilities as a naturalist through the use of photography. Most of our time will be spent in the field applying your skills and improving upon your ability to capture natural images through the lens. Bring a 35mm camera (film or digital), tripod, and your favorite lenses. Prerequisite: Photography for Naturalists or equivalent experience. Instructor: Elizabeth Domingue M.S.


Rare Mountain Bogs of Upper East Tennessee

Sat., 7/16/2011, 9:30 AM to 4:30 PM       Fee: $49

This course will focus on basic wetlands processes (vegetation, soils, and hydrology) using some of the globally rare, critically imperiled Southern Appalachian Bogs in Shady Valley, Tenn., as examples. Shady Valley is the highest valley in the state and contains remnants of peat bog wetlands that were largely drained in the middle of the 20th century. Sites we plan to visit include Osborne Bog and John’s Bog on the Cherokee National Forest as well as The Nature Conservancy’s Orchard Bog and Schoolyard Springs Preserves  Numerous rare plants will be seen. Instructor: Jamey Donaldson.

Amphibians and Reptiles of the Smokies

Sat., 7/16/2011, 1:00 PM to 8:00 PM      Adult Fee: $35/Child Fee: $25

Have fun wading in streams and gently turning rocks and logs in search of woodland and aquatic salamanders. With some luck, enthusiasm, and quick hands, many frogs, turtles, lizards, and snakes will be discovered. The program will begin with slides and a short introduction to the reptiles and amphibians of the Smokies, but mostly we’ll be exploring in the woods and observing amphibians and reptiles in their natural habitats. Kids young and old are encouraged to attend. Instructors: Matthew Niemiller and Graham Reynolds


Sensational Salamanders

Sat., 7/16/2011, 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM      Adult Fee: $35/Child Fee: $25

Salamanders will captivate the interest of your children as we search high and low to get close-up looks at many different kinds. We’ll learn about where they live, what they eat, who eats them, and lots more. After our day together, you’ll know why the Smokies is called the Salamander Capital of the World! We’ll drive and make several stops along Newfound Gap Road-with some walking on trails. Instructor: Elizabeth Domingue M.S.


Mosses and Liverworts of the Smokies

Sat., 7/23/2011, 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM      Fee: $49

Learn about the small plants which form a green blanket over the forest floor, the luxuriant mosses, liverworts, and hornworts. View this miniature plant world with the aid of a 10X hand lens and microscope. Learn how to identify these intriguing non-flowering plants and about their niche in the natural environment. We’ll admire these plants in their natural habitat within the Park and study details in a classroom at the nearby UT Biology Field Station.  Instructor: Kenneth McFarland, Ph.D.


Sat., 7/30/2011, 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM      Adult Fee: $29/Child Fee: $19

Come listen and learn stories at the historic Walker Sister’s Cabin and the Little Greenbrier School House. Charles Maynard, author and storyteller will tell Smoky Mountain tales and teach some basic elements of storytelling. The walk is 2.5 miles round-trip with stories every step of the way.


For more information, also check out the recent article in the Knoxville News-Sentinel: Green classrooms: Great Smokies provide setting for diverse Field School programs

The Smoky Mountain Field School has a number of exciting classes this week. Discover the synchronous fireflies, learn to sketch the beautiful scenery, learn about the amazing Black Bear, plus more.

The Light Show in the Smokies
Thur., 6/2, 7:00 PM to 11:00 PM         Fee: $39
Come to the mountains and witness the amazing spectacle of the fireflies that flash together in synchrony. It is truly an unbelievable natural phenomenon! We’ll meet in the evening just before dark to learn about natural history of the fireflies, synchrony in nature, and bioluminescence as well as the cultural history that lead to recognizing these amazing creatures.

Nature Sketching: Watercolor or Pencil
Sat., 6/4, 9:30 AM to 5:00 PM      Fee: $49
From a single wildflower to a mountain landscape, sketching outdoors is a wonderful way to enhance your appreciation of the beautiful Great Smoky Mountains. Both beginners and more experienced artists will find ample material for sketching as we spend unhurried time in the woodland landscape of the Sugarlands Valley Nature Trail. Through individual and group instruction, you’ll learn easy sketching techniques and styles. Pick up a pencil or watercolors and a sketchbook and learn to see the world around you differently.

