Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Students on the A.T.!

Post by Jan Onan
TTEC Alumna and Carolina Mountain Club volunteer in North Carolina

It could not have been a more beautiful 2 days to experience backpacking on the AT.  Trailfest was taking place in Hot Springs and the Trail was abuzz with thru-hikers. I eagerly anticipated getting back on the AT having such recent memories of accomplishing the CMC 90/90 last Oct.  It was Friday afternoon, April 11, 2014, when my son, Jake, our trail dog, Sophie, and I waited at Tanyard Gap parking lot for the arrival of the group we volunteered to help chaperone. We knew little about this group.
One of the recent requests CMC received was from North Buncombe HS teacher, Michael Rowe.  He received an ATC License Plate grant to take his Earth Science Club on a backpacking trip to experience the AT and to do water quality testing along the way in creeks, ponds, and the French Broad River. Will Maney, a history teacher at NBHS and a 2013 AT thru-hiker, was a natural to be along as a chaperone. The kids were ready and excited about being on the Trail. One problem could have kept them from this planned trip. There were 13 students, 7 of whom were female.
The group needed a female chaperone. Thus, the request came to CMC.  When the request finally made it to my email, I looked at my calendar and saw that I was free and was excited that CMC could participate.  Having been a Trail to Every Classroom (TTEC) participant in 2008, this fit perfectly with TTEC goals to get students on the AT.

Jake and I were taking in the mountain air when we saw what looked like a fleet of vehicles arriving at the parking lot. Out jumped 13 smiling students and 2 smiling teachers happy to finally be starting their adventure. Introductions were made, car shuttles worked out and the .7 mile hike to Mill Ridge camp site began. Along the way, we talked about the AT- from blazes to the 31 maintenance crews.  ATC extraordinaire, Julie Judkins, provided me with and AT trail trivia sheet, but the kids asked me the questions before I brought it up! The students learned how CMC members lead group hikes; trail breaks, sweeps and how not to get lost! This was the first time hiking for several of these 13 students, but you would have never known. I was amazed from the start at the abilities and positive attitudes of these HS students. 

Once at camp, I learned that much of their gear was gathered from what family or friends had about.  As the kids made camp, I heard laughing and saw high-fives shared when it was discovered that one student grabbed what she thought was a 2-man tent to share with a fellow classmate, only to discover it was a child size single tent! This presented no dilemma as the students quickly came to a solution by sharing what equipment each of them had. This was the first time hiking, let alone backpacking and camping, for several of these students.

After dinner, Frisbee, and hacky sac, I shared a Leave No Trace activity from PEAK (Promoting Environmental Awareness in Kids) packet given to us at the TTEC training. The HS kids had fun discovering how long common discarded objects take to decompose, then Jake went over the 7 Leave No Trace principles using hand gestures to help them remember. They were all great sports and all participated. ATC also provided us with Leave No Trace cards for each of the students.

We enjoyed each other around the campfire before  hitting the sleeping bags in our tents or hammocks. Saturday morning after breakfast, packing up and water testing, we headed out again towards Hot Springs.  These students can hike! Even with heavy loads, they kept a great pace and arrived at the river a lot sooner than expected. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with this great group of students and would recommend other trail club members to connect with your local HS Environmental Science teachers and volunteer your skills.
Jan Onan, CMC

Here’s what some of the students had to say about being on the AT:

"I enjoyed the opportunity to apply textbook knowledge into the real world, which is something that is scarce in conventional education" -Julian
" Hiking through parts of the AT was an incredible experience in which I saw how the environment works in a beautiful, vivid way" -Lindsey
"The experience was a lot of fun. I enjoyed learning how the water filter worked, i also learned about LNT"-Stephanie
" I learned that there is more things happening to the French Broad River than I thought"-Mason
" I really enjoyed being outdoors with friends and just being outside of the classroom but still learning"-Taylor

No comments:

North Carolina NCCAT participants

North Carolina NCCAT participants
At the Wayah Bald Fire Tower

Mary Jane

Mary Jane
On top of Silers Bald