As the Shawnee Sherpas travel the dusty River-to-River Trail across southern Illinois, their mission, the “Leave No Child Inside Trek,” couldn’t have come at a hotter time of the year.
The Sherpas began their 180-mile hike in Elizabethtown on the Ohio River July 20. According to the GPS coordinates made available on the group’s Facebook page, the Sherpas are nearly half way to their destination at Grand Tower on the Mississippi River.
The Shawnee Sherpa’s, Mitch Belsley, Logan Johnson, Leah Reynolds, Kaia Pirazzini and Joe Wulgaert, are a group of graduate students in exercise science and outdoor recreation.
Belsley said the hike, done in conjunction with the Boys and Girls Club’s summer outdoors program, should take a little more than two weeks.
Despite the long, hot days to come, Belsley feels confident in the Sherpas’ ability to hike the entire trail continuously.
“We’ve been planning the hike and working with the Boys and Girls Club since the spring,” Belsley said. “Me, and the five others hiking the River-to-River trail, hope to encourage kids to get off the couch and out into nature by leading by example.”
He said the program’s main goal is to inspire a strong land ethic within southern Illinois youth by providing outdoor experiences and education throughout the summer season.
The Sherpas hope to recruit what they call the “Four-hundred Heroes” — four-hundred people who each donate $25 to their cause. That money would then go to the Boys and Girls Club, with other donations coming in the form of food drop-offs along the trail.
Randy Osborne, executive director for the Carbondale Boys and Girls Club, an organization providing after-school and summer activities for children 6 to 18 years old, said the club has hosted outdoor-themed programs once a week since late May. He said the activity themes throughout the summer have been based on multiple different aspects of experiencing the outdoors.
“The Sherpas have came to the boys and girl’s club on several different occasions leading nature related team building, fitness, and sustainability exercises,” Osborne said. “They have been out here all summer and have really inspired a lot of the kids with their knowledge and passion for the outdoors.”
Osborne said the Sherpas have planned a rest day today and that he will meet up with them this afternoon to discuss their hike thus far.
On the last day of the Boys and Girls Club’s summer outdoors program Aug. 10, The Sherpas will reunite with the club at Giant City State Park to discuss their hike and close out their summer outdoor program.