• Appalachians

    Appalachians

Appalachian Program

Educating the Next Generation Since 1972

Our Appalachian Program dates back to our founding in 1972 at Spruce Knob, West Virginia. Since then our focus has been on creating an awareness and appreciation for the complex interaction between community, culture, and conservation. Our approach is through experiential learning courses and sustainable community initiatives. The heart of our program is the Spruce Knob Mountain Center (SKMC) which serves as the home base for TMI’s wide variety of Mountain Learning courses. SKMC has implemented over 1,000 of these innovative courses through the years. Most are based in West Virginia, but have also been exported as far away as Maine and the Florida Keys. Wherever our Mountain Learning courses take place, they 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 each client’s needs and our courses include programs for upper elementary through university students, professional development workshops for teachers, Wilderness First Responder & First Aid Courses, summer camps, and many others. 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.

To learn more about TMI’s Appalachian Program, watch this short video.

Check out the weather on our mountain top:  SKMC Weather Station.


Education Programs

Experiential learning programs are the core of TMI’s Appalachian Program. Many of the schools we work with have been bringing students to the Spruce Knob Mountain Center since the early 1980s. All courses focus on leadership development and cooperation through hands-on activities and exploring the great outdoors! While our courses have changed a great deal since our early years, our philosophy has remained the same–we believe that bringing students outdoors to experience true, hands-on, experiential education is one of the best ways for students to learn about themselves, their peers, and their environment. These courses are taught at our residential education facilities in our Spruce Knob Mountain Center or can be field-based, in the Monongahela National Forest which surrounds our facilities. Other courses are conducted off-site. For more information about how we can tailor our programs to fit your specific needs, please contact our Education Coordinator at 304.567.2632 or email us: learning@mountain.org.

Essential Elements & Activities

Essential Elements & Activities
The following lessons and activities comprise TMI’s Mountain Learning courses. We are happy to design a custom program to fit your group’s needs using any combination of the opportunities below.

-Group Dynamics:Games and mixer activities immediately engage the students in active learning about each other, their instructors, and their course.
-Team Development: Group initiatives promote cooperation, communication, trust, decision making, problem solving, and leadership development.
-Service Learning Projects: Participate in a variety of service learning projects including trail maintenance, watershed restoration through tree planting and invasive species control.
-Geology: Learn about the geologic history of the Appalachians. Hike to the top of Spruce Knob for a bird’s eye view of ancient tectonic activity and current rock layers.
-Forest Heritage: Discover the history of West Virginia’s forests, including such topics as logging, railroads, homesteads, and National Forest development.
-Beaver Pond Ecology: Follow the waterways to find traces of beaver activity and discover clues about a beaver’s lifestyle.
-Stream Ecology: Study a pristine mountain stream in the headwaters of the Potomac or Mississippi River. Learn to sample physical, chemical, and biological properties of the stream and why water quality is important to human and environmental health. Single and multi-day watershed education experiences are offered.
-Orienteering and Hiking to Spruce Knob: A view from the top! Learn map and compass land navigation and work together to find the highest point in West Virginia.
-Nocturnal Explorations: Explore the night with games, hikes, and discovery activities.
-Astronomy: On clear nights, students explore the night sky using the naked eye, binoculars, and our observatory’s telescope. We have access to one of the darkest skies in the east: a real treat for astronomers of any experience level.
-Canoeing: Students may explore the Greenbrier, Delaware, or Potomac River on multi-day canoe trips. Alternatively, students can relax on the calm waters of nearby Spruce Knob Lake.
-Whitewater Rafting: The lively Shenandoah and Cheat rivers make West Virginia a hotspot for rafting.
-Survival Skills: Learn about survival skills, including fire building, shelter construction, and other outdoor-exploration skills through fun games and activities.
-Caving: Learn about West Virginia’s colorful subterranean ecology, geology, and history in an undeveloped cave. After a brief lesson in the grotto, we’ll follow Gandy Creek as it winds through the cave for 3/4 of a mile. This cave offers large passageways and is an excellent first time cave!

