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.

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.