Thursday, January 28, 2016

Refurbishing a School Trail

Donna McCusker & Jessica Williams
The Whitefield School
Whitefield, NH

Wow wee, it's really going to happen! On December 6 a group of invested community members, teachers, administrators and students met to remove very old and decomposing bog bridges from many many years ago; well over 20 bridges. In addition, we did some clearing and planning. Okay , so how did we get to this point? First of all, teachers and students consulted with the Appalachian Mountain Club who came out and gave wonderful insight as to what direction we needed to take with what we had. Afterwards we did a very intense mailing to the community with our intentions for the school trail, held a community meeting and things began to happen.
So what are our next steps? We have secured folks and material to build brand new bridges. Next, we will choose a Trail Day which is when we will put in the new bridges and the students will continue with any needed trail maintenance. We look forward to giving you an update in the spring!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Closing thoughts on a wonderful opportunity…

 James Garst
Andrew Lewis Middle School
Salem, VA 24153

I recently had the opportunity to wrap up the third workshop of the TTEC Series. Throughout the course of the day, I had the opportunity to reflect on the program as a whole and plan how the program will impact my school.

As an administrator in the program, my experience has been quite different. The workshops have provided me with a skeleton framework that I can now provide to teachers in my school that are interested in pursuing the TTEC theme in their classroom. I also have been able to create a unique hiking club geared primarily towards getting at risk youth working and hiking on our beloved Appalachian Trail.

Most importantly, the program has instilled an everlasting love of the Appalachian Trail and all of the hidden magic it beholds. After the final workshop, I took my two young sons (Jackson- 4 and Parker-2) hiking on the AT for the first time together. (Jackson had previously done a few shorter hikes with me). We walked south form the 311 parking lot in Catawba, VA. We only walked about half a mile before we encountered a beautiful view of the entire Catawba Valley. 

Both Jackson and Parker signed the trailhead register for the first time . Their chicken scratch toddler writing was proudly posted next to the poetic lines of thru hikers and day hikers alike. 
Most importantly, the program has instilled an everlasting love of the Appalachian Trail and all of the hidden magic it beholds. After the final workshop, I took my two young sons (Jackson- 4 and Parker-2) hiking on the AT for the first time together. (Jackson had previously done a few shorter hikes with me). We walked south form the 311 parking lot in Catawba, VA. We only walked about half a mile before we encountered a beautiful view of the entire Catawba Valley. Both Jackson and Parker signed the trailhead register for the first time (picture). Their chicken scratch toddler writing was proudly posted next to the poetic lines of thru hikers and day hikers alike. 

We played ‘follow the white blaze’ each taking turns being the leader. We played the traditional hide and seek at our destination. We also played ‘pick up the trash’ – a game that daddy invented on the walk out. While I was supposed to be counting during our epic game of hide and seek, I sat quietly and for once felt I had a true appreciation of what the AT is and what it stands for.

I returned to school the following week rejuvenated and inspired to continue on with the hiking club. Our first meeting was a true success with 22 kids showing up. Our next meeting will be spent planning the spring semester so we can get out on the trail!

Happy trails to the wonderful folks with the ATC and those hands that helped the TTEC program!

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Community, near and far

Megan Capuano
South Middleton School District
W. G. Rice Elementary
Boiling Springs, PA
1st RTC hike of 2015: Mid-Atantic ATC office, Boiling Springs

According to Merriam-Webster, community means a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals. Wikipedia states that a sense of community is a concept which focuses on the experience of community rather than its structure, formation, setting, or other features. We are members of many communities and in my lifetime the sense of community has been empathetic, compassionate, and helpful.

The last few years I have been feeling that the sense of community is shifting to be less helpful, less compassionate. I realize I have a pretty sheltered outlook but it has always felt like humans wanted to watch out for each other and human kindness drove our actions. Now, social media is filled with videos of people doing bad things and celebrating in mistakes made by others. Videos showcasing pain and suffering are being shared with “LOL” captions. Inhumanity is being promoted as the norm and that is sad to me.
Last RTC hike of 2015: Hawk Rock

The community of Trails To Every Classroom (TTEC) shares a positive, compassionate, helpful, and sincere sense of community. TTEC is a network of people, teachers and students, all humans all looking to make the world a better place. We come together as a community to share our common love, the Appalachian Trail (AT).

I have lived within ten miles of the AT my entire life but I probably spent only a few hours on it until two summers ago. I decided to train for an ultra-marathon and that requires many hours running trails. I fell in love immediately and now I spend free weekends running the AT and plan to continue running North and South. I am a part of the AT community.

