By Catie Beach
Twelve Ohio Wesleyan students spent their spring breaks trailblazing the forests of South Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, working to conserve the forest’s trails and campsite while connecting with their inner spirituality.
The weeklong hike is an annual backpacking trip organized by The Wilderness Ministry, a part of the Chaplain’s office. The theme of this year’s trek, titled “The Ground We Walk,” explored mankind’s relationship with the earth and how humans take care of it.
The group arrived in Sumpter National Forest after a day’s drive, spending the first four days of their trek hiking, camping, and exploring.
“The terrain was very beautiful–lot’s of waterfalls and varied species,” said sophomore Reilly Reynolds.
Before starting their service work on the trail, the group spent their first days getting in touch with their spiritual sides.
Their leaders isolated each hiker on the trail for a few hours at a time, allowing them to decompress and contemplate nature in private.
“I spent some time barefoot, feeling the textures of the ground,” Reynolds said. “I just really got to experience nature in an interesting way. I’ve always held a very high level of respect for my natural surroundings, but the trip heightened that even more.”
The trek, lead by Coalition for Christian Outreach counselor Jamie Zackavitch and alumnae Haley Figlestahler (’13), was a first time backpacking experience for many of the students.
“The trip really challenged my endurance,” said sophomore Scott Woodward. “We were each carrying 20 to 30 pounds on our backs. By the second and third days not only were you feeling the hike of your day, but the day before and the day before that.”
The last two days of the trip consisted of trail maintenance; a service which helps create safe trails and reduce the effects of hiker traffic on the environment.
“We would hike along the trails and cut any branches that were in the way of hikers and if we came across a stream without rocks we would move them there to create bridges,” Woodward said. “We fixed campsites up, raked leaves and took down unregulated ones to reduce negative human impact.”
The participating students’ service work helped them achieve a greater understanding of their role in environment conservation as well as a newfound appreciation for The Wilderness Ministry as a campus resource, according to Reynolds.
“I’d recommend wilderness treks to anyone,” she said.
“It’s a great lesson in teamwork, respecting physical abilities, and letting go of the stresses of everyday life to look at the bigger picture.”