by Community Outreach Director Tom Ottinger
Part of the mission of the Georgia Appalachian Trail Club is to “promote appreciation of the Appalachian Trail and of the natural world in general.” To encourage that appreciation, GATC’s Outreach Program takes over 1500 students out on the Appalachian Trail and other trails each year. This includes students in grades 2 through 12 from Hall, Towns, Union, and White County schools as well as inner city youth in partnership with the Phoenix Boys Association of Atlanta.
In Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv coined the term Nature Deficit Disorder, which he describes as “the psychological, physical and cognitive costs of human alienation from nature, particularly for children in their vulnerable developing years.” GATC’s Outreach works to connect children and youth to the natural world. Activities include classes conducted on the Appalachian Trail, day hikes, backpacking overnights, trail maintenance work, and overnights at the Len Foote Hike Inn. In addition to the curricular material, students learn about stewardship of the outdoors, Leave No Trace ethics, and threats to the environment such as the hemlock woolly adelgid. They also learn to identify native plants and trees.
Perhaps the most important goal of the Outreach program is for students to connect with nature, to be comfortable with it, to value and care for it. In the words of philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset, “I am myself and what is around me; and if I do not save it, it shall not save me.”