Once Upon a Time Breakaway




Quartz Arrowhead

"When you were born, you cried and the world rejoiced. Live your life so that when you die, the world cries and you rejoice." ~ Cherokee Proverb
Nestled between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Cherokee National Forest in East Tennessee is a wilderness retreat called...
Once Upon ~ a ~ Time Wilderness Adventures - HOMEBreakaway
A magical place where Cherokee
Once made their home
Where eagles nest
And bear still roam


Respect….take only what you need….the earth is Our Mother….the Fish Game….we do not have a word in our language for goodbye. These are some of the many things you will learn from the Cherokee people.

Smoky Mountains - click to enlarge
The Great Smoky Mountains
Click here to view a 3 minute video!

Video produced by University of Wisconsin-River Falls Digital Film and Television students led by Asst. Professor Erik L. Johnson. Production Crew: Samuel Azazu, Jonathan Reid, Chad Reterrath, Katelyn Sather, and Daniel Tyler.

Hard work….get dirt on your hands….challenge yourself to do things you've never done before….rescue trees….clean up creeks….repair a trail….plant trees….build something….make and can blackberry jam….split firewood….plant a garden. These are some of the many things you will experience volunteering at Once Upon A Time, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Cherokee National Forest, and Sequoyah Museum.

Play….make new friends….learn about different cultures….plunge into a cold mountain creek….swap tall tales around the bonfire….learn to "give and take" with your group members….walk through the woods at night….sing the Native American Morning Song each morning to greet the new day. These are some of the things you will do with your fellow Breakaway adventurers.

Once Upon A Time is an approved host site for Breakaway, a national nonprofit organization linking college students with communities to perform service projects addressing a variety of social, cultural, and environmental needs. We were named 2007 Host Site of the Year and were one of five finalists for 2010 Host Site of the Year.
Rafting the Ocoee River - click to enlarge
We have been working with Breakaway groups since 1996. For more information about Breakaway, visit their website at www.alternativebreaks.org.

Our mission focuses on the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation, the environment, and rural Appalachia. We cooperate with several area agencies and communities: the Snowbird Cherokee community in Robbinsville, NC, Cherokee National Forest, Sequoyah Museum, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park. A unique aspect of our program is that we offer a variety of service projects during the week. A typical week involves two days in the Snowbird Cherokee community, one day in either Cherokee National Forest or Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and one day homesteading at Once Upon A Time or volunteering at Sequoyah Museum.

Rafting the Ocoee River - click to enlarge
We are located on 40 acres in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains, about 30 minutes southeast of Maryville, Tennessee. There are no streetlights or traffic lights here. Maybe your cell phone will work and maybe it won't. But we do have spectacular mountain vistas, abundant wildlife, and good old Appalachian mountain hospitality.

News & Notes

We reached a major milestone in Spring 2013 – we topped the 1,000 mark of number of Breakaway students we have hosted at Once Upon A Time since 2007! That includes students from 42 countries around the world, and 38 states. We have learned so much from all the students who have visited us.

We were honored to receive the Jake Benesh Outstanding Service Award from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls this spring. They sent a video production crew with their Breakaway group in March and produced a video about their experience at Once Upon A Time. You can check it out on our home page.

Exciting news! Almost all of the Winter/Spring 2013 Breakaway students had the opportunity to volunteer on property in Happy Valley bordering the Great Smoky Mountains National Park removing invasive plant species (Japanese honeysuckle, multi-flora rose, and privet hedge). The landowner decided to sell the property and gave Once Upon A Time first option to buy it. We purchased the property and it will officially be christened as the Once Upon A Time Nature Preserve by the Winter/Spring 2014 Breakaway groups! We will use the property as an environmental education center for Breakaway and other groups. Plans for 2014 include building a hiking trail up the mountain to the park border, installing a Once Upon A Time Nature Preserve sign at the entrance (designed and painted by Breakaway students), planting native trees and bushes to replace the invasive privet that was removed by 2013 students, and continuing to remove invasive plant species.

Word is getting around about the Breakaway experience, and we have started getting inquiries from church groups and individuals who want to spend a week doing community service with Once Upon A Time. First Unitarian Church of Minneapolis is sending a group of 30 people in June 2014 to volunteer with the Snowbird Cherokee, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and Once Upon A Time.

We added a new cabin in spring 2013 named "Room With a View." Congratulations, Alvernia University, for coming up with the name! It still needs mountain siding on the outside and a roof over the front porch, but it is functional.


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