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.

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.

Flora & Fauna of the Smokies

Scott Dean

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.

Foraging Strolls

Natalie Dechiara

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.)

Cooking School

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.