Since I started my love affair with the white blazes, I have introduced the trail to others. My sweetie hails from Colorado and fell in love with the AT on his first run. It is very different than hiking in the Rockies. Our kids have hiked with us. I have introduced trail running to a few friends. My favorite accomplishment is the Ready To Climb program where I introduced the trail to ten 4th grade boys. Only one had been on the trail before the program. I talk with their parents periodically and everyone has taken their family onto the trail. They want to do the program again. They want to hike and they want to be on the AT. Everyone I have taken to the trail is now a part of the AT community.

TTEC accomplishes more than having teachers write curriculum for the AT, it expands the Appalachian Trail community and adds to a positive, compassionate sense of community. When the TTEC teachers came together as a group this past summer it felt good knowing that I could talk to any person at the resort and have something in common – the Appalachian Trail. I am not a hiker and really I’m not even very outdoorsy but I love the AT – truly, I am in love and would marry it if I could and I’m not even the marrying type :-). But I still have something in common with a thru hiker.

The community!! TTEC works to bring others into the wonderful world of the AT and the outdoors. Being in nature and feeling love makes it difficult to hate. Trails To Every Classroom is reaching another generation to join the Appalachian Trail community.

Don't underestimate the power of your vision to change the world. Whether that world is your office, your community, an industry or a global movement, you need to have a core belief that what you contribute can fundamentally change the paradigm or way of thinking about problems. ~Leroy Hood

Thursday, January 14, 2016


Jackie Simmons
Specialist for students with hearing loss
Carteret County Schools, NC
TTEC 2015

I am privileged to be part of the Trail to Every Classroom program. I live on the coast of North Carolina in what I refer to as The Promise Land and a little piece of Paradise. My YO-HI (yoga and hiking program ) will begin in one our local high schools here in January. All that said, my connections with the Appalachian Trail are challenged by my distance as you can well imagine.
In my last hike on the Appalachian Trail, I found myself for a couple of nights in the hostel in Damascus, Virginia. There were few hikers, but there were several long distance cyclists stopping in for a rest spot, to take showers, or simply to regroup as most backpackers do. It was through them I discovered an online hospitality website called It hosts long distance cyclists offering them a place to camp, a bedroom, meals, transportation, or whatever the host is able to provide. I joined when I returned home to give back in some capacity and return some of the kindness shown to me as a backpacker.

I have hosted cyclists from all over the world on all different sorts of adventures. They have come from different walks of life: the financial world, teachers, a lifeguard, a detective, a policeman…much like the AT hiking community. As much as I would like to live under a rock sometimes, I know we are all built for community. We should take care of each other, share stories and information and be kind to those who cross our path. We should listen. 

My most recent guest was not a cyclist, but a long distance backpacker. He was on a long distance hike from Key West, Florida to the Canadian border. He was a previous AT section hiker and completed the entire trail as well as hiking cross country in sections. He was supported by his lovely wife. It was so nice to connect with a hiker through a cyclists hospitality website. They stayed with me for three evenings, and shared in people and places in my coastal community.

Community requires commitment. It is an integral part of the TTEC program. It is also important to us as individuals. Cultivating commitment requires giving of your time and your resources …sacrificially sometimes. Cultivating community requires a general interest and compassion for people that comes with frequency. We all know one of the benefits of hiking the AT is the community we encounter. Build and cultivate community wherever you are. You never know the connections made. Those you serve will remember your hospitality and investment in their journey! And…join!

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

TTEC Fall Workshop: Hot Springs, NC: September 17-19, 2015

Roland Tester
U.S. Government Teacher
Daniel Boone High School
Gray, Tennessee

Summer and Thursday afternoon were fading when I arrived in Hot Springs, via Mars Hill and sundry hamlets on the road through Western North Carolina; one of my favorite regions to ramble around. I am reasonably familiar with Hot Springs, but I had never been to (or even heard of) my destination, The Sunnybank Inn. I found the address, and pulled into a driveway occupied by a number of cars bearing progressive/liberal/pro-environmental bumperstickers. 

Figuring I had found the right place, I walked up to the house. Shelves and cabinets and bookcases filled with pottery, books, and trail needs/gifts/trades crowded the porch. I knocked on the door and stepped into a very clean and incredibly equipped and supplied kitchen: bundles of herbs, peppers, and spices dangling hither and fro; burnished pots and pans and gleaming utensils hanging by the dozens; notes, books, photos, prints, and paintings peeking out from every nook and cupboard. A dry erase board was on the fridge, and my name was on it (spelled correctly even!)

No one appeared to be around. “Hello?” I called.

I waited a couple of minutes and went a bit further in, “HELLO?”

I then got a response: “Ruh-Roof!”

