Songs from the Hearth
Doug & Kathy Peters
Join singer/songwriter and Southern Appalachian Naturalist Doug Peters and his hiking partner and wife, Kathy, for an unforgettable experience at The Swag. Since 1986 Doug has delighted guests at The Swag with his original songs about life, love, and adventure. His unique lyrics capture the history, beauty, and special character of The Swag and the Smoky Mountains in ways that will both tickle your funny bone and tug at your heart strings. Join Doug and Kathy on the trails by day and by the fire at night.
Black Bears & “Unhuggables”
Michael Pelton & Tamra Willis
Since 1999, this popular husband and wife team has led daily hikes. Dr. Pelton is the foremost authority on the North American black bear. Dr. Willis has a Ph.D. in Science and Environmental Education, and she has a special love for the “unhuggables” (snakes, bats, and insects). At day’s end, they will conduct a presentation on Southern Appalachian mammals such as black bear and bats, natural history and ecology.
Smoky Mountain Nature
Charles & Janice Maynard
Outdoorsman, author, and storyteller Charles Maynard returns to The Swag for more fun than seems possible. Charles will lead hikes in the day and regale us with his fabulous storytelling each night. His newest book Blue Ridge – Ancient and Majestic is a must for mountain lovers. This is a wonderful event for those who seek to expand their knowledge of the Smokies.
Walks in the Woods
Esther has a thing about birds, wildlife, and wildflowers…and her enthusiasm is contagious! Her “Walks in the Woods” will have you laughing, crying, and thinking. Esther is a master naturalist, elk expert, and certified interpretative presenter for the National Park. Most of the year, you can find her leading hikes and eco-tours in Cataloochee Valley, representing her business, Cataloochee Valley Tours.
Walks – Painting – Printmaking
Gay Bryant & Rita Rothmeier
Artist and hikers, Gay Bryant and Rita Rothmeier, will lead Swag guests for morning hikes on various trails, sharing their knowledge of wildflowers, plants, and Smoky Mountain lore. In the afternoons, you can explore your creative side with beginning-level lessons in watercolor painting and relief printmaking to create original artwork that will document your stay at The Swag. Gay has been a studio painter, printmaker, and art instructor for 30 years and her work is represented in regional galleries and international collections. She has hiked all 900 miles of the official trails in the Smokies and creates work focusing on the natural beauty of the forests. Gay will be assisted by Rita Rothmeier, a naturalist, painter, printmaker, spinner, fiber artist, nurse, and outdoors enthusiast. Children must be at least 12 years old and under the supervision of an adult to participate in the art class.
Explore and Enjoy
Joel & Kathy Zachry
Kathy and Joel Zachry have been leading small groups into the Smokies black bear habitat for 40 seasons as instructors and former directors of the University of Tennessee and National Park Service award-winning Smoky Mountain Field School. With more than 50 combined years of backcountry experience they have conducted group trips into the Alaskan wilderness beginning in 1988. Together they completed section-hiking the 2,175 miles of the famed Appalachian Trail in 2005. Join the authors of Bears We’ve Met – Short Stories of Close Encounters on daily hikes and for evening presentations as they share their vast knowledge and experience on the culture, history, and both flora and fauna of our Smokies.
Walk and Talk
Donald & Trish Davis
Renowned storyteller Donald Davis hails from Western North Carolina. Featured at festivals throughout the U.S. and the world, Davis is also known as a prolific author, producer of books and CDs, and as a guest host for NPR’s Good Evening. He will take hikes and tell stories about the uniqueness of the place and the people who have lived in these mountains. Folks love their Dutch Oven cooking during the hors d’oeuvres time in the Dogtrot. Donald has been a part of The Swag family since 2006.
Hikes, History & Local Lore
Growing up in the shadow of The Swag had a profound impact on Steven’s life. The view from his childhood home was dominated by the Cataloochee Divide – home of the Swag. Every year of his youth, his family would cross over the Cataloochee Divide and host a family reunion down in Cataloochee Valley. For him, the Divide served as a gateway to exploration and he would get so excited when he would cross it because he knew it was time for an adventure! Flash forward to the present and he still feels the anticipation of adventure and a visceral excitement every time he approaches the Cataloochee Divide. He’s hiked, climbed and snowboarded on many, many mountains. Steven has served as a wilderness mentor, volunteered abroad, climbed to raise money for charities, hiked around the globe, and even opened up his own guiding service – Appalachian Outdoor Company. When hiking with Steven you will learn the history of these hills, explore the geography of the Great Smoky Mountains and hear the tales of local lore and much, much more!
Birding & Traditional Folk Music
Ruth Barber & Keith Watson
Ruth and Keith are musicians and have been performing Old-Time traditional folk music in the Sevier and Knox County area for over 13 years (www.boogertowngap.com). Keith is also a bird guide and leads tours for the Great Smoky Mountains Association and Ventures Birding Tours based in Asheville, NC.
