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Hike the Appalachian Trail—and get college credit

Hiker Charles Hayes on the Appalachian Trail in North Carolina.
Ben Lloyd
Hiker Charles Hayes on the Appalachian Trail in North Carolina.

Emory & Henry College is bringing back a program that offers college credit to hike the Appalachian Trail.

The college is situated 15 miles from the Appalachian Trail and is the only educational institution in the country that offers credit for long-distance hiking on the Appalachian Trail.

The Semester-A-Trail program teaches students to make their own meals and prepare for the physical and mental challenges of backcountry hiking.

“It’s really an incredible physical tax on the body,” said Jim Harrison, director of outdoor programs at Emory & Henry College. “We’re preparing students physically.”

The program also teaches students problem solving, nature writing and Appalachian history and culture.

“You’re watching sunsets and sunrises in the Blue Ridge and you realize, 'Wow, I understand why there’s such a profound draw to be in this place,'” Harrison said. “You’re walking through the fields, you’re seeing the farms, you’re exploring the forests. It’s a very special opportunity to experience every aspect of Appalachia, not just what’s going on at town but what’s on the mountain tops.”

Students keep a journal and check in periodically with professors while they’re on the trail. They complete most of their coursework on campus, before and after they complete their hike.

Harrison said the opportunity to hike along the Appalachian Trail offers a glimpse into society where people are less divided than what he typically sees on social media or the news.

“When you get on the trail, so much of that goes away, because when you meet people the most common thing is, ‘How can I help you?’ You see the tendency of our society to help people,” Harrison said.

The program was on pause this year so Emory and Henry Faculty could reevaluate how to best prepare students for long-distance hiking.

They also hired a new professor and made a few changes to the program. Students can now choose to do a 470-mile section of the trail from Georgia to Damascus, Virginia, or attempt the entire Appalachian Trail, continuing their hike northward during the summer.

There are spots for 10 students, including some who transfer from other schools. Applications will be accepted this summer and into the fall.

Roxy Todd is Radio IQ's New River Valley Bureau Chief.