Many exciting changes are in the works for Smoky Mountain Corps these days. After three amazing years of building community, growing food, learning, and serving the parks in Southern Appalachia, Smoky Mountain Corps/Smoky Mountain Center is moving north. Wayyy north. To Vermont. I will get to that in a little bit, but first, I want to share a bit of our experience thus far.
The past few years have been an almost indescribable journey for me. It wasn’t easy, creating Smoky Mountain Corps and keeping it going strong for over two years took virtually non-stop work with little monetary compensation. Oh, and of course there was the ever looming threat of total failure.
I have learned so much about so much these past few years. I learned to negotiate with CEOs of large organizations. I learned how to build community partnerships, create programming from nothing, and find money for projects. I learned how to be in charge of other people (still learning that one). I learned how to get corps members to appropriately ration a block of cheese. I learned how to apologize for screwing up and how to let things go. The list goes on and on. There are so many inspirational mentors, community leaders, corps members, and partners to thank for our learning and our success. I have learned so much from those around me the last few years, from incredible organizations in our community all the way down to that guy who rented out our yurt for a while.
All this learning and growth has its rewards of course. For instance, it is a remarkable feeling to run into a former corps member at Great Smoky Mountains National Park–in uniform and working on a paid national park crew, or to come across a Facebook picture of former members reuniting a year later. Being able to watch and help young adults realize their potential, build long term support systems, and find ways to make a living helping others has been truly inspiring. For me, it is the reason I do this.
This learning and growing and success has been so much more than a personal journey. During the 2016 season, for instance, our members managed invasive plants with Mountain True, built trails in the Great Smoky Mountain’s National Park and the Appalachian Trail, harvested produce for Dig-In Community Garden( a program that provides fresh produce for families in need), taught elementary students about gardening and nutrition with FEAST, and created a new wildlife sanctuary in Chattahoochee Bend State Park. They also learned about permaculture design, lasagna gardening, fermentation, canning, botany, and food justice. It was an incredible season filled with personal and professional growth for all involved.
And though SMC is moving north, we did have a final opportunity to leave our mark behind in Burnsville. We worked this spring with the Toe River Food Security Network and several local partners to secure an AmeriCorps VISTA for 2017-2018 who will be tasked with coordinating partnerships and supporting a number of projects to alleviate hunger in Yancey County. Additionally, we will continue to provide support to our southern partners from afar by facilitating connections between project needs and volunteers as well as continuing to provide support for the Chattahoochee Bend State Park Wildlife Sanctuary.
And now, please bear with me for a gigantic THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU to all our partners, mentors, supporters, and friends in North Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, and around the country who have helped make SMC go from vision to reality. There are way too many people and organizations to thank here, but ya’ll know who you are.
Because of you, SMC went from some scribbles on a small piece of paper to a real place in real time with real people. People who among other things, created or improved over 35 miles of trail, built or maintained 178 structures, managed 200 acres of invasive species, cleared and planted 4000 sq ft of gardens, harvested over 7000 lbs of food, and provided training and education for over 200 students and community members. Even more significantly (in my opinion), you gave over 25 members, staff, and volunteers an unforgettable opportunity for training, experience, and lifelong community. So from the bottom of all of our hearts, THANK YOU.
Finally, the moment you have been waiting for, we would like to announce phase two of our project. Smoky Mountain Center will become Snowy Mountain Center (send us suggestions, we’re attached to the acronym). We are purchasing a 10 acre property in Tunbridge, Vermont, where we will soon roll out plans to convert the space into a training and community service center focused around conservation, sustainable agriculture, and community building. It has always been the dream to find a place of our own to be able to support programming in a more permanent way, and we are thrilled the opportunity has presented itself. SMC is living on, and we are more than excited to keep the dream alive. Stay tuned for detailed plans for phase two and ways you can help!