On Friday, April 20th we led a group of sixteen enthusiastic students from West Virginia University on an adventure to celebrate Earth Day weekend at the beautiful New River Gorge National Park. It was a journey filled with environmental stewardship, outdoor education, and unforgettable moments.

Our first day began as we gathered at the park headquarters to meet Lorene Hynes, the National Park’s Education Program Manager. With her guidance, we ventured into the park to participate in a tree-planting event organized by “Green Forests Work”. We worked to reforest areas impacted by activities like strip mining within the park. We planted over 1200 trees, learning about the importance of reforestation and the devastating effects of strip mining on the land. It was a hands-on lesson in environmental conservation that left us inspired and hopeful for the future. We all are eager to return in twenty years to witness the growth of the forest we had helped to plant.

As the day drew to a close, we journeyed further south to Camp Brookside Environmental Education Center, a historic retreat nestled on its own island along the New River. The camp, which has been welcoming visitors since 1947, provided us with cozy cabins and a serene setting to unwind. We savored the simple pleasures of camp life, indulging in hotdogs and s’mores over a crackling fire, and engaging in friendly games of ultimate frisbee and hide and seek under the starlit sky.

The following morning greeted us with the promise of new adventures as we gathered around the campfire for one last meal before setting out to explore the river. For some of our group, it was their first time fishing, and they eagerly embraced the opportunity to learn how to bait a hook and cast their lines. With the majestic New River as our backdrop, we spent the morning and early afternoon immersed in the tranquility of nature, casting our lines and marveling at the beauty of our surroundings.

As we bid farewell to New River Gorge National Park and reflected on our weekend adventure, we couldn’t help but feel grateful for the opportunity to celebrate National Park Week and Earth Day weekend as environmental stewards in our own backyard. Our journey was a reminder of the importance of protecting and preserving our natural treasures for future generations to enjoy.

One of the most rewarding parts of the trip was exposing our fellow students to some of the outdoor adventure opportunities we have right here, super close to campus. So many students that attend our university have never explored more of West Virginia besides campus and the downtown parts of Morgantown. This trip was an awesome opportunity to show the students some of the beautiful outdoors this state offers, like Coopers Rock State Forest. A handful of the students who came mentioned to us that they had no idea West Virginia University has its own ropes course and would be interested in returning on their own time. I think we opened the eyes of some of our fellow students to the fact that there is more to West Virginia than just the city of Morgantown. The most rewarding feeling is knowing we sparked a bit of adventure in our fellow students, and we can’t wait to see who will join us at our following events.