Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Lessons from the Trail: Whitefield School students follow a mountain path as their classroom in life and leadership

Jessica Williams & Donna McCusker
Whitefield School
Whitefield, NH

September 22

As rain showers splashed against window panes, most people slept soundly on an early Sunday morning.  However, an intrepid group of students and their teachers met at the Highland Center at the foot of the White Mountains for an adventure of a lifetime.  This was the day that eight middle school students from the Whitefield School Wilderness Explorers were to begin their leadership summit to Mizpah Hut and Mt. Pierce.  Teachers Donna McCusker and Jessica Williams organized the leadership summit as part of their project for Trail to Every Classroom.  The training that they  received at TTEC, their partnership with the Appalachian Mountain Club and funding from a grant through the Waterman Fund enabled the teachers to offer this valuable experience to their students.

Joined by Whitefield teacher Ashley Guilbeault and TTEC advisory council member Janet Steinert, the teachers and students met their AMC guides, Matt Maloney and Olivia Bronson.  Mrs. McCusker and Ms. Williams had met with AMC staff earlier in the summer to plan out instruction that would provide students with curriculum content from the Common Core, intertwined with instruction on leadership skills while participating in a rigorous climb to a mountain summit.   Students learned to read a map, using topographical cues to predict the terrain ahead; to use mathematical skills in the reading and setting of a compass; and to communicate effectively as a group and as student leaders.  Additionally, students practiced the tenets of Leave No Trace while gaining a full appreciation of their environment and of wild spaces.

After some introductory exercises at the Highland Center and a backpack check to make sure everyone was well equipped, the group set out on the Crawford Path.  They began at a sign that provided a history of the path, explaining that the path was the oldest trail in continuous use in the US.  In 1819, Abel Crawford and Ethan Allen completed the Crawford Path, which led to the summit of Mt. Washington, the highest point along the Appalachian Trail north of the Mason-Dixon line. The group slowly climbed up the flank of the mountain, stopping to learn a new concept or to engage in another leadership exercise.

As the students neared Mizpah Hut, the path joined the Appalachian Trail.  Some students exclaimed that they planned to thru hike the AT when they were older.  Matt and Mrs. Steinert had hiked the entire AT and were happy to share their experiences with the students.  Shortly after reaching the junction, the students reached the hut and entered quietly.  After settling into their assigned bunkrooms, the students joined other guests for a scrumptious dinner of stuffed shells, salad, soup, homemade bread with real butter, and a surprise dessert.  The students ate heartily, hungry from a day of hiking in wet conditions.

That evening, students met in the library for a game of Trivial Pursuit, reviewing the concepts they had learned that day.  With energy waning, the students turned in early and quickly settled down for the night—not a common thing for middle school students. But these kids were tired.  They had had a full day of physical and mental exertion.

After breakfast the next morning, the group packed up and began a steep climb along the Appalachian Trail up the side of Mt. Pierce, into the alpine zone at 4310 feet high.  At the summit, the rain stopped long enough for the students to take a snack break and to rest before descending 3.1 miles to the Highland Center.  Matt and Olivia cautioned the students to only step on “durable surfaces,” rocks, for the fragile alpine environment could not endure the tread of hiking boots.  Matt described the flowers and plants that survive the harsh climate and that can only be found in the Arctic and here in the alpine zone of the White Mountains.  With a new appreciation of their environment, the students stepped lightly as the rain pounded down upon them.

As the group picked along the boulders during their descent, students chatted merrily, stumping each other with mind-boggling riddles while stopping to drink water or to eat.  As they neared the end of the trail, Olivia gathered the group for one last exercise.  She instructed the students to reflect upon what they had learned and to recognize a group member for something special that that person had given during this expedition.  One young man announced that he had gained a “passion for the wilderness,” and the group quietly nodded in agreement.  This had been an experience that these young students would not ever forget.

“Miles to go before I sleep…”

Pia Houseal-Allport
School Social Worker 
Seven Generations Charter School
2015 TTEC Cohort

September 14

The woods are lovely, dark and deep, 
But I have promises to keep,   
And miles to go before I sleep,   
And miles to go before I sleep.
- Robert Frost “Stopping by woods on a snowy evening”

I left our week long TTEC professional development invigorated by the energy of my colleagues from George to Maine and stimulated by the engaging dialogue about creative ways to bring the Appalachian Trail alive in our classrooms and ways to bring our classrooms to the Appalachian Trail.  Recognizing that I had miles to go before I completed by commitments, I also left with great intentions to have a solid curriculum completed by the first day of school and multiple hikes to plan with my Seven Generations TTEC colleagues.

