Smokies outdoor education center turns 50, plans expansion

As it nears the end of its 50th anniversary year, the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont has its eyes set on the half-century to come. Within five years, the nonprofit aims to build out a second campus to supplement its existing facilities in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s Walker Valley.

“It’s a big project and we don’t want to rush it,” said Caleb Carlton, development manager at Tremont. “We are focused on doing this in a way that really reflects our organization, our mission, and we want to be as inclusive as possible in engaging the communities we serve and making sure this campus is in line with their needs and values.”

The nonprofit recently purchased 194 acres in Townsend, Tennessee, and has completed an initial master plan for the site, which is adjacent to the park. The project is preliminary, with no cost estimate or target timeline as of yet — but there is a vision for what it might one day become.

Tremont’s existing campus is mostly used for youth programming — the dormitory setup isn’t conducive to adult-centric events — but the new campus will be better equipped to handle adult groups. The buildings will be adaptive, too, with smaller dormitory units that can work as single-unit housing options or open up to serve larger groups.

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