Field-Based Programs

Field-Based Programs
During field based programs, students spend a week living and exploring the outdoors together. Working in small groups, students set up a basecamp at the edge of the Spruce Knob Mountain Center or in the bordering Monongahela National Forest. From this basecamp, students explore the ridges, summits, valleys, and caves of the area. Day hikes are punctuated with teambuilding activities and lessons pertaining to the flora, fauna, geology, and geography of the area. Each night, the students return to camp to cook, clean, play, and rest. The combination of cooperative living, hands-on science activities, self-sufficiency, and group learning in an immersive setting helps to form bonds and foster confidence that will last for a lifetime. Field-based programs are recommended for middle and high school students. For more information about our field-based programming contact Melinda Brooks at (304) 567-2632 or email us: learning@mountain.org.

Residential Programs

Residential Programs
Residential programs, based at the Spruce Knob Mountain Center, are ideal for younger children, shorter visits, or science-intensive programs. When staying in dormitories, participants are not expected to cook or set up camp as they would be in a field-based program. This is ideal for students who would like to focus on other challenges and make greater use of SKMC’s indoor facilities.Traditionally our programs begin with a parent and student meeting at your school. We present a slideshow to help prepare for the trip and answer any questions both groups may have.

Students explore the surrounding area on day trips that are typically two to four days in length. Students sleep in dormitories and meals are prepared daily by our cooks. For more information on course content, please contact Kellee Waddell at (304) 567-2632 or email us: learning@mountain.org.

Summer Camps

Mountain Stewards is a summer service program designed to give youth an impactful experience amongst West Virginia’s lofty mountains and pristine valleys. The 6-day expedition blends stewardship, experiential education, and exploration in one of the most biodiverse environments on Earth. This summer, we’re offering separate programs for both high school and middle school aged participants.
  • High School

    High School Program

    For high school students, the experience begins and ends at TMI’s Spruce Knob Mountain Center, but the majority of the week will be spent in the adjacent Monongahela National Forest or in local wilderness areas. The group will pitch tents and begin to learn the time-honored art of campcraft – including tent and tarp set-up, fire building, cooking in the woods, proper water treatment, knot tying, and proper waste disposal. The days will be filled with a variety of adventure (caving, orienteering to the state’s highest point, and learning survival skills) and stewardship (clearing hiking trails, replacing trail markers, and building erosion control structures using a variety of non-mechanical hand tools). Participants will be awarded 20 hours of community service credit. This program is open to anyone entering grades 9-12, so long as they are 17 years old or younger. Participants should arrive or be dropped off between 11am and noon on the first day (Sunday) of the program and be picked up between 3 and 4pm on the final day (Friday).

    2017 Dates (June and July) will be posted soon!
  • Middle School Program

    Middle School Program

    The middle school program is a wonderful introduction to how we take care of our environment, our peers, and ourselves in wild places. The experience will be very much the same as the high school program, but nights will be split between camping and staying in dormitories at TMI’s facilities. The middle school program is open to anyone entering grades 6-8. Participants should arrive or be dropped off between 1 and 2pm on the first day (Sunday) of the program and be picked up between 3 and 4pm on the final day (Friday).

    2017 Dates to be announced soon.

  • Program Details

    Program Details

    Each program will consist of 8-14 participants and 2 TMI instructors. All instructors are certified Wilderness First Responders and have passed background checks.

    All food and gear will be provided.

    We believe it is vital for everyone, regardless of means, to have access to wild places, high quality experiential education, and meaningful stewardship opportunities. Thanks to generous donations from the Schoenbaum Family Foundation, the W.E. Stone Foundation, the Oakland Foundation Inc., and other private donors, we are able to provide West Virginia youth this experience at the cost of $100 per participant. The actual cost of the camp is more than $600 per participant. We require a $100 deposit at the time of registration for all participants. We encourage families and participants that are able to make an additional donation above the minimum cost to please do so. Your tax deductible donation will be used to provide this meaningful summer program to more youth. If you live outside of West Virginia, the cost is $600 per participant, please contact Melinda Brooks at the number below with any questions.

    We will refund participants’ deposits in full if we receive written notice to Melinda Brooks more than sixty days before the start of the program. If a participant cancels within sixty days of the start of the program they will not receive a refund. We require a minimum of eight participants and reserve the right to cancel the program if we do not meet the minimum. In the event that we need to cancel a program session, we will notify families within thirty days of the start of the program and they will receive a full refund.