The first day of school has come and gone, the curriculum is still to be written and while I went on many hikes with my family, I was not able to connect with colleagues to hit the AT.  The miles I anticipated going so far stalled out.  I was reminded of our conversations with Bob and Max, both through hikers with varied hiking and outdoors experiences, at camp the night of the backpacking trip.  We talked about the various things that had interrupted their miles (illnesses, commitments with family members, etc.).  Often, when we stand in the middle and see that there are miles in every direction, it is hard to see the end goal.

So, this past week, I stopped in to visit with our new sixth graders.  This is the group I will be targeting for this year with my curriculum with hopes to expand throughout the middle school in upcoming years. Coincidentally, the students were working on the top 100 things they would like to accomplish in their life- an activity getting eleven year and twelve years olds thinking about goal setting, both for this year and the years to come. As I circulated the room, things like become a movie star or a basketball player and win the lottery or have my own dog populated the lists, and then I arrived at A’s desk.  Number 1 on her list, the first thing she thought of when asked about goals for her life, was “Hike the Appalachian Trail.” We talked about the TTEC curriculum and how the work that I do with them linked to their social and emotional growth will be linked to hiking and the Appalachian Trail experience this year as well as what she already knew about the Appalachian Trail and how and why it was on her list.  As we talked more and more students joined the conversation and the energy and engaging dialogue that I had experience with colleagues this summer was now palpable in the classroom.

This sign hangs in the ATC headquarters in Harper’s Ferry.  For me, it’s an important reminder that the most important piece is to focus that the long term goal, “leave this world better than when you found it” can be arrived at by taking many varied paths and walking many different miles.  Sometimes, the most important thing to do is just take a walk.  My walk into that 6th grade classroom reinvigorated me on my TTEC path but I knew the energy and excitement of the students to walk these miles together will sustain me this year.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

A Day of LNT: Leave No Trace

Randy Adams
Northside Middle School
Roanoke County Public Schools
2015 TTEC Cohort
September 4, 2015

