By: Doug Romig

As I was driving out to Narrow Ridge Earth Literacy Center, there were a few times I was certain I was lost. Narrow Ridge is located in a beautiful and remote part of Grainger County, TN. It is a nonprofit organization created in 1991 through the visionary work of Bill Nickle. Narrow Ridge is a challenging yet elegant concept: Create a community that can live based on sustainability with the natural world around it.


Narrow Ridge is a land trust of more than 500 acres of land creating 35 home sites in the mountains of Grainger County. The home sites are leased for 99 years from the land trust. The goal is to live in harmony with the land using various sustainable methods.  All that is required is agreeing to a simple set of rules like no clear cutting of trees and no use of chemicals on the ground. 

Persimmon Point

Persimmon Point

This is not Little House on the Prairie. Each house has electricity through solar panels and running water from a well. Also, if you are planning a trip to the outhouse, you won’t find one. Each building has composting toilets.

The straw-bale construction of many of the homes is brilliant in its simplicity. Straw lasts for 100 years if it can be kept dry. Bill Nickle says the straw makes up most of the walls’ substance – with various kinds of ecologically friendly surfaces covering the straw-bale walls. 


“Nature is the best teacher,” says Narrow Ridge Director Mitzi Wood-Von Mizener. That philosophy is expressed beautifully in Narrow Ridge’s mission statement: to provide experiential learning of Earth Literacy based on the cornerstones of community, sustainability and spirituality.

The Resource Center.

The Resource Center.

Narrow Ridge offers programs on sustainability, Earth Literacy retreats, community events, yoga classes, and other activities designed to teach people positive reasons for having a sustainable lifestyle. The number and variety of books in the library at the Mac Smith Resource Center was impressive. The Resource Center allows people to explore ways to live ecologically through study, classes, and community events.


The Resource Center Library


Narrow Ridge is home to Tennessee’s first green cemetery. 

The Narrow Ridge Natural Burial Preserve provides a simple, ecologically friendly burial. There is no embalming of the body. There are no metal caskets, concrete vaults, or tombstones.  Everything placed in the grave is biodegradable. There are no fees to use the burial preserve, donations only.

A simple wood sign marks the location of the Narrow Ridge Burial Preserve.

A simple wood sign marks the location of the Narrow Ridge Burial Preserve.

Mitzi and Bill said the most recent burial consisted of a simple shroud covering the deceased, and the body was lowered lovingly into the ground. As the cemetery plots are used, the land will go back to nature as a fitting tribute to those who have passed on.

Narrow Ridge offers something old in a new way to our technologically inundated world. Here you take a step back and look at nature. What can be learned? What can be done to live in a way that still allows a relationship with the natural world? The answers are right there at Narrow Ridge. 

Narrow Ridge Earth Literacy Center

1936 Liberty Hill Road

Washburn, TN 37888

To schedule a visit, or for more information about internships and volunteer opportunities, please call (865) 497-2793.

© Doug Romig, 2014.

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