Over the next several months, my Locally Grown column will feature details related to my sessions with Experience Your Smokies, an educational program that receives essential funding and scholarships each year from Great Smoky Mountains Association.
Since 1999, Experience Your Smokies has fostered a greater appreciation for Great Smoky Mountains National Park by offering opportunities for community members to engage with park personnel on issues of mutual interest. Their goal is to engage community leaders with multiple hands-on experiences.
As a member of this year’s class, I attended my first EYS session last month. My classmates and I visited the Appalachian Club House – built in 1910 – at Elkmont and met with the heads of the park’s Facility Maintenance division and Trails and Facilities Volunteer Programs. The largest in GSMNP, the Facility Management division employs 80 permanent staff and oversees fleet management, 238 miles of paved roads (and counting), 537 structures, and 4,847 grave sites.
After a presentation detailing the history and evolution of Elkmont, park maintenance and volunteer programs, we were given an opportunity to participate in hands-on activities alongside historic preservation specialists. We worked with hand saws, broadaxes, froes, drawknives, and chisel axes to make chair legs, shingles, and logs. I was also taught how to restore original pigments using paint chips taken from wood.
As someone who works within the park boundary and has lived in its shadow my entire life, I was surprised at how much I still have to learn about the past, present and future of our public lands. I am even more eagerly looking forward to my remaining courses.