            The day started off a little cool with a light breeze and high cumulus nimbus clouds floating like giant marshmallow castles in the sky above McAfee’s Knob in Roanoke Virginia.  It was a beautiful day for a hike, but only a few came adequately prepared.   I had not walked this part of the Appalachian Trail in some time, and did notice familiar places, yet some were a little foreign and new.  I was volunteering as a ridge runner for the McAfee’s Knob Taskforce to count, monitor, educate, and assist hikers on one of the “hotspots” of the AT; however, I quickly realized that I would be getting an education on the importance and need of a better awareness of the Leave No Trace Principles.
            On this beautiful day in August, I was accompanied by two other ridge runners/ trail maintainers and my son Noah.  We hiked up at 8 am in the morning, and were met by 15 hikers coming down already from the peak.  Most of these were either day hikers or section hikers, and one trail runner.  My little day pack seemed heavier since I had trained for ridge running a week before, and had added a few more maps, extra water, and more snacks for later on.  I thought that I had adequately prepared for this day hike. 
            The first Leave No Trace principle, and probably most important, is planning.  However, that idea was the one most frequently noticed that most people on this 8 mile hike ignored.  Several groups and families had only one 16 ounce water bottle per person.  This floored me because I drank 2 liters myself and still felt thirsty at the end of the hot and humid trek.  At the top, we ran into a young man who seemed a bit unaware of the lack of water at this time of year.  He was staying at one of the shelters and inquired about where to find water, which the closest to the top was Pig Farm Campsite.   However, this young camper did not have any way to purify the water, so one of my companions gave him a liter of water from his own pack.  Lastly, I would like to say that most people did have adequate footwear; however, I did see several pairs of flip flops, tennis shoes, high tops, and flats.  The idea on this mountainous terrain without the proper footwear, water, and food continues to worry me.  
            The next principle of LNT that was disturbing to encounter was the idea of traveling on durable surfaces.  On McAfee’s Knob there is the AT, and then there is the fire road, which when combined make a loop.  However, many of the hikers that seemed unprepared took the fire road up and back.  I did not realize that people had lived up on McAfee’s Knob until the 1980’s, and the fire road was their driveway!  In addition, we noticed many side trails and hidden trails that lead often to illegal campsites and fire rings.  By law, camping is restricted to only the shelters and designated camp sites, but every week new camp sites are found and new fire rings have to be disassembled.  I was glad that my companion Jim was extremely knowledgeable about the trail maintenance, he shared storehouse of information with us. 
            The third principle of LNT is Disposing of Waste properly.  However, as we collected the visible garbage, there were several little “white tents” of human waste remains as close as 10ft to the trail.  In addition, this waste was not buried the appropriate 6 inches in depth, which was disturbing because there were two privies on the route to the top.  Furthermore, we collected at least 5 pounds of bottles, cans, and plastics while hiking.  However, we left an illegal fire ring contents of tin cans for the next day when the trail maintainers would be returning for a “work hike”.  The idea that my fellow hikers would leave this much trash on purpose is beyond my understanding of those who say the love the journey of the hike. 
            The next LNT Principle of respecting wildlife is directly connected to the trash issue at McAfee’s Knob.  In plain and exacting detail, on several kiosks and shelters, were signs warning group of teenagers with their mom, I noticed crackers thrown about the Knob at the overlook.  I thought to myself, “bear nibbles”, and looked at the teenagers who were eating their lunch by this time, and noticed that they were throwing their unwanted parts off the overlook!  My next thought was the bear will be waiting on the fire road if karma was rebounding that day.  Lastly, I did see that most people were leashing their dogs and had brought extra water for their best friends.  However, one gentleman was trail running with his dog off leash while listening to a portable speaker on his back pack—two LNT at one time.   Overall, I was pleased with the respect of wildlife I noticed in most people. 
            Along with respecting wildlife, the LNT principle of Leave What You Find covers nonliving and living things alike.  I know that finding a Native American arrow head would be extremely cool addition to my collection; however, if the next person doesn’t get to see it too, that would be an equal tragedy.  Collecting wildflowers or native ginseng along the trail may seem just being sustainable, but even if only a few of the thousands of hikers did this, then there wouldn’t be much left behind.  In the McAfee Knob area, I see this principle really connected to respecting wildlife because what I saw was graffiti at several locations.  Why can’t we leave the natural beauty to itself and not put our impermanent marks of destruction?  However, there was a graffiti that will last the test of time, because someone actually chiseled their name into a rock at the top of the Knob!
            Leave No Trace Principle number six is to minimize your impact of fire.  Upon reaching the top of McAfee’s Knob that day, we became aware that someone had an open fire right there at the ledge because they did not have the respect of both the law and the common courtesy of cleaning up your own mess.  We took the ashes from the illegal fire and dispersed them into the woods.  After this, we were shown by Jim several illegal fire ring areas that are frequently broken up by the maintenance crew of the RATC.  I think that if people were taught about the effects of building a fire on natural ground, then they might be hesitant in making illegal fires.   In addition, the need to reduce the risk for forest fires in the dry times is evident in this area.  
            The last LNT Principle is being considerate of your fellow hikers and their journey on the trail.  Overall, the people were friendly and receptive to us talking and offering advice for the trail.  The few things I saw this day were:  illegal consumption of alcohol by two different couples, several groups of loud and rambunctious teenagers and college students, loud music being played on a speaker on the trail, and the etiquette of not giving way by students going up trail to those going down trail.  However, as I said most of the people were there with the right mindset for hiking, enjoying, and sharing the trail. 
            So, what can we do?   It seems like I saw all of the things that we discussed in ridge runner training in one day.  I see that we need this service of educating, helping, and making people aware of the Leave No Trace Principles.    First, we need more volunteers from all walks of life and ages.   Secondly, I think that since McAfee’s Knob is a hot spot with hundreds of people visiting mainly on the weekends that a deeper Ranger presence would be helpful.   In addition, I think that since the AT is getting media attention for the upcoming book A Walk in the Woods, that a media campaign to educate the locality.  Maybe, local students could raise awareness through some sort of art or public service project?  Roanoke will be getting a visit by the Leave No Trace National Trainers, which will be coming by Northside Middle School as a connection to our science classes.  If we don’t increase the awareness of LNT Principles, what I have seen in one day to negatively affect the future of McAfee’s Knob as the most visited and photographed location on the Appalachian Trail.

North Carolina NCCAT participants

North Carolina NCCAT participants
At the Wayah Bald Fire Tower

Mary Jane

Mary Jane
On top of Silers Bald