Kerianne interviews a group favorite, guide "Rainbow Beard" Todd Kane, about Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Check it out! 

Here's a summary:

Q, Can you give us a quick summary of the trip?

 A. Most  trips to The Great Smoky National Park originate in Atlanta where I meet up with the group. If time allows, we’ll stop in Atlanta and visit one of the city's attractions:  The Martin Luther King National Historic Park, Olympic Park (Altlanta served as host of the 1996 Olympics), The Georgia Aquarium, etc.

It’s a four hour drive to GSMP, and we sometimes stop for lunch and hiking in the Tallulah Gorge State Park midway. . An alternate route would take us past the Kennesaw Battlefield State Park in Georgia, an opportunity to learn about the Civil War battle that took place there in which the Union forces of General Sherman launched an attack on the Confederate Army of Tennessee commanded by General Johnson. 

From there it’s on to the Smokies, the MOST VISITED National Park in the U.S.

The next few days are spent in the Park, attending interpretative sessions with the Park Rangers, hiking and exploring, visiting farming museums and an operating grist mill. Our hikes take us from beautiful wildflower fields, to mountain laurel lined trails, up along wooded areas dominated by ash trees, and finally at highest elevations pine forests. Along the way we pass  beautiful waterfalls.

A favorite half-day activity is a guided tour of a deep underground cave where a world of stalagmites and stalactites exists.  There is a rich history in the caves. Here the underground shelter was used for Native Americans’ ceremonial events and more recently as “cover” for early 20th century distillers and  bootleggers.

Before returning to Atlanta, the final full day of the trip usually includes a fun activity. My favorites are zip lining and/or white water rafting in the Pigeon River in Tennessee.

 Q, What are some of the favorite moments - from the kids' perspective - from the teachers' perspective?  

 A.  Hands down the kids favorite is the sense of accomplishment they get in reaching Alum Cave, a 5 mile hike, usually done on the first day in the Park. It takes them along a well marked trail with several stream crossings to higher elevations and an unusual outcropping known as Alum Cave. The cave was a source of minerals for Native Americans used in cloth dyeing. It also served as important mine for saltpeter, an ingredient used in munitions during the civil war. A close second favorite for the students, and first choice among teachers, are the educational activities, the Farm Museum and the Grist Mill,

Q. What is the best part of bringing students on these trips?

A. For many of the students, this is their first visit to a National Park;  its diversity of plants, trees, and wildlife opens up a new world for them.  Hopefully the experiences a Grand Classroom trip provides will inspire some to pursue more outdoor activities on their own, an appreciation of nature and perhaps even a career in sciences, or as a National Park Ranger!

 Q.  What are you most looking forward to in getting groups back out?

A.  Seeing the excitement on the faces of everyone, kids and adults!  And of course, the clean mountain air.