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 heartstrings.
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 before dinner. His book, Blue Ridge – Ancient and Majestic, won the Reed Environmental Writing Award for 2010. His children’s books, guidebooks, and magazine articles have introduced many to National Parks, especially the Smokies. Janice Maynard is a USA Today bestselling author of more than 60 contemporary romance novels. Her website is JaniceMaynard.com. Charles and Janice have been leading Swag guests since 1995.
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
Swag Experts since 2013, Joel and Kathy Zachry share their vast knowledge and experiences of Great Smoky Mountains National Park on intriguing hikes and through enlightening evening presentations about the region’s history and natural diversity. Having completed backpacking the 2,175 miles of the Appalachian Trail and leading small group trips to remote regions of Alaska for over 25 years, they are accomplished naturalists, photographers, and writers. As authors of Bears We’ve Met – Short Stories of Close Encounters, they share their insight of the bruin and the plethora of life that coexist within its habitat. With over 40 years as instructors for the award-winning park and University of Tennessee Smoky Mountain Field School they bring entertainment and awareness to every hike and evening gathering.
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!
Walks and Talks with a Retired Ranger
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!
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 has a passion for distance hiking and backpacking, having hiked over 16,000 miles since 2015. After retiring from the US 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. In 2019, Chris thru hiked the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail followed by the 3,100-mile Continental Divide Trail in 2022, wrapping up his “Triple Crown.” When he’s not on a long trail, he’s usually hiking in his back yard, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where he’s hiked 6,000+ 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.
Nature & Trail Tales
Matt has lived and travelled all over the world, but has made his way back home to southern Appalachia. Having studied Horticulture and Landscape Design at the University of Tennessee he has a passion for the natural world, especially relating to plant life. Thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail in 2016 changed the course of his life and career. He went on to complete the Triple Crown by thru-hiking the Continental Divide Trail and Pacific Crest Trail. Matt is now a professional backcountry guide and has hiked almost all of the trails of Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Pisgah National Forest. With over 600 nights in the wilderness and 15,000 miles on his legs, he is as at home in the forest than away from it. He loves sharing stories of his trail experiences and of his continuing educational voyage through our natural world. Join Matt as he shares stories, history, culture and lore of Southern Appalachia and the National Park.
The Diversity of Plants
Lee is a world traveler and a seasoned biologist who was born & raised on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. He started his biology career in the oceans surrounding the eastern hemisphere working with different universities & organizations such as NOAA tagging sharks & researching coral reefs. He holds a masters in botany with a focus on edible/medicinal plants and medicine making. He has over 15 years of educational experience teaching at all levels including collegiate & kindergarten. Lee’s passion outside of his lovely wife and beautiful daughter is the mountains. He is a high alpine athlete with a passion for altitude.
Lee and his wife, Meghan, own and run their own outdoor cooking company called Food For Adventures where they offer services such as: Private Chef, Outdoor Education, Expedition Cooking, and more! Come join Lee as he walks you through the woods to observe native and non native plants and their uses and local lore. In the evening, Lee will offer a hands on presentation where he will discuss and show how local tribes, pioneers, and others used plants for a diversity of uses.
Sketch-Journaling in the Smokies
Kate Furman Patterson was born, raised and currently lives in Greenville, SC. She works full time for herself as the jewelry designer and goldsmith of Kate Furman Jewelry in the Village of West Greenville. Her handmade heirloom jewelry is known for its raw, refined and natural aesthetic. Kate grew up exploring our wilderness as a whitewater kayaker. Five years of whitewater raft guiding in Jackson Hole, Wyoming taught Kate how to safely share her love of the outdoors with guests, while studying abroad in Latin America with just a few sketchbooks and pens gave her the experience to lead “sketch-journaling” here in our Smoky Mountains. She has also illustrated a children’s book for an Asheville, NC author entitled “Be a Smile Maker” and won Greenville, SC “Best Local Visual Artist” award five times! Kate will lead day hikes and “sketch-journaling” sessions, teach drawing workshops and delve into the world of gemstones and precious metals. Absolutely no artistic experience is needed to participate. Kate particularly loves working with beginners!
Executive Sous Chef Josh Vilain
Join our Executive Sous Chef Josh Vilain 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.