A curious Border Collie/Dalmatian/HeinzHound57 came ambling out. We quickly became friends due to our good natures and the bag of Canine Carry-Outs I habitually carry in a pocket. We wandered around the house (if I may use such a pedestrian description for the Sunnybank Retreat) for a bit, and I marveled at the d├ęcor; the furniture, the lamps and ancient fixtures, the curios, relics, statues, and the shelves and shelves of books. My new friend and I hung out for a little while. Eventually some humans showed up. I was delighted to see familiar faces from the Southern Cohort and the ATC staff. I was introduced to our host, Mr. Elmer Hall, and found out my four-legged friend was known as Jimmy Carter. Elmer gave us all (as more and more of the TTEC crew drifted in over the next few hours) a semi-formal walkabout of the Inn, and showed me my room (wonderful accommodations).

Elmer had mentioned that meals at the Sunnybank Inn were exclusively vegetarian; he explained that the Inn hosted so many Hindu groups and families, (?) that he had gone vegetarian with all the meals just to simplify things. Being a carnivore, I raised an eyebrow at this, but as the first breakfast was served, my slight misgivings were dispelled; everything Elmer and his crew made was incredible. Following breakfast, Elmer gave us a detailed history of the town of Hot Springs and the Sunnybank Inn, including a number of anecdotes of the many memorable characters that have stayed there over the past several decades.

Our cohort went on a Discovery Quest up and around to the west. We visited one of the hostels, tracked and counted the AT markers down the sidewalk (The AT runs through the middle of the town), visited a number of cultural/historical sites, generally checked out the town, and had a fine lunch at the Smokey Mountain Diner (highly recommended), 

We then embarked on our main activity of the day, the Lover’s Leap Hike. We noted native flora and fauna, looked for invasive species, and discussed seasonal differences in the plant life along various sections of the AT (I confess, before these workshops, I had never heard the term “Phenology”, much less knew that it was a defined and dedicated field of study). The hike was wonderful and the views were spectacular. 

After the hike, we did a session in the mineral waters of the Hot Springs Resort, and although it was pleasant, I reflected that it was nothing out of the ordinary; the gym I go to actually has a much larger and nicer Jacuzzi. “Taking the Waters”, one of the primary reasons for the existence of Hot Springs as a town, has in my opinion, become rather mundane. We finished the day with an outstanding supper from Elmer and his crew. 

After another amazing breakfast (I don’t know how Elmer managed to make vegetarian gravy taste so incredibly good), the cohort traipsed down to the Hot Springs Public Library (many people don’t realize what a boon even a modest library is to a small, rather isolated town) where we could catch a Wi-Fi signal, and organize and put the final touches on our TTEC lesson and unit presentations. Finishing these at the last second in true “grad student” style, we hurried back to the Sunnybank and gave our presentations We discussed, critiqued, suggested, and networked (with a break for an excellent lunch) way up into Saturday afternoon. 

At the last, our mentors and guides from the ATC/TTEC had prepared a special ceremony for the members of the Southern Regional Cohort completing the TTEC program. We walked into the side yard, where we were given accolades and a rather nice certificate of completion from the ATC and the National Parks Service. We were charged with keeping the spirit of wild places and wilderness beating within our hearts, and instilling a sense of community and stewardship within the hearts of our students. I take this very seriously, and I feel honored to be entrusted with this.

As with all of our workshops, the only thing I disliked was the fact that it had to come to an end, and I had to say farewell to wonderful places, and more importantly, people that I had become very attached to. My experience with the TTEC and my involvement with the ATC make me feel like a part of an extended family, and part of something much greater than myself; something that began long before I arrived on the scene, and something that will continue long after I have moved on. I’m a better person for the experience. Thank you all for everything this year

Monday, January 11, 2016

Mountaintops and Milestones

Rebekah Lang
6th and 7th grade English, The Swain School
Allentown, PA
TTEC 2015

This is my Mountaintops and Milestones bulletin board where all students can set goals and celebrate accomplishments by adding their mark on the board. It has grown since the beginning of the year and is a constant reminder of the Appalachian Trail and the metaphor of "The Trail Less Traveled" in my classroom.

I was inspired by Block City to have my 7th grade English students create model towns for our novel The Outsiders. We considered how the plot of the book was effected by the setting. It doesn't quite connect back the the AT or land use, but I think it very well could in future years. 

I do not have a complete plan for the curriculum yet, however I do plan to continue to use the guide to teaching Leave No Trace that was given to us at a workshop. I have also woven many of the activities informally presented to us at TTEC in my classroom.
This is our decomposition matching and sorting activity (learned at our Spring workshop).

