GATLINBURG, Tenn. — It has almost been a month since the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP) closed its entrances to fight the spread of COVID-19.
Educational groups headquartered in the park are unable to bring people to the Smokies. So, they're trying to fulfill their missions by bringing the Smokies to you with the new smokieees.org website. The three Es in the spelling represent explore, entertain, and escape.
"The website was created with recognition there is a need to bring the Smokies to school-aged kids at home," said Catey Terry, CEO of the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont. "Our mission is to connect people with nature and environmental education. We are trying to figure out ways we can connect people to the Smokies digitally. You can still connect with nature at home, no matter where you live."
Tremont would normally serve thousands of students and teachers in the last month, sharing the experience of spring in the national park to inspire a lifelong love and curiosity of nature.
"Right now all of our programs are shut down. It's a little bit saddening that we're here at home and not able to experience that. But we want people to remember we are here, and we want to continue our mission," said Terry.
The website is a team effort involving the national park's rangers, Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont, Discover Life in America (DLIA), the non-profit Friends of the Smokies, and the non-profit Great Smoky Mountains Association (GSMA).
Terry said she knows from personal experience there is a need for engaging educational content.
"As a mom of two young kids, I am trying to work from home. Now I'm trying to do school from home with my kids, too. I need a place I can go, and someone can say, 'Here, try this. Here's an activity. Take your kids outside and do this activity with them and you're going to feel better after you do it.' It is important," said Terry.
The groups want people to visit the website immediately and keep coming back for new material. The website will continue to grow with additional videos, virtual field trips, and other content.
"It has been incredible the way all of our groups have come together on this. We are really excited. We're proud of the work. We're proud of our ability to throw this together very quickly, knowing there are a lot of people sitting at home missing the Smokies."
The COVID-19 pandemic and closure of the park comes at a critical time for Tremont. The institute made a large investment in 2019 to purchase land for a second campus adjacent to the national park in Townsend. You can find ways to donate to Tremont, Discover Life in America, Friends of the Smokies, and Great Smoky Mountains Association at their websites.
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