This past weekend during Fall Break, 22 new first-year and transfer students joined New Student Programs for an Alternative Service Break to Asheville, North Carolina. The break, which focused on the environmental, economic, and cultural impacts of the Blue Ridge Parkway, challenged students notions of conservationism and tourism while developing their understanding of environmental justice.
Beginning with a visit to the National Park Service Headquarters, the team learned about the operations necessary to preserve the Parkway, North Carolina’s largest national park, and how the team could spread awareness and engage with the park in ways that promote conservationism. Later in the weekend, the team would return to learn hiking and trail etiquette from Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway volunteers as well as visit the Folk Art Center, which places mountain culture at the center of the Parkway visitor’s experiences.
Putting their learning about conservation to practice, on Friday, the team then volunteered with Riverlink, a local Asheville organization that works to reclaim contaminated lands for public use. They worked in Karen
Cragnolin Park removing invasive species, clearing space around native saplings to give them ample room to thrive, and removing plastic from the fencing surrounding the park to improve park visibility and access. Taking things a step further, students also had the opportunity to learn to connect with and learn from the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project (ASAP) as well as eat at a local farm-to-table restaurant to learn about the real world examples of the intersectionality between conservationism through agriculture and economic development and tourism. ” One of the best ways to serve is to go out and find out what needs to be done by talking to the community,” one participant articulated at that evening’s team reflection.
To round out their experience, the team visited the Museum of the Cherokee Indian in Cherokee, NC. In visiting the museum and listening to Native storytellers at the evening bonfire, students garnered a perspective of the Cherokee nation before land development, as well as the impacts that development, including that of the Parkway, has had on their communities. One participant articulated, “having the opportunity to speak with people who are passionate and wholly devoted to their community was an unforgettable experience.
Hearing about their stories and experiences motivates me to continue my pursuit of engagement and service in my own community.” Before heading back to Raleigh, the team reflected upon the experiences of the weekend. They developed a definition of service, analyzed their role as community members, and re-affirmed their commitments to service upon returning to NC State:
“No textbook or lecture can teach you the same knowledge as the real-life experiences and interactions that we have had here. We must take these experiences and apply them to ourselves wherever we go. Anyone and everyone can work to create a better world through service…”
To learn more about Alternative Service Break opportunities at NC State, visit the Center for Student Leadership, Ethics and Public Service (CSLEPS).