• Appalachians

    Appalachians

Appalachian Program

Educating the Next Generation Since 1972

The Mountain Institute’s Appalachian Program dates back to our founding in 1972 at Spruce Knob, West Virginia. From the ’70s until early 2017, our Program focused on creating an awareness and appreciation for the complex interaction between community, culture, and conservation. Our approach was based on experiential learning courses and sustainable community initiatives. Spruce Knob Mountain Center (SKMC) served as the home base for TMI’s wide variety of Mountain Learning courses. In March of 2017, three of the original founders of our Institute formed Experience Learning – a separate non-profit – to take on educational activities in the Appalachian Mountains. Experience Learning has also acquired the Spruce Knob Mountain Center property where many of these educational programs are taught. Over the years, more than 1,000 of these innovative courses have been taught, most in West Virginia, but also as far away as Maine and the Florida Keys. Experience Learning will carry on the Institute’s tradition of educating the next generation in a way that brings adventure, group process skills, leadership development, conservation, and environmental education together in a rigorous and invigorating environment.

To learn more about current educational programs, visit Experience Learning‘s new website. 

Here’s the press release about TMI and Experience Learning in the Appalachian Mountains.


Education Programs (as of 3/17)

Essential Elements & Activities of TMI Programs

Essential Elements & Activities of TMI Programs
TMI’s Mountain Learning courses combine:
  • Group Dynamics
  • Team Development
  • Service Learning Projects
  • Geology
  • Forest Heritage
  • Beaver Pond Ecology
  • Stream Ecology and
Other key components of our educational programs are:
  • Orienteering and Hiking
  • Nocturnal Explorations
  • Astronomy
  • Canoeing
  • Whitewater Rafting
  • Survival Skills and
  • Caving
For Educational Courses taught after 4/17, contact Experience Learning.

Current course info is available on their website.

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 Field-Based Programs taught after 4/17, contact Experience Learning.

Current course info is available on their website.

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 Residential Programs taught after 4/17, contact Experience Learning.

Current course info is available on their website.


Mountain Stewards Summer Camps (as of 3/17)

  • High School

    High School Program

    The majority of the week will be spent in the Blackwater Canyon partnering with the Friends of the Blackwater on a trail reclamation project. As they backpack campsite to campsite, 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, effective water treatment, knot tying, and proper waste disposal. The days will be filled with a variety of adventure, learning, and stewardship opportunities (clearing hiking trails, replacing trail markers, and creating erosion control systems). As they make their way back to Pendleton County, the group will stop and spend the night at Seneca Rocks, where they will explore the area, the swimming hole, and enjoy celebratory pizza. They will mark the end of the week-long expedition with a guided top rope climbing adventure before they make their way back to the Spruce Knob Mountain Center to prepare for the journey home. Participants will be awarded 20 hours of community service credit. This program is open to anyone entering grades 9-12.

    For info on 2017 High School Programs taught by Experience Learning, check out their website:
  • 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 program will begin and end at the Spruce Knob Mountain Center. The first and final night will be spent in our onsite dormitories – getting to know one another on the first day, and reflecting on the shared experience the final night. The group will spend the majority of the week base camping in the surrounding Monongahela National Forest. Here they will learn the time-honored art of campcraft – including tent and tarp set-up, fire building, cooking in the woods, effective water treatment, knot tying, and proper waste disposal. The days will be filled with adventure (orienteering, caving), learning (ecology explorations), and stewardship opportunities (onsite project TBD). Participants will be awarded 10 hours of community service credit. The middle school program is open to anyone entering grades 6-8.

    For info on 2017 Middle School Programs taught by Experience Learning, check out their website:
  • Farm Based

    Farm Based

    Throughout the course of the week, campers and staff together will maintain the 560 acre Sweet Water Farm. Each day campers will spend a small amount of time completing necessary farm chores (livestock, gardening, cooking the day’s meals). At the beginning of the week, each camper will participate in a survival skills workshop where they will focus their time on learning the primitive art of fire-making using a bow drill. Here, each participant will have the opportunity to create their own bow drill kit, and practice their skills. Throughout the course of the week, the campers will be challenged to use their bow drills effectively to make fire. Mid-week marks the beginning of the camper driven backpacking trip. As a group, participants will create a trip plan using a topographical map, and will be responsible for packing the appropriate food and gear. While on the expedition, campers will learn the time-honored art of campcraft – including tent and tarp set-up, cooking in the woods, effective water treatment, knot tying, and proper waste disposal. The end of the week will be spent back at the farm, partnering with Trout Unlimited on a riparian restoration project. Participants will earn a total of 20 hours of community service hours for their work on the farm and must be over the age of 13 to participate.

    For info on 2017 Farm Based Programs taught by Experience Learning, check out their website:
  • All Girls

    All Girls

    Providing girls an opportunity to come together, without distraction, to celebrate their ability to thrive in a backcountry setting. The first and final night will be spent in our onsite dormitories – getting to know one another on the first day, and reflecting on the shared experience the final night. The group will embark on the backpacking portion of the program on day two when they head into the Seneca Creek Backcountry. Along the way they will spend time swimming at the high falls of Seneca Creek, camping near a pristine mountain spring, and exploring the scenic high meadows. The expedition will end at the summit of Spruce Knob where campers will shuttle to a local crag for a guided top rope climbing adventure before they head back to the Spruce Knob Mountain Center to prepare for the journey home. Onsite stewardship project (TBD). Participants will be awarded 10 hours of community service credit. This program is open to girls ages 10 – 17.

    For info on 2017 All Girls Programs taught by Experience Learning, check out their website:.
  • Family Night

    Family Night

    Campers will have the opportunity to show their families around our mountain campus, go for a hike in the national forest, enjoy dinner served at the yurts, and spend quality time around the campfire sharing s’mores, the night sky, and wonderful company.

    For info on 2017 Family Night Programs taught by Experience Learning, check out their website:

Appalachian Watershed and Stream Monitors (as of 3/17)

  • AWSM Program Details
    The Mountain Institute’s Appalachian Watershed and 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.

    For info on 2017 AWSM Program taught by Experience Learning, check out their website:
  • Professional Development Workshops
    Appalachian Watershed & Stream Monitors

    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 info on 2017 Professional Development Workshops taught by Experience Learning, check out their website:

    Join the AWSM Network today–your school will be eligible for a $5,000 mini-grant!


Spruce Knob Mountain Center (as of 3/17)


Success Stories – TMI’s Appalachian Program

  • 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.
  • 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. More on the exhibit can be seen on this webpage.
  • 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.
  • 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 returned 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.