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Perspectives on Outings: Conservation and Outings
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by Dan Souder, Chapter Outings Chair | 2010

It's not that difficult and it is a lot of fun. So get outside and become active in our Chapter Outings Program!

We need some new outings leaders in West Virginia, and one of them could be you. Yes, you! Why? Because you joined the Sierra Club, which means you are probably interested in and concerned about the state of our natural environment. Maybe you joined because of a specific issue, like mountaintop removal, or to save a bit of forest or restore a stream, or maybe you’re here for a more global reason like clean water, energy and climate change. Whatever your environmental “cause,” outdoor activities are a great way to get conservation messages across, and to build support for your issue.

 Taking a break on the Cheat River!

Take clean water, for example. West Virginia is the “birthplace of rivers,” and we know the state has some gorgeous watersheds. Where are these places? What are their stories? I’m new here, so I’m drawn to the biggies, like the New River Gorge, the Cheat, the Youghiogheny, and the Monongahela. But what about the smaller streams? Somebody must know. Has anyone been to Gandy Creek where it sinks underground at Yokum Knob and emerges on the other side? What a cool outing that would be! Are there hiking trails on Deckers Creek? The Tygart Valley River? All these streams need protection, but people have to care about something before they will help it. Getting folks out there to see it is a technique that goes back at least as far as John Muir, the Sierra Club founder. His famous outing to Yosemite with presidential candidate Teddy Roosevelt was instrumental in the establishment of the National Park system after Roosevelt got elected. If we want areas designated for parks, forest preserves, or even wilderness, people have to care enough to support it. In order to care, they have to know about the issues.

Somehow over the years, conservation and outings became separate entities in the Sierra Club, both nationally and locally. I think it was because the Club started taking on conservation issues that were too big for an outing, like developing new energy policies, or fighting corporate agriculture and factory farms. A lady in one of the southern Virginia groups told me one time that they were far too busy dealing with conservation issues to do any outings. Well, okay, but that is a far cry from the old days when John Muir led outings for the express purpose of showing people the forests he was asking them to conserve.

The Sierra Club nationally is trying to increase the diversity of outings participants, while also aligning outings more closely with the conservation goals of the Club. Since many of the most fiercely fought conservation issues are local, and a lot of the folks championing the issue are Sierra Club members who are not regular outings participants, it occurred to me that we might accomplish both goals through some local conservation outings. These are not hard to plan – the issue is usually right there in front of you.

I led a canoe/kayak trip a few years ago at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge on the Chesapeake Bay to show people the threat from a proposed 3600-home development with a golf course on the main tributary about 5 miles upstream from the refuge boundary. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife people were worried about golf course, pavement and household chemicals washing downstream into the refuge, but since the land was 5 miles away, they had no jurisdiction.

This development was supported by the mayor of Cambridge, the Dorchester County Council, and some state politicians. The people on my outing saw several bald eagles, osprey, and a diversity of fish, amphibians, birds and mammals, living in a protected, but already-stressed coastal salt marsh. The fact that this could be damaged further by a developer intent on making a pile of money disturbed many. The hue and cry raised by them and by many others eventually forced the governor to intervene, buy up the land and turn it into a state conservation area to protect the refuge. In the end, we had a good turnout and a great paddle, and did some good.

Look at some of the outings on the new calendar – a lot of these are just regular old hikes, but perhaps a conservation component could be added fairly easily. Sometimes, that’s all it takes. Think about your favorite conservation issue, and how an outing might be structured to explain and show that issue to interested participants. Then contact me and let’s get it moving.

So all right, maybe you’re not all that “outdoorsy.” You don’t know how to build a campfire or set up a tent, and you’re afraid to sleep in the woods. Or perhaps you don’t get around all that well anymore. There are many others like you. At least a few of them would probably enjoy a chance to go for a short nature walk to see a threatened stream, or maybe stroll through a woodland and discuss how to save it. The point is that you don’t need to be Grizzly Adams to lead Sierra Club outings. Pick something that’s within your stamina range, and within your outdoor skills level. Be over 18, a paid-up Sierra Club member, and get the Red Cross basic first aid training. The only other thing you need is the Outings Leader Training 101 class, either on-line or at the workshop I will run at SierraFest. And then lead an outing.

You can do it. See you outside.

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