Early Summer Wildflowers & Ferns
Sat., 6/4, 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM       Fee: $49
As spring edges into summer, numerous wildflowers and ferns make their appearance in the Smokies. Visit various natural areas in the Park, from the lowest to the highest elevations, and take short walks over moderate terrain to find and identify a variety of species. Anticipate seeing showy plants like Indian paintbrush, flame azalea, umbrella-leaf, and bluebead lily.  Learn to identify ferns like the Wood Ferns, Bracken, Lady Fern, Hay-Scented Fern, and many others by close observation of their distinctive fronds and spore cases. The emphasis will be on appreciating the delicate beauty of wildflowers and ferns while learning nontechnical identification methods.

Incredible Edibles and Traditional Medicinals  
Sat., 6/4, 9:30 AM to 4:00 PM      Fee: $49
Climate and age of the Appalachian chain created a diversity of plant species that is greater here than anywhere in North America. This diversity of life has sustained man for 10,000 years. Spend a day discovering how to identify plants and trees Native Americans and early settlers used for dye, food, medicines, crafts, and other items of daily life. Sample delicious wild flavors appropriate to the seasons. The instructor will share the herb-lore from “medicine men” and “granny women” while the group searches the woods and fields of this temperate rain forest for its hidden treasures.

Mt. Sterling Firetower Overnight Backpack
Sat. & Sun., 6/4-6/5, Meet 12:00 noon, Sat.     Fee: $98
This overnight backpacking trip begins around 3,800-ft. at the east end of the park and ends 2.7 miles later atop Mt. Sterling at 5,842-ft. The 60-ft. abandoned tower, completed in 1933 by the Civilian Conservation Corps, provides stunning 360-degree views on a clear day. Though steep, the continuing rise in elevation from the trailhead to the summit, the path is tempered by the good footing found on the old roadbed. At 2.3 miles into the climb the trail levels out considerably as the final approach is made along the Mt. Sterling Ridge Trail.

Bear Management in the Smokies – Living with Bears!
Sat., 6/4, 1:00 PM to 9:00 PM      Fee: $49
Are you smarter than the average bear? Are bears dangerous? Can people (visitors, residents, business owners, etc.) co-exist with the Smokies black bear? Learn how to live with bears through an understanding of pro-active bear management techniques (trapping, aversive conditioning, relocation, etc.) that help keep bears wild. Is it possible to bear-proof your property, RV, or campsite? What should you do if you encounter an aggressive bear? Learn offensive and defensive bear behavior and how you should respond to each. Learn how bear managers in the Smokies resolve nuisance bear conflicts. Visit an area where nuisance bears have been common; might bring your camera. Hear some interesting and funny bear stories  that have happened over the past 30 years.

Spring isn’t over yet. There are still plenty of fresh natural wonders to see in the Smokies. The Smoky Mountain Field School has a special Saturday lined up to help you experience those wonders.

Old Growth Forest: Albright Grove

Albright Grove has perhaps the greatest variety of old growth Cove Hardwood trees found anywhere in the Great Smokies that are in a small area accessible by trail. We’ll begin the 6.5 mile roundtrip easy hike on the Maddron Bald Trail that winds by former corn fields, the historic Baxter cabin, and other signs of settlement before reaching an old growth forest. A footpath then leads beneath giant hemlocks, by spring wildflowers, across surging Indian Camp Creek, to the Albright Grove loop trail – named for Horace Albright. As we walk the quiet loop, dwarfed by giant Tuliptrees, Silverbells, Fraser Magnolias, maples, hemlocks, and others, we may choose to whisper in this seemingly outdoor cathedral. We’ll learn to identify trees by sight, touch, smell, and taste – with or without leaves. We’ll measure girth, and discuss the signs and adaptations of an old growth forest. And we’ll discover salamanders, birds, and other critters and how they fit in.

Birding in the Smokies

An opening discussion considers basic materials (binoculars, field guides, checklists, and CDs/tapes of calls and songs) as well as non-technical methods of identifying birds by both visual clues and their distinctive vocalizations. The remainder of the morning will be devoted to birding in the lower elevations of the park where anticipated species will include: bluebirds, indigo buntings, various swallow species, scarlet tanagers, red-eyed vireos, wood thrushes, white-breasted nuthatches, oven birds, vultures, ruby-throated hummingbirds, etc . The afternoon will be devoted to birding middle and higher elevation hardwood and spruce-fir forests, where anticipated species will include: ravens, rose-breasted grosbeaks, black-capped chickadees, black-throated blue warblers, golden-crowned kinglets, winter wrens, hairy woodpeckers, brown creepers, least flycatchers, red-breasted nuthatches, etc.

