Daily Egyptian

Touch of Nature to begin second year of community trail-building event

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Daily Egyptian file photo

Daily Egyptian file photo

Daily Egyptian file photo

By Isabelle Rogers

When Steve Gariepy first started working at Touch of Nature four years ago, the grounds had no trails.

Gariepy, who serves as the environmental education program coordinator, said he had to take school groups to Giant City State Park to hike rather than staying on the 3,100 acres the environmental center owns.

Inspired by this, Gariepy said he decided to initiate Trail Stewardship Days last year. These allow students and community members to come to Touch of Nature to help build a 12-mile stretch of trails in exchange for volunteer hours.

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This year’s Trail Stewardship Days will go from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. every Sunday starting Sept. 29 through Nov. 19.

Volunteers will first receive training, which the center calls “ground school.” Logan Coyce, an environmental educator and sophomore studying horticulture, said during these sessions the trail leaders go over safety precautions, how to use equipment and tools and how to walk on the trail.

Training is followed by a fifteen minute hike out to the trail, where volunteers work for about an hour, take a break and work for another hour, Coyce said.

Gariepy said he likes to lead a group meditation during the break, adding that every guide prefers something different.

“I like to just encourage lively conversation,” Coyce said. “That’s my favorite. Or I like to tell everyone to shut up sometimes and just see how many things you can hear. There’s a lot of sounds out there, but none of them are from people.”

Eventually, Gariepy said the center has much bigger goals than just building trails on Touch of Nature grounds — they want to connect to their trail to a trail that stretches from coast to coast.

The center owns a plot of land behind Crab Orchard Wilderness Area that connects to the River to River Trail, a path that links the Mississippi River to the Ohio River, Gariepy said.

Ideally, hikers should be able to follow Touch of Nature’s trail onto Crab Orchard and Giant City property, where the River to River trail is located. Gariepy said from there, hikers will be able follow the River to River trail to connect to the coast-to-coast Transcontinental American Discovery Trail.  

“I really just love that the students and the community members are … part of something bigger,” Gariepy said.

Student volunteers that work on the trail through Registered Student Organizations get the chance to camp at Touch of Nature for free, Gariepy said.

RSO members can come camp free-of-charge the night before their Trail Stewardship Day shift, and trail guides meet them at the campsite the next day to guide the trail building, he said.

Anyone interested in volunteering can sign up by calling the center or visiting the Touch of Nature website. Gariepy said everyone is welcome.

Coyce said anyone who wants to participate will be able to get something out of it.

“Digging a trail has a pretty permanent impact on the landscape,” Coyce said. “So that 10-foot section that they dug is going to be there throughout the time that they’re at this university and probably until they have their kids coming here. At any point, they can go back out on that trail and say, ‘Hey, I dug this.’”

Staff writer Isabelle Rogers can be reached at irogers@dailyegyptian.com or on Twitter @isabellarogers. 

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