    For more information, please contact Melinda Brooks or call TMI at (304) 567-2632. To register, click here.

Appalachian Watershed and Stream Monitors

AWSM Professional Development will be held in July of 2017. Check back here for dates! For more information on how to join the AWSM Network and make your school eligible for a $5,000 mini-grant, contact Kellee Waddell at (304) 567-2632. Also ask Kellee about Program Details – Project-Based Learning Units – CSO Alignment – Resources for Teachers and TMI’s AWSM Water Quality Database! Email us: learning@mountain.org
  • AWSM Program Details
    The Mountain Institute’s Appalachian Watershed & Stream Monitors (AWSM) program uses a multi-tiered approach to watershed education:

    Professional Development Workshop: Teachers, watershed organizers, and concerned citizens visit the Spruce Knob Mountain Center to immerse themselves in water quality monitoring techniques and the wonders of headwater stream ecosystems. During this three-day summer workshop, watershed professionals and veteran teachers in the program will demonstrate effective classroom resources and curriculum potential. Each participant may become a certified WV Save Our Streams Monitor, and continuing education credit is available for interested participants.

    Field Trip: Teachers bring their class to Spruce Knob for an overnight experience. On day one, TMI’s Field Instructors lead students in an assessment of a near-pristine stream in the Monongahela National Forest. Not only do student learn about the physical, chemical, and biological health of a stream, their stream assessment is added to the WV Department of Environmental Protection’s database. After dinner, Instructors lead a watershed-related activity and a campfire. On day two, students visit the summit of Spruce Knob. As the highest mountain in the state as well as the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, it offers an excellent vantage point from which to discuss land uses and drainage patterns in the area.

    Local Sampling: The Mountain Institute works with students to assess a stream near their school. Having already seen a near-pristine stream, the students will have a basis for comparison.

    While the ideal is for teachers to use all three of these components, they are welcome to participate in only one or two aspects of the program, depending on their own needs.
  • Professional Development Workshops
    Appalachian Watershed & Stream Monitors

    Mid-July, 2017 (check back for dates!)

    Spruce Knob Mountain Center, Circleville, WV

    Immerse yourself in water quality monitoring techniques and the wonders of headwater streams and ecosystems. You will have the opportunity to learn about effective classroom resource and curriculum potential from watershed professionals and veteran teachers in the program. Each participant may become a certified WV Save Our Streams Monitor, and continuing education credit is available for interested participants. Open to teachers, watershed organizers, and concerned citizens. Through participation in the workshop, you will:

    Become proficient in the WV Department of Environmental Protection’s Save our Streams monitoring protocols Meet science and social studies standards with exciting activities that link classroom and field activities while engaging students in STEM and Project Based Learning studies Utilize quantitative and qualitative scientific data collected from a local stream by your students with the support of TMI’s professional educators Teach students to navigate new and existing data to make their own maps and charts while developing spatial understanding and analytical thinking skills Learn to apply Geographic Information Systems (GIS) through practical use

    Room, board, and materials are provided to participating school teachers. Other participants may be eligible as well.

    For more information about the full, multi-tier program, please visit our AWSM section above or contact Kellee Waddell, Education Coordinator, at (304) 567-2632 or kwaddell@mountain.org.

    Here is the Application to join the AWSM Network today–your school will be eligible for a $5,000 mini-grant!

  • Project-Based Learning Units
    AWSM Project-Based Learning Units

    TMI is proud to highlight the following Project-based Learning Units. These units were developed by teachers who used Appalachian Watershed and Stream Monitors as the entry event.

    Hometown Energy: Fueling our Future, Sustaining our Environment by Kelly Carter

    Take The Plunge by Brenda Waterworth
  • CSO Alignment
    CSO Alignment

    Content standards and objectives addressed within the Appalachian Water and Stream Monitors curriculum:

    AWSM Alignment with 5 – 12 grade SCIENCE

    AWSM Alignment with 5 – 12 grade SOCIAL STUDIES
  • Resources for Teachers
    AWSM Resources for Teachers

    Please see the attached resources to help you plan for AWSM activities!

