Great Smoky Mountains Institute At Tremont

Tremont is an area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that predates the park's establishment. Before 1934, it was a small logging town. By the 1970s, an environmental education center was established in the area by Maryville College. Today it is an important reminder of the park's history, and most importantly a beacon of hope for the future of diversity, sustainability, and ethical stewardship.

What Is Tremont?

The institute at Tremont is all about experiental learning and connecting people with nature. Their mission is achieved through residential programs, research that complements their learning lab, community engagement and advocacy for outdoor learning. They offer a variety of programs for all ages and groups of people, including their popular summer camps.

Program Calendar
In partnership with Great Smoky Mountains National Park, our mission is to deliver experiential learning for youth, educators, and adults through programs that promote self-discovery, critical thinking, and effective teaching, and leadership. We believe that education creates lasting positive change for people and our planet.GSMIT, Mission & History

Classrooms Without Walls

Education at Tremont is place-based with the goal of equipping students with skills and inspiring them with curiosity and critical thinking. They aim to invite curiosity, explore different perspectives, ask questions, experiment & analyze, reflect on experience, and share new knowledge.

Tremont's cycle of learning: invite, explore, wonder, create, reflect, share

Tremont Book Store

Next time you're hiking to Spruce Flats Falls or on Lumber Ridge Trail, stop by the store near the parking lot. The lovely little gift shop has a variety of literature about all things Smoky-Mountain-related, national park pins and stickers, puzzles and art, and notebooks to log your GSM trail miles. All of the proceeds from the shop go directly to scholarships and financial aid, making it possible for all kinds of explorers to experience the Smokies.

Hikes From Tremont

Spruce Flats Falls: (1 m) A short and relatively easy hike to a spectacular waterfall. You'll find it marked as "Buckeye" up the hill from the parking lot for the bookstore, just next to the dormitories.

Lumber Ridge Trail: (4.1 m) A peaceful walk in the woods that is rarely crowded. The first 2.5 miles of trail are a steady incline before descending slightly and levelling out in the last mile toward the intersection with Meigs Mountain Trail. The trailhead for Lumber Ridge is just beyond the trailhead for Spruce Flats Falls.

West Prong Trail: (2.7 m) Another peaceful walk in the woods, this trail starts just before the entrance to Tremont from a gravel parking lot on the right side of Tremont Road. It features a maintained cemetery and a large backcountry campground (#18) around the 2 mile marker.

Middle Prong Trail: (4.1 m) This trail begins at the end of Upper Tremont Road (check for temporary road closures on the NPS website) and can be reached by driving past the entrance to Tremont and down a gravel road for just over 3 miles. The trail features a small waterfall, an old cadillac remnant from one of the CCC camps, and makes for a nice connector trail for a Smoky Mountain loop hike.

History of the Tremont Area

Origins of Tremont

The story of Tremont as a settlement starts with William Walker and his wife settling in the Middle Prong area around 1859. Walker was an interesting sort; he was such a sharpshooter he'd be barred from shooting contests. He kept more than 100 bee stands (didn't use a mask or smoke to tend them) and sold honey in Tuckaleechee, where he was born. He helped families during the Civil War by going house to house and chopping firewood and doing chores.

Walker was also deeply religious and believed that biblical scripture allowed him to take more than one wife, so he took two more. It was quite the controversy at the time. Walker eventually sired around 26 children. A small community developed in the Middle Prong area called Walker Valley, home to tenant farmers, gristmills, and growth.

Little River Lumber

When the Little River Lumber Company was form by Col. Wilson B. Townsend in 1901, Walker refused to sell the land around Middle Prong. The lumber company bought 86,000 acres around Elkmont all the way to the slopes of Clingmans Dome. Walker did not like the idea of a large scale logging operation in his valley, but after suffering a stroke in 1918, he agreed to sell the Middle Prong land to Townsend - on one condition.

Townsend had to give Walker his word that he wouldn't log the trees along Thunderhead Prong. Townsend agreed. Walker later died of a second stroke in 1919, and Townsend respectfully had his coffin carried on a small train along the Little River Lumber Company's railroads to the cemetery where his grave remains today. [Show Map]

Map displaying the location of Tremont relative to Lynn Camp Prong, Thunderhead Prong, and Middle Prong
The form town of Tremont is now the parking lot for Middle Prong Trail

15 More Years Of Logging

Townsend sold his Little River tract to the GSMNP Commission in 1926 with the agreement that he could continue logging the area for 15 more years. He set up a base camp for logging around Middle Prong - where Lynn Camp & Thunderhead Prong meet. The base developed into a small town called Tremont, a combibation of the words tree and mountain. Colonel Townsend kept his promise to Walker about Thunderhead Prong until his death.

In 1938, 4 years after the GSMNP was established, the last remaining trees in Tremont were logged. The Little River's ecosystem suffered drastically from the environmental effects of years of logging, but after the national park was established and Townsend's 15 years were up, the forest quickly healed. The Civilian Conservation Corps converted what was left of the Little River railroad beds into roads and trails. Hiking in the Smokies today you might come across the remains of an old skidder cable or railroad tie.


Tremont: An Educational Center

Maryville College established Tremont Environmental Education Center in Walker Valley in 1969 with the purpose of providing a direct approach to understanding and educating about the environment and ecology of the surrounding mountains. They began hosting youth conservation corps during the summer in th '70s, and by 1980 the Great Smoky Mountains Natural History Association took control of the center. The name was changed to Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont five years later.

The Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont celebrated their 50th year in 2019 by purchasing 152 acres of land near Townsend, TN. The non-profit organization hopes to add a second campus for their experiential education programs.

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