Appalachian Program

The Mountain Institute was founded in 1972 in order to ensure the passing of values from one generation to the next by leading father and son trips in the wild places in West Virginia. Its work quickly expanded to experiential and leadership education for West Virginia's youth. TMI formally expanded into an international organization in 1987, when it assisted in the establishment of two new protected areas in Nepal and the Tibet Autonomous Region of China.

Today, the Appalachian Program focuses on developing an understanding and appreciation for the complex interaction between community, culture, and conservation through education and sustainable community initiatives. The heart of the program is the Spruce Knob Mountain Center, which serves as the homebase for TMI's wide variety of Mountain Learning courses. TMI has run over 1,000 Mountain Learning courses through the years. Most have been based right in West Virginia, but they have also traveled as far as the rugged and isolated Allagash River of Maine and the biodiverse hotspot of the Florida Keys. Wherever they take place, these programs bring adventure, group process skills, leadership development, conservation, and environmental education together in a rigorous and invigorating environment.

The Mountain Institute custom designs programs to meet client desires. This includes programs for upper elementary through university students, professional development workshops for teachers, Wilderness First Responder & First Aid Courses, summer camps, and many other opportunities.

It is the mission of Mountain Learning Programs to help people become powerful, secure, knowledgeable individuals with a clear vision of their responsibilities and potential for improving the human condition and the natural world.


Reflections: Homage to Dunkard Creek - Dunkard Creek, a 43-mile-long stream that flows through both West Virginia and Pennsylvania, was contaminated by energy industry wastewater in 2009. The contamination led to a toxic bloom of golden algae, which killed all creatures with gills in the waterway. The Mountain Institute sponsored "Reflections," a traveling art exhibit in which a community of artists with ties to the watershed memorialized the many species that died in the creek as a result of the contamination. Ninety artists represented ninety species in a variety of media. The exhibit traveled throughout the Appalachian region from 2011 through 2013.  Learn more about Dunkard Creek with our video with interviews of local residents. Find out more on the exhibit's home page, here.

Reading the Landscape - The Mountain Institute's environmental literacy program was first offered to Circleville’s North Fork Elementary School. The positive impact was immediately apparent. The students were enthusiastic, the teachers were impressed, and once we had a few years worth of data, we were able to show statistically what we suspected all along – that students’ test scores improved after participating in the program. For more information on this, please see Reading the Results: Improved Science Test Scores after Three Years of Reading the Landscape in the Spring 2009 Spruce Knob News. The Pendleton Times featured the North Fork program (which can be seen on our facebook page) on September 28, 2010.

Mt. Fuji-Mt. Rainier Teacher Training & Curriculum Development Project - This project allowed students and teachers to explore similarities between the United States and Japan through the thorough study of two of the world‘s tallest mountains—Mt. Fuji and Mt. Rainier. In 2010, 6 Japanese high school teachers spent a week at the beautiful Mt. Rainier National Park to develop lesson plans. A year later, 6 U.S. teachers, Mt. Rainier, and TMI staff visited Japan for a week where our Japanese partners demonstrated additional lesson plans. As a result, students in both countries learned about the landscapes, people, culture and environments of the mountains and surrounding areas. For more information see the article in Education about Asia.

Pendleton Community Care - In 1981, TMI conducted a countywide survey to determine the most pressing needs of Pendleton County, WV - where the Appalachia Program is still based today. The greatest need expressed was for greater access to health care. By July 1,1982 the clinic was incorporated in the county seat of Franklin as a not-for-profit organization. It opened for business Oct. 1.

Appalachian Watershed & Stream Monitors - This watershed assessment and stream sampling training, education and community service program has trained dozens of teachers and thousands of students since 2005.

Mountaineer Food Bank - Founded by TMI in 1981, the Mountaineer Food Bank works to alleviate hunger in West Virginia. It is the state's largest supplier of food and personal products for people in need of emergency assistance, serving over 500 programs in 48 counties in West Virginia.

West Virginia Scholars Academy  - TMI raised West Virginia's college going rate from 49th to 46th in the nation with the Scholars Academy. From the early 1980s to the early 2000s, bright and promising high school students from throughout the state came to the Spruce Knob Mountain Center for a summer enrichment program that would help to prepare them for college and the life beyond.

Exchanges and Study Tours - Since its inception The Mountain Institute has promoted the exchange of ideas and learning between mountain communities across the globe. We have conducted exchanges between Tibetans and Peruvians, Nepalis and Chinese, Indians and Nepalis, Tibetans and Americans, and West Virginians with North Carolinians.

Blister Swamp Conservation and Restoration Project - This project commenced in 1999 to protect and monitor change in 150 acres of unique, privately-owned wetland habitat in the highlands of West Virginia. Long-term conservation in the area has been ensured through partner and private landowner agreements.