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 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 Blakely

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

Steven Reinhold

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 Doucette

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 East

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.