Waterway journey takes Appalachian students from mountaintop to ocean

  • The students and trip leader begin their journey at Grandfather Mountain with a morning send-off ceremony. Photo credit: Rich Campbell, associate director of University Recreation.

Ten undergraduate students, one graduate student and one staff member of Appalachian State University ventured 427 miles by hiking, funyaking, canoeing, kayaking and sailing through some of North and South Carolina's best-known waterways—implementing the first Outdoor Program's Source to Sea trip.

From the mountaintop to ocean

The group started the month-long expedition with a morning send-off ceremony with family and friends at Grandfather Mountain's Mile High Swinging Bridge on May 10. After a 12-mile hike down Wilson Creek to the small community of Mortimer, N.C., the group loaded up their rafts and rode the whitewater of the Wilson Creek Gorge.

Wilson Creek flows into Johns River which took the group to the Catawba River and its chain of lakes and reservoirs, which included Rhodhiss, Hickory, Lookout Shoals, Norman, Mountain Island, Wylie and Wateree. Near Great Falls, S.C., the Catawba River becomes the Wateree River, and the journey continued through the Palmetto State. After navigating the Wateree and Congaree Rivers, the group paddled the length of Lake Marion to the Santee River. The Santee flows almost 90 miles to the Atlantic Ocean, near Georgetown, S.C., where the journey reached its final destination.

Throughout the expedition students:

  • Camped in state parks, on public lands, riverside campsites and where private landowners provided access. The students experienced generous hospitality from families.

    Brian Murphy, a rising sophomore environmental science major from Atlanta, Ga., wrote in the Source to Sea's blog: "I have been amazed to see how helpful people have been to us along our journey. I am so glad there are still people around that are willing to go out of their way to lend a helping hand when sometimes, it feels like no one would."

  • Participated in service-learning projects with the Catawba Indian Reservation and the National Whitewater Center to help give back to the communities they traveled through and improve the waterways. The group helped clean up along the riverside and helped clear trails that were covered in debris.
  • Visited the Catawba Indian Reservation, Great Falls Reservoir, Lansford Canal State Park, Lake Norman State Park, Santee State Park on Lake Marion and more.
  • Minimized their carbon footprint by starting the trip locally and traveling the 427 miles by human power.

    "Along the way we practiced Leave No Trace which is an environmentally friendly method of outdoor travel," said Wes Overvold, a rising junior technical photography major and trip leader of Outdoor Programs from Savannah, Ga. "For example not burning trash—whatever you bring with you, you take back with you."

Where did Source to Sea originate?

The inaugural waterway experience was part of an academic course offered by Appalachian's Outdoor Programs. Students met throughout the spring to prepare for the journey. Through readings, guest lectures, field trips and discussions, the students learned about the history of the river corridor and the people who live along its banks. Academic credit was given through interdisciplinary studies, recreation management and physical education.

"I was inspired by the idea of beginning a continuous journey from our own backyard," said David Hutchison, Outdoor Programs coordinator and trip leader.

"Our outdoor learning expeditions at Outdoor Programs have taken Appalachian students across the continent and across the globe for the past 13 years. More than just an overnight or weeklong experience, these adventures are true expeditions of discovery, immersing students in a new and challenging environment for a month or longer. After traveling so far to get to some of our destinations, I wanted to do something big and begin it close to home."

Overvold said, "As a trip leader with Outdoor Programs, I learned so much about working with groups on this trip, meeting new people and discovering everyone's strengths and weaknesses, and taking advantage of their strong suits.

"I find that you learn so much about yourself in outdoor environments than any other environment. It's not about going out and surviving, it's really about thriving."

Meredith Hinson, rising sophomore recreation management major from Gastonia, N.C., wrote on the blog, "The most refreshing part about this trip is the ability to live simply.It is an awesome feeling to be able to travel for weeks with only a pack, a couple pairs of clothing, food and myself.Being away from real life is amazing, and I will definitely be sad to return to civilization."

Outdoor Programs at Appalachian

Appalachian's Outdoor Programs was organized in 1973 to encourage students, faculty and staff to explore outdoor adventure and education while taking advantage of the mountain environment in the Boone area. The program has now expanded into a comprehensive outdoor adventure center for the campus. It operates an indoor climbing facility and offers gear rentals for personal adventures, team-building courses for classes and groups, workshops and clinics, outdoor adventure day trips, extended break trips and multi-week summer expeditions.