By Andrea Jones
Georgia State University nursing student Carol Wong said the moment she saw a brochure for the Touch the Earth program from the Student Recreation Center, she was hooked.
Backpacking, horseback riding, canoeing – all were trips that had Wong bubbling with excitement.
“I went to the Touch the Earth office before I even went to my first class,” she said. “I just couldn't wait to sign up.”
Since then, Wong, a self-described “tree hugger” has canoed through the Everglades, day hiked in the Georgia mountains and done a host of other outdoor activities with the Touch the Earth Program.
“It’s been absolutely amazing,” she said.
More than 1,000 Georgia State participants go on more than 100 excursions a year with Touch the Earth, run through the university’s rec center. The program offers trips from snowboarding to kayaking, for a minimal cost, with GSU guides leading the way.
Touch the Earth director Carson Tortorige said faculty staff and students take home more than just new friendships from the excursions.
“They come home with an earful of knowledge – from flora and fauna to natural history,” he said, “It’s a great learning experience.”
Tyson Lockhart, a GSU senior who thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2006, said he loves leading whitewater rafting trips down the Nantahala River. Lockhart said he plans to become a professional guide after graduation and the Touch the Earth program has served as a great training ground. Trips are generally geared to beginners and foster bonding, he said. They’re also a great deal – with hiking trips running from just $8 for students.
Participants learn the golden rule of nature: to take only photographs and leave only footprints.
The programs aren’t just limited to students, faculty and staff. GSU participants can also bring guests, who are charged a slightly higher fee for the excursions. Upcoming backpacking trips include a backcountry excursion through Vogel State Park in north Georgia and a fall color tour in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Prior experience isn't required and in most cases, all equipment and transportation are provided. You can register for Touch the Earth trips at the Outdoor Equipment Rental Center, located in the lower level of the Student Recreation Center.
Wong said Touch the Earth has changed her university experience.
“People say, ‘Don’t you want to finish school in a hurry?’ I tell them, ‘No, I want to work full-time and go to school part-time so I can go on all these amazing trips.’”
For more information, visit http://www2.gsu.edu/~wwwrec/touch/