No one appeared to be around. “Hello?” I called.
I waited a couple of minutes and went a bit further in, “HELLO?”
I then got a response: “Ruh-Roof!”
Elmer had mentioned that meals at the Sunnybank Inn were exclusively vegetarian; he explained that the Inn hosted so many Hindu groups and families, (?) that he had gone vegetarian with all the meals just to simplify things. Being a carnivore, I raised an eyebrow at this, but as the first breakfast was served, my slight misgivings were dispelled; everything Elmer and his crew made was incredible. Following breakfast, Elmer gave us a detailed history of the town of Hot Springs and the Sunnybank Inn, including a number of anecdotes of the many memorable characters that have stayed there over the past several decades.
Our cohort went on a Discovery Quest up and around to the west. We visited one of the hostels, tracked and counted the AT markers down the sidewalk (The AT runs through the middle of the town), visited a number of cultural/historical sites, generally checked out the town, and had a fine lunch at the Smokey Mountain Diner (highly recommended),
After another amazing breakfast (I don’t know how Elmer managed to make vegetarian gravy taste so incredibly good), the cohort traipsed down to the Hot Springs Public Library (many people don’t realize what a boon even a modest library is to a small, rather isolated town) where we could catch a Wi-Fi signal, and organize and put the final touches on our TTEC lesson and unit presentations. Finishing these at the last second in true “grad student” style, we hurried back to the Sunnybank and gave our presentations We discussed, critiqued, suggested, and networked (with a break for an excellent lunch) way up into Saturday afternoon.
At the last, our mentors and guides from the ATC/TTEC had prepared a special ceremony for the members of the Southern Regional Cohort completing the TTEC program. We walked into the side yard, where we were given accolades and a rather nice certificate of completion from the ATC and the National Parks Service. We were charged with keeping the spirit of wild places and wilderness beating within our hearts, and instilling a sense of community and stewardship within the hearts of our students. I take this very seriously, and I feel honored to be entrusted with this.
As with all of our workshops, the only thing I disliked was the fact that it had to come to an end, and I had to say farewell to wonderful places, and more importantly, people that I had become very attached to. My experience with the TTEC and my involvement with the ATC make me feel like a part of an extended family, and part of something much greater than myself; something that began long before I arrived on the scene, and something that will continue long after I have moved on. I’m a better person for the experience. Thank you all for everything this year