Fighting Nature Deficit at Tremont

WALKER VALLEY, TN — It’s not strength in numbers that inspires Ken Voorhis. Instead, it’s strength in intensity – possibly even a life-changing experience – that excites Voorhis in his job as executive director of the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont.
On staff since 1984, Voorhis spends his days teaching children all the benefits of taking care of the earth, especially the environment of the Great Smoky Mountains.
“What we’re about at Tremont is saving kids from a natural deficit disorder,” Voorhis said. “And our vehicle is this national park.”
Located near Townsend, Tenn., the non-profit Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont provides educational programs focused on the environment, celebrating diversity and fostering stewardship.
Typical outings might involve studying 17-inch hellbender salamanders, taking a hike or learning about water quality in rocky streams and waterfalls.
Field trips and seminars go by names like “Spring Awakenings,” “Teen High Adventure” and “Family Adventure.” Some are geared especially for schoolteachers to provide opportunities to obtain continuing education credits and to inspire ideas for use in classrooms.
The institute also offers a “Citizen Science Program” to give students and adults opportunities to help conduct scientific research in the national park.
Just about everything, Voorhis said, is designed to get people out of their car and into the woods.
“The park has nine million visitors a year,” Voorhis said. “For a lot of these people, it’s a windshield experience. They just drive through.”
Comparatively speaking, only a small few of those millions – aboutone percent of the entire Smokies visitation numbers – come to
Tremont, Voorhis said. “But we affect people real deeply … It’s a great learning experience, really, for kids of all ages.”
For more information, write: 9275 Tremont Road, Townsend, Tenn. 37882. Visit
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Joe Tennis is the author of Southwest Virginia Crossroads: An Almanac of Place Names and Places to See (The Overmountain Press).


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