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Monarchs Journey to Cataloochee

By Becky Langerman | Brevard, NC

The week before Spring Break, the Monarch Class went camping in Cataloochee Valley in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Remote and picturesque, Cataloochee has an abundance of biodiverse flora and fauna. This is why the valley was the perfect place for us to explore, as our overarching theme this year has been biodiversity.

Before the trip, each student was assigned a tree, a wildflower, and an animal to research and become an expert on. They were also tasked with researching the history of the people who lived in the valley, which was once a bustling settlement from the 1830s through the 1930s, until the National Park Service took over in 1938. During the trip, students had the opportunity to teach the class about their flora and/or fauna, either when we encountered their particular tree or wildflower on the trail, or when we took time to circle up and learn from each other.

Leadership and independence are two components that the Monarch students practice while on our field experiences. Our elder students are assigned to be a “Leader of the Day” at some point on the trip. Their responsibilities include leading morning circle and informing the class about the plans for the day, being positive and encouraging to others, leading navigation, and facilitating any consensus circles throughout the day.

On our first full day, our plan had been to hike the Boogerman Trail – a full 7 miles with stream crossings, old-growth hardwood trees, and a chance to view the ruins of Robert Palmer’s (Boogerman’s) homestead. After a few miles in, we discovered that several of the foot bridges had been washed out and we’d be unable to hike the entire loop. Our leaders gathered the group, modeled a PMA (positive mental attitude) and flexibility, and helped come up with a new plan. So, while we were still able to hike a good amount of the trail, we didn’t get to see the homestead.

Younger Monarchs continued to stretch their independence as they left their family for this trip, packed their own backpacks, took responsibility for their belongings and self-care, as well as engaged as active participants of the group. All students were expected to participate in small groups with the cooking and cleaning, as well as camp set-up and break-down.

In 2001, elk were reintroduced to the park as part of an experimental program. The numbers have increased since then and we were able to enjoy viewing the herd during the evening hours after dinner the first two days.

On our third evening, we stayed at the campsite for a fire and some storytelling. Students had been given a creative writing assignment that day as we toured the historical landmarks. They each wrote a story from the perspective of a child their age living in the Cataloochee settlement. It was so fun to hear each other’s stories! After the campfire, we went into the field for an Astronomy lesson. We were extremely lucky to witness a meteor fly across the sky!

We left Cataloochee Valley as a more cohesive group, with memories that will last forever!

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