Thanks for an incredible PD experience. My students have already benefited from the few lessons I've already completed. I will continue to implement the unit intermittently and then really focus in strong in January.

Here are students from my advisory and one other I combined with measuring the years of trash they've picked up from our green space.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Let Me Introduce You to the Neusiok Trail

Jackie Simmons
Specialist for students with hearing loss
Carteret County Schools, NC
TTEC 2015

Since I live so far away from the Appalachian Trail, our hikes will be done in large part for our Trail to Every Classroom education on The Neusiok Trail. It is here we will educate our students on Leave No Trace principles and hiking safety. Because of our coastal climate, this hike can really only be done in late fall and winter because of mosquitoes…late October to maybe early May. It will be the trail where we prepare for our Appalachian Trail hike at the end of our program. So if you ever are in eastern NC, you should come and enjoy this beautiful hike! It can be accessed from Havelock or Newport, NC.


The Neusiok Trail winds more than 20 miles from a sandy beach on the Neuse River to a salt marsh on the Newport River.

In between, the trail crosses cypress swamps, hardwood ridges, longleaf-pine savannah and pocosin—shrubby bogs common to the Carolina coast. Look for signs of those who walked this way before—from native Indians to early settlers, woodsmen and moonshiners. The trail is diverse in plant life and is supported by a series of boardwalks. Wear your best hiking boots! Your feet will probably get wet on one of the sections

You can camp anywhere or use the three shelters on the trail! The Neusiok is also a part of the 900 mile Mountains to Sea Trail here in North Carolina. Featured in Backpacker Magazine, it really is a lovely place to hike!

Monday, January 4, 2016

TTEC - A Powerful Agent for Change

Barbara Lindtner
Seven Generations Charter School
Emmaus, PA
TTEC 2015

It all started with an email. And the excitement was palpable as we read comments from our admin Alison. She describes TTEC as “an absolutely AMAZING experience, you get to stay at the National Conservation Center for FREE, you BELONG there”. Alison is very persuasive, but she didn’t have to work too hard. The four of us applied and were ecstatic to take on the challenge and adventure of learning and connecting to the Appalachian trail. And it has been an incredible journey of friendships, new relationships, and writing curriculum to connect our students to the AT. 

Meeting Karen Lutz was one of the first gems in the story. Karen was like a den mother watching over a bunch of 15 year olds. She giggled often as she said, “well you will just love our week in Shepherdstown, WV”. A great leader, Karen laid the bread crumbs for us to follow on our first cohort meeting in Virginia. Meeting Betty Gatewood was another special part of that first weekend together. She reminded us to open our eyes and see the world from a different color, and connect those colors to writing. Nature journaling – stop, draw the beautiful things we see as we walk the path and write notes. A simple lesson I have used many times since with my students on our hikes and field trips.

All the new relationships-Cody, Tyler, Megan, David, Jill, John, Donna, Rebekah, and Karen -- I can’t wait to see what we do with our work! And deepening of our friendships - Pia and Kim you are such amazing people and teachers!

One of the great takeaways from that weekend for us from 7Gen was learning about the Leave No Trace Principles. We all realized sitting in that conference room that while we hike and use the outside as a context for learning, our students didn’t practice these principles, didn’t even know them.  And Kim connected it all. She did the work and the creative process of developing an easy approach to teaching the curriculum for our students, teachers and 7Gen. It was an exciting beginning!

The week at the National Convention Center was over the top—meeting new people, incredibly talented people that came together to share their lives and stories. All of it was centered around making connections for kids to the Appalachian trail. It was a truly amazing experience.

Our last weekend in New Jersey at the Mohican Outdoor Center Lodge was probably the most memorable of all three weekends as we came together to share ideas, work and humor! Love you MidAtlantic Cohort! The Mohican Center was a warm place, where we all packed into a space that was fairly intimate. Meeting Estelle Ruppert, who wrote a book I have been using in my classroom --PA Land Choices and taking a beautiful hike were some of my highlights. But the best part was sitting around a fire, telling stories. And yes, I really did do all that stuff! It was a perfect ending to a wonderful series of workshops.

As I sit here in late December, I am the only one left at my school from our cohort. For various reasons, my friends have moved on to other professional endeavors. The TTEC experience was about more than friendships, writing curriculum and hiking. This experience has served to underscore for each of us what we want to do in life. Yes, it’s about how to make our own lives richer by doing what we think is important. TTEC is a powerful tool, an agent for change. Perhaps we will reconnect and share some stories, somewhere along the trail, somewhere in our lives.

North Carolina NCCAT participants

North Carolina NCCAT participants
At the Wayah Bald Fire Tower

Mary Jane

Mary Jane
On top of Silers Bald