GATLINBURG, Tenn. (WATE) – The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has been a tool for learning and fun for students for decades. Given National Parks around the country are closed, parks service staff have partnered with other organizations to continue their mission through the coronavirus pandemic.

A new website aims to connect kids to nature using videos and activities, even virtual field trips., purposely spelled with three e’s, focuses on helping families do three things: explore, entertain, and escape.

“We look forward to welcoming everyone back to the park soon, but until then, I invite you to pause and enjoy a Smokies break online with us.”

Cassius Cash
Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Susan Sachs, the education branch chief for the national park, said though the site is focused on helping kids, there’s plenty of content that would be interesting to anyone.

“Many people think you have to come to the park to see and be one with nature, but you can do that in your backyard. What we’re trying to show people is how you tune into the sounds, and the sights, and the smells that are around you in a very focused way,” Sachs said.

The website will include new and original videos.

“The footage we’re creating right now is from our own backyards. We do have some videos that were made before we closed down, so we are including wildflowers, but they’re wildflowers from last year, not this year, because we’re not in the park either. It’s hard for all of us because we all love the park and the Smokies,” Sachs added.

The online effort was made possible by a partnership between the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont, Discover Life in America, the Great Smoky Mountains Association, and Friends of the Smokies.

Sachs said the park team is currently developing content and will be adding more videos and activities geared at helping families explore from home.

“It’s challenging, but I think as communities, if we can support each other, we can get through this and stay strong,” she said.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Superintendent Cassius Cash wrote: “During this time of uncertainty when the park is closed and most people are confined to their homes, we hope you’ll join us for an opportunity to virtually experience the Smokies.”

The site launch coincides with National Park Week, which runs Saturday through April 26. To participate, you can post your favorite photo from the park on social media, with the hashtags #NationalParkWeek or #FindYourPark. You can also use #FindYourVirtualPark and #EncuentraTuParque on Twitter.

In addition to their new initiative, you can find other online activities at the National Park Service website, including games, videos, and webcam showing parks around the country here.