  • Read “Where Rivers Are Born” to learn more about the significant role of headwaters streams.
  • Cacapon Institute’s Potomac Highlands Watershed School. Use this e-school as an interactive way to introduce benthic macro invertebrates and SOS sampling methods prior to TMI field trainings.
  • WV DEP SOS support page. View to access SOS resources and to learn about all the variables measured with in the DEP’s Volunteer Assessement protocols. All teachers should familiarize themselves with this information prior to attending an AWSM workshop.


  • Attachments:
  • Investigating Mountain Streams
  • AWSM Investigating Mountain Streams – Mobile App
  • AWSM Local Stream Monitoring
  • AWSM Watershed Case Study – Potomac River
  • AWSM Introduction to Stream Sampling Study Questions
  • GIS Rope Intro Activity

Spruce Knob Mountain Center

The Mountain Institute’s Spruce Knob Mountain Center (SKMC) is a 400 acre high-elevation nature preserve located in the Potomac Highlands of West Virginia. The Potomac Highlands feature some of the darkest night skies in the Eastern U.S., the highest peak in the state (Spruce Knob), the healthiest streams in the state, extensive Red Spruce and northern hardwood forests, natural springs, and numerous caves. The Spruce Knob Mountain Center also showcases innovative, sustainable architecture. Our buildings were designed to complement the beauty of the natural landscape, while limiting the use of non-renewable resources in construction and maintenance. The two largest buildings of the center are yurts. They contain a kitchen, dining area, office space, a library, a classroom, and everyone’s favorite room, the aerie (“bubble”). The yurts at Spruce Knob are patterned after a Mongolian yurts. Yurts are self-supporting structures which began as movable tents with wooden frames, covered by felted wool and canvas. The American-style yurts at SKMC , however, are meant to stay in one place, and are therefore constructed from wood and stone. Ulan Bator, our larger yurt, was built in the 1970s. The yurt in the rear of the photo, Almati, was constructed in the 1990s. These buildings are named after the capital of Mongolia and the major city in Kazakhstan, respectively. Both yurts were designed by the late Bill Coperthwaite. The aerie, or “bubble” is a small room on the top floor of Ulan Bator, covered with a rounded sky light. It serves as a small group meeting space, meditation area, and reading room. Our dormitories were built in the 1990s. These buildings were constructed using two distinct styles of architecture. One dormitory is a standard wood-framed structure, but the other is constructed of rammed-earth bricks made using local soil. Each dormitory provides bunkhouse-style accomodations with four separate rooms. Dorm rooms sleep five to six people, for a total of approximately forty beds. The shower house is a short distance from the dormitories. Visitors may follow a path, lighted at night, to modern amenities such as flush toilets and private showers. Alternatively, guests may visit one of our composting toilets, which function without water. In addition to the larger yurts and the dormitories, SKMC has several smaller, one-room yurts, usually used for housing TMI staff. Three yurts are reserved for visiting guests. Our winter office, and seasonal staff housing, the “Earth Shelter,” is a passive solar structure built into the hillside. Its original earthen roof was replaced in 2010, but the structure retains its original character. In 2013, solar panels were added to the roof. This building now generates a substantial amount of power.
  • Spruce Knob Mountain Center Directions (Full)
  • Spruce Knob Mountain Center Directions (Short)
  • Visiting the Spruce Knob Mountain Center
    The Spruce Knob Mountain Center is available for rental to groups and individuals whose values complement our own. Our facilities are ideal for workshops, meetings, conferences, and camps, and our location is perfect for nature-lovers of all kinds. Camping at the Spruce Knob Mountain Center costs $15 per person, per night. This includes access to bathroom and shower facilities. Dormitory beds are available as well, for $25 a night. We also have three small, private guest yurts nestled up against the spruce forest for $50 per night apiece. With a minimum group of ten people, delicious home-cooked meals are available for an additional $30 per person, per day. Classroom and meeting space is available for a small additional fee. If you are interested in visiting Spruce Knob Mountain Center, please contact Dave Martin at dmartin@mountain.org or (304) 567-2632.
    • Guest Info Sheet
    • Directions to SKMC
  • Astronomy
    The Spruce Knob area boasts the darkest skies east of the Mississippi River. More stars, planets, and other celestial bodies can be seen from the Mountain Center than practically any other high-elevation point on the East Coast! When visiting Spruce Knob Mountain Center for an unparalleled look at a clear night sky, astronmy enthusiasts can also take advantage of our classrooms, meeting spaces, and dormitories if they plan on observing on multiple nights.