Hikes & History
Lynda has spent the last decade-plus at the Supervisory Park Ranger at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Her career with the National Park Service has taken her far and wide, including time spent at Cape Cod National Seashore, Yosemite National Park, and Point Reyes National Seashore. As an interpretive ranger, Lynda focused on education and events that would help visitors appreciate all that the Great Smoky Mountains National Park has to offer. Lynda will share her deep knowledge of these mountains, its creatures, and its history with our guests. She will lead day hikes, night hikes, and more!
Naturalist & Smokies 900-Miler
Nancy leads hikes through a MeetUp group in the Smokies on a volunteer basis (as well as volunteer to teach “Backpacking 101” courses with another member of their search and rescue team). She is also a certified naturalist through U.T. and the Great Smoky Mtns. Institute at Tremont and is an avid hiker in the Park. She officially became a “Smokies 900-Miler” on Labor Day weekend 2019. She also writes frequently on her blog, Hope and Feather Travels, about outdoor education, naturalist topics, as well as her hikes both near and far. And finally, she is an ambassador for Gossamer Gear, a well-known brand in the backpacking and hiking industry, and she does her best to represent them well as a hiker.
Wildflowers and Wit
Steve Kemp & Janet Rock
Steve Kemp has worked as a seasonal park ranger in Yellowstone and Denali national parks and spent 30 years with nonprofit Great Smoky Mountains Association as a writer, editor, and publisher. He is a frequent contributor to Smokies Life Magazine and is the author of Trees or the Smokies, Smoky Mountain Impressions, We’re Going to the Mountains, and, most notably, Who Pooped in the Park?
Janet Rock graduated from Maryville College and Western Carolina University and worked for the U.S. Forest Service before embarking on her 28-year career with Great Smoky Mountains National Park as the park’s official Botanist. Her focus was on rare plants, ramps, and ginseng. She is co-author of the popular field guide, Wildflowers of the Smokies, and has contributed to several scientific articles on park plants.
Flora & Fauna of the Smokies
Scott was born and raised in the mountains of southern Appalachia, specifically the coalfields of West Virginia and southwestern Virginia. Western North Carolina has been his home since 1992. After retiring from the military, he attended UNC-Asheville, earning a degree in biology, with a focus on the flora, fauna and geology of the southern Appalachians. He developed the original curricula, and teaches field classes for the Blue Ridge Naturalist program now offered at the N.C. Arboretum. Join Scott on day hikes and evening presentations to discover the many varieties the Smokies has to offer.
Hiking & Outdoor Photography
Steve is an outdoor adventure photographer based in Western North Carolina who consistently delivers some of the region’s most inspiring outdoor photos. Steve Yocom’s work has been featured in a number of publications and websites in recent years, including the cover of BACKPACKER Magazine, Visit North Carolina and Blue Ridge Outdoors. Join Steve for guided hikes and photography lessons.
Hiking Far & Wide
Chris brings a unique passion for distance hiking and backpacking, having hiked over 11,000 miles since 2015. After retiring from the U.S. Air Force and spending several years in the defense industry, he took a sabbatical to thru hike the 2,200 mile Appalachian Trail. The experience changed his life in several ways. As they say, the rest is history. He turned down his career and turned up his trail miles…a lot, typically hiking 2,000+ miles a year. When he’s not on a long trail, he’s usually hiking in his backyard, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where he’s hiked 5,500+ miles. Join Chris in the evenings to hear his trail tales and each morning for a hike or more long trail stories.
History & The Outdoors
Florie Takaki worked with the National Park Service for over 30 years, retiring in December of 2020. During her tenure with the park service, she spent time in Valley Forge National Historical Park, Independence Historical Park, Natchez Trace and Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Her love of history and the outdoors made the National Park Service a natural choice of careers. She says the best part of her work had been providing visitors the opportunity to connect with the parks in ways they may not have been able to without a ranger to help in their curiosity. Join Florie for day hikes and evening presentations.
Natalie Dechiara is a senior guide with the 25-year old Asheville-based foraging tour company, No Taste Like Home. She is known for being able to find almost anything, including a tour participant’s keys dropped on the trail two hours before. She was previously the founding CEO of a mushroom cultivation company and is currently undertaking a Permaculture Design Certification. Originally from Akron, OH, she enjoys travel, nature photography, concocting wild ferments, elixirs, tinctures and treats, and playing with her munchkin cat, Handkerchief. Join Natalie on a stroll to collect some common edibles of woods. At dinner, enjoy a special dish created by our Chef with the edibles collected. (Only guests participating on the stroll are eligible for this dish.)
Executive Chef Jake Schmidt
Join our Executive Chef Jake Schmidt and our Pastry Chef Phyllis Miller for one of our three cooking schools this season. Each cooking school will feature four sessions, split amongst two days. The featured dishes will change according to the season. It is recommended that you arrive no later than Sunday and depart on Wednesday, after our gourmet picnic atop Gooseberry Knob. If you would like to attend our cooking school, please let us know when you book your reservation as class size is limited to 6 adults per session.