The Walker Sisters of Little Greenbrier

This program will explore the fascinating and compelling story of the Walker Sisters of Little Greenbrier. The six unmarried Walker Sisters, born in the 1870s-90s, lived a 19th century lifestyle until the mid 1960s in a hand-hewn wooden house with no plumbing or electricity in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Over the years, they were featured in many newspaper stories and even The Saturday Evening Post as the independent “spinster women of the Smokies.” Along the way, they gave thousands of park visitors a glimpse into the rural lifestyle of southern Appalachia. In living out their lives in the park, they became a lasting tribute to the self-sufficient, independent mountain folk of the Smokies. This program will include an illustrated talk about the sisters (using historic photos and documents) along with a moderate hike of 4 miles roundtrip to Little Greenbrier School and the Walker Sisters home.

Come, spend a wonder-filled day in the Smokies.

Explore – Learn – Enjoy

Crested Dwarf Iris

Saturday, April 16th, the Smoky Mountain Field School held five different courses at various locations throughout the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.  The weather cooperated, as all the rain that fell on Friday night stopped by Saturday morning.  It made for very swift and swollen streams and rivers.

Instructor Joel Zachary led the Wilderness Wildflowers Day Hike

The hillsides of the Park were ablaze with burgeoning spring wildflowers.  The “Wilderness Wildflowers” hike was held at the Porter Creek Trail in the Greenbrier area of the GSMNP.  This trail was an absolute treasure trove of spring flowers — showy orchis, hillsides of trillium, wild geranium, Solomon’s seal and Solomon’s plume, great chickweed, toothwort, emerging pink lady’s slippers,  wild ginger, and crested dwarf iris, just to name a sampling of the abundance of wildflowers found in this area.

Another treat, in addition to the pretty weather and variety of flora, was the international mix of participants who attended.  Three people from Knoxville and Kentucky joined six others from different countries – Denmark, England, and Italy.

Veteran Field School instructor Joel Zachry said, “The beauty of the Smokies obviously has an appeal to people from all around the world.  We are so fortunate to have this natural treasure right here to enjoy.”

Wild Geranium


Showy Orchis

See more pictures from the day over at our Facebook Group.

The Smoky Mountain Field School has a busy Saturday, April 16, planned for those wishing to get outside and enjoy the beauty of Springtime in the Smoky Mountains.

You can spend the day on the Perfect Hike. Enjoy seeing waterfalls, wonderful vistas, unique geological features and great Spring wildflowers.

Experience the beauty of spring ephemerals with a Wilderness Wildflowers Day Hike.  Take an informative walk on the Porter’s Creek Trail.  You may see varieties of Trillium; patches of Bluets; carpeted slopes of Fringed Phacella and favorites like Little Brown Jug, Jack-in-The-Pulpit, Toothwort, Hepatica, and various species of non-flowering plants.

If you want to hone your photographic skills join our Spring Wildflower and Nature Photography class. You will receive instruction that concentrates on the two main subjects of spring photography in the Smokies: wildflowers and landscapes.

With Incredible Edibles and Traditional Medicinals you will spend a day discovering how to identify plants and trees Native Americans and early settlers used for dye, food, medicines, crafts, and other items of daily life. Sample delicious wild flavors appropriate to the season. See the Smokies in a whole new way.

Maybe wildflowers and other plants are not in your interest. You can also learn about the Amphibians and Reptiles of the Smokies. In this class you will be wading in streams and gently turning rocks and logs in search of woodland and aquatic salamanders. With some luck, enthusiasm, and quick hands, many frogs, turtles, lizards, and snakes also will be discovered.

Perfect Hike

Wilderness Wildflowers Day Hike

Spring Wildflower and Nature Photography

Incredible Edibles and Traditional Medicinals

Amphibians and Reptiles of the Smokies

Come join The Smoky Mountain Field School for a fun-filled, educational Saturday. Space is limited, so register today.

Wanda DeWaard (top photo, right) taught a group of Smoky Mountain Field School participants the basics of animal tracking today.

Tracking is an ancient skill, but it can open up a whole new way of enjoying animals in their natural habitat in the Smokies.

The students analyzed snake skins, bird feathers, and even bear scat (poop) in the day-long course.

The 2010 season for the Field School comes to a close on October 31, but we’re already putting together an exciting schedule of courses for next year.


Darrin Devault, UT Professional & Personal Development

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