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Lopers immerse themselves in nature, Appalachian Mountains

The UNK Outdoor Adventures group explore the forest and rolling hills of Kentucky. Courtesy photo from Outdoor Adventures

Over spring break, some students crave opportunities to immerse themselves in nature. This year, UNK offered the perfect solution: backpacking through the Appalachian Mountains. 

The trip was held by UNK Outdoor Adventures and coordinated by Justin Stout. While the trip was supposed to last from March 10-19, cold weather cut the trip two days short.

Stout and 11 students embarked early Friday morning to seek adventure. After leaving Lincoln and completing a nearly 12 hour drive, they made it to the lush forest and rolling hills of Kentucky. 

The next day, the group took a historic tour of Mammoth Cave National Park, the largest cave system in the United States. The group continued their journey by driving to Fort Mountain State Park in Georgia. 

That night, they set up camp and worked together to pitch their own tents. Stout said they also did “full bear hangs” every night to keep their food safe in the trees. 

On the third day, the official backpacking began. 

The group used Neels Gap, a high area at the base of Frogtown Creek, to launch their expedition. From Monday to Thursday, the group spent their time weaving through the trails of the Appalachian Mountains and exploring the wilderness together. 

The group saw many wonders of nature while hiking.

“It’s really interesting to see the frost come out in the morning and just how the soil works out there,” Stout said. “Ice basically pushes out of the ground like straws, which is one of the coolest kinds of features out there.” 

Stout also saw a luna moth resting on a rock off the trail. Luna moths are seafoam-green moths that can grow up to 4.5 inches. They are also rarely seen by humans. 

The group also went to Amicalola Falls State Park, where they saw the 

tallest waterfall in Georgia. According to Amicalola Falls Lodge, it is known for its tumbling waters and height of 729 feet. 

Tyler Miller, a freshman studying social work, said he would sit outside his tent at night and stargaze. He admired the stars nestled in the clouds, while listening to the owls hooting around the campground. 

The group bonded with one another by chatting with their tent partners at night or snacking during breaks. 

“Justin told all of us that we all are gonna become best friends,” said Emma Ziemba, a sophomore studying recreation management. “And he was right.” 

The students also met other hikers on the trail that had plenty of stories to tell and used “trail names.”

“One guy was named ‘Tin Oil’ because his shoe squeaked and needed oil,” Miller said. “We (students) all gave each other trail names. Mine was ‘Magic Man’ because I do magic with cards.” 

Students also learned more about themselves in the Appalachian Mountains.

Ziemba discovered she could go outside of her physical comfort zone after she hiked a little over 26 miles. 

“I found that my body is capable of being much more than I ever thought,” Ziemba said. “Some of the hiking stuff we did was super, super steep but I just kept going and felt great.”

Miller said he also enjoyed a break from technology while on the trip. 

“I wasn’t on my phone for more than five minutes a day during the whole time we were hiking,” Miller said. “It was just nice to get away from all that and be out in the wilderness.” 

UNK Outdoor Adventures provided all students with transportation and camping supplies. 

These supplies include backpacks, sleeping bags and pads, food, cooking gear and all other expensive camping items. 

These expenses were covered by the $425 to $450 payment students made, depending on if they signed up on the early or later date. 

The next trip held by UNK Outdoor Adventures will be the Horseshoe Canyon Ranch Climbing trip in Jasper, Arkansas. The outing will be from April 27-30. 

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