Blount County, TN, offers numerous ways for people to come together through outdoor recreation.
When you’re excited about being in the great outdoors, you just can’t keep it inside. The combination of scenery and activity is an exhilarating experience that needs to be shared with others.
That is why Blount County is an ideal place for people to connect through nature. With the Great Smoky Mountains running across the southern third of the county, a wide range of outdoor recreation opportunities are available, all taking place within a spectacular setting.
“When you’re with a group of people who are discovering the outdoors alongside you, it automatically builds camaraderie,” says Megan Womack, development manager at the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont, a nonprofit organization that promotes outdoor learning through community-engagement programs. “People want to share what they’re seeing and doing, so you can easily make friends.”
Great Smoky Mountains
There is plenty to see and do in Blount County, beginning with Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Sprawling across more than 522,000 acres in Tennessee and North Carolina, the Smokies attracted approximately 14.2 million visitors in 2021, nearly three times more than any other national park in the country.
The park’s appeal is evident, with hundreds of miles of trails, more than 2,000 miles of streams and rivers, 100-plus waterfalls, magnificent vistas, and numerous species of birds and animals, including approximately 1,500 bears.
“When you’re with a group of people who are discovering the outdoors alongside you, it automatically builds camaraderie.”
Megan Womack, Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont
Little River (which runs out of Great Smoky Mountains National Park and cuts across the county for 33 miles before joining the Tennessee River), and the Maryville-Alcoa Greenway, a 14-mile paved trail.
“There are just so many things to see, so many trails to hike,” says Womack, who moved to Blount County from Washington, D.C., in 2021. “Then you have all that Southern hospitality wrapped up in there as well.”
Fitting in Through the Outdoors
That hospitality has led to the creation of numerous programs and events throughout Blount County that make it easier for newcomers and longtime residents alike to find community through outdoor recreation opportunities.
For example, in addition to selling outdoor gear and clothing, the Little River Trading Co. in Maryville organizes regular hiking and biking outings.
Womack, meanwhile, has discovered firsthand how Blount County’s outdoor offerings can spark togetherness. At Tremont, she helps oversee various workshops and programs designed to connect people with nature. These include summer camps for children and teenagers and adult programming such as the Southern Appalachian Naturalist Certification, which teaches skills in ecology.
“If you’re looking for a way to really connect with nature on a level that a lot of people don’t get to experience, Tremont is a wonderful place to take that step,” Womack says. “We’re promoting self-discovery, thinking skills, leadership and teaching, as well as just a familiarity with the outdoors.
“We are a residential program, which means you’re going to be staying with us for at least two or three nights. So, it’s an immersive experience. You’re waking up with the songbirds and going to sleep with the owls. That creates an innate camaraderie to the people who are with you.”
Maryville College takes this concept one step further by including outdoor activities within the curriculum. Students can earn
physical education and health recreation credits through participation in the school’s Mountain Challenge program.
“We provide a pretty broad range of experiences,” says Bruce Guillaume, Mountain Challenge director. “We have a rope course and an alpine climbing tower. We go hiking, paddling, rock climbing. They’re all goal-oriented activities.”
In 2016, Mountain Challenge launched an outdoor fitness initiative called Camp 4 to promote increased physical activity within the community. As a result of these programs, Blue Ridge Outdoors magazine recently named Maryville the Top Adventure College in the United States.
“Part of our mission is to provide high-quality and safe outdoor experiences for people throughout the region,” Guillaume says. “We’ve had groups come here, including businesses, churches, nonprofits and educational programs. It’s all about team building, relationship building and bringing people together.”
Want to know more?
If you’d like to learn more about the Blount County, TN, area, check out the latest edition of Livability: Blount County, Tennessee.