    Back Ridge Observatory

    TMI’s on-site observatory is used throughout the operating season by visiting school groups, students, teachers, and staff. The observatory is equipped with a roll-out Dobsonian telescope, star charts and laser pointers, but the star of the show is the center’s nine-foot-long, computerized telescope and the rotating roof that provides an expansive view of the surrounding skies. With this telescope, users can view distant celestial bodies and galaxies in the night sky. The building of the Back Ridge Observatory was made possible by Dr. Joe Morris. Joe continues to be a friend of TMI and visits SKMC often to maintain the observatory and to use it for astrophotography.

    Northern Virginia Astronomy Club, the Almost Heaven Star Party, and New Moon Observation Weekends

    The Northern Virginia Astronomy Club (NOVAC) has been taking advantage of TMI’s facilities for many years. NOVAC hosts the Almost Heaven Star Party (AHSP) at the Spruce Knob Mountain Center each year. The event attracts nearly 200 amateur astronomers from all over the region and showcases the area’s dark skies. During the event, TMI instructors lead participants in a variety of daytime activities, including canoeing and guided hikes, in addition to the astronomy-related activities during the nighttime. NOVAC also reserves campsites and dorm rooms for their members during every new moon weekend, from April through October. To learn more about AHSP, visit. www.ahsp.org

    If you or your club is interested in observation weekends at SKMC, please call (304) 567-2632.

Success Stories

  • Morgantown Farmers' Market
    In 2012 TMI completed development of West Virginia’s first solar powered farmers’ market. The Farmers’ Market Pavilion in Morgantown now includes a solar array and electric vehicle charging station. The installation saves electricity costs for the city and provides customers of downtown businesses the opportunity to fuel electric vehicles with the power of the sun. The 3.12 kilowatt solar array consists of twelve American-made solar panels that produce a combined 3,600 kilowatt hours of electricity per year. The array supplies nearly half of the pavilion’s electricity demand and helps power the electric vehicle charger. This charging station provides critical recharging infrastructure for owners of plug-in hybrid and all-electric vehicles. TMI collaborated with Downstream Strategies, Mountain View Solar, and the City of Morgantown to create this high profile demonstration illustrating how solar technology can protect against rising energy costs, enhance public infrastructure, and create economic opportunity.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Mt. Fuji-Mt. Rainier Teacher Training & Curriculum 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, six Japanese high school teachers spent a week at the beautiful Mt. Rainier National Park to develop lesson plans. A year later, six U.S. teachers, plus staff from Mt. Rainier, and TMI visited Japan for a week. Our Japanese partners demonstrated additional lesson plans. As a result, students in both countries learned about the landscapes, people, culture and environments of these mountains and surrounding areas. Click here for more information.
  • 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 Pendleton Community Care Clinic was incorporated in the county seat of Franklin as a not-for-profit organization. It opened for business Oct. 1 of that year.
  • Mountaineer Food Bank
    Founded by TMI in 1981, the Mountaineer Food Bank works to alleviate hunger in West Virginia. Over the years it has grown to become 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 attendance rate from 49th to 46th in the nation with its Scholars Academy program. 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 helped prepare them for college. The Scholars Academy helped West Virginia youth realize their potential as human beings and as responsible citizens (and environmental stewards) of their state. After attending our Scholar’s Academy and courses on Spruce Knob, many have gained the confidence to go on to college, and some have re- turned to assume leadership positions at the community, state and national level.
  • 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 other mountain areas of the USA.
  • 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. For a full description: “The Wildflowers of Blister Swamp. A Conservation Success Story.”
Since 1972 The Mountain Institute has partnered with remote mountain communities in the highest, longest and oldest mountains of the world. We work together to conserve ecosystems, develop sustainable livelihoods and protect unique mountain cultures.