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.

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.

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.

Naturalist & Smokies 900-Miler

Nancy East

Nancy retired from a 23-year career as a small animal veterinarian to pursue her interests in outdoor education, guiding and writing. She is a Southern Appalachian Naturalist and the author of Chasing the Smokies Moon: An audacious 948-mile hike fueled by love, loss, laughter and lunacy, a memoir about her record setting hike in Great Smoky Mountains National Park and her longstanding involvement with Haywood County Search and Rescue. She lives in Waynesville, NC with her husband, Larry, and their three children.

History & The Outdoors

Florie Takaki

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.