May 1, 2020
Written by Carter Brackman
This month, the world celebrated the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. It was first celebrated on April 22, 1970 with the purpose of raising awareness on the negative impact mankind has on the environment and the earth as a whole. Gaylord Nelson, who was the senator of Wisconsin in 1969, founded the idea with the hope of inspiring all Americans to environmental awareness. He witnessed a massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California that infused energy and passion into the cause.
What began as a small awareness project has grown to be one of the largest secular observance days in the world. According to earthday.org, more than a billion people participate in the day each year. Social media feeds are flooded with pictures of the most beautiful places in the world. From the professional photo of the Grand Tetons to the backyard sunset photo taken on an iPhone, the world takes a moment to recognize the beauty of this planet.
The initial movement of Earth Day promoted that people are polluters to the earth, causing its toxic decline. The goal of the movement is to bring the grandeur of natural creation to the forefront, in hopes people will reevaluate their lifestyles to keep that creation flourishing. But what if people are focusing on the wrong thing? What if the “sustaining creation” is only the first step?
Psalm 95:4-5 says, “In His hands are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to Him. The sea is His, for He made it, and His hands formed the dry land.” The high peaks of the Swiss Alps belong to Him. The depths of the Grand Canyon belong to Him. Even sunlight on your face and the air you breathe belongs to Him. Our adoration of creation should ultimately turn us to worship of the Lord. It is unfathomable how the beauty of this world came to be – some would say it’s a miracle. But we cannot overlook the greatest miracle of all: the fact that we were ever here to begin with. The fact that God dreamed us up, created this world, and gave it to us for our enjoyment and His glory.
There is nothing wrong with sustainability, in fact, Christians are called to stewardship of creation. Here at Outdoor Rec, stewardship is one of our core values. Here are some ways that we tangibly practice stewardship of creation (and we encourage you to practice them as well:
- Pick up trash. We have over 50 miles of trails that cover around 3,500 acres. The trash clean up never ends on the trail system! We would love to have you do CSER with us take care of the gift we have been given.
- Switch to Reusables. This can as simple using a Hydroflask instead of a plastic water bottle daily or bringing a cloth bag to the grocery store with you.
- Shop local or grow your own produce. Look for those businesses that are mission-driven. Lynchburg Grows, The Lynchburg Community Market, Blue Ridge Bucha, and Keep Virginia Cozy are great businesses and nonprofits to look into. Also, getting a potted tomato or cucumber plant is an easy way to help you connect with your food!
- Unplug. Just take a much needed break from the technology and lower your ecological footprint. Pausing to take time to embrace the world around you will help you to develop and grow your appreciation of His works.
Hopefully these things listed above will help you participate in Earth Day with the correct worldview. We hope that next time you are blown away by nature, you will think about the Creator that that nature represents!
November 22, 2019
Written by Tim Lewis
This fall, I had the privilege to participate in a Leave No Trace Master Educator course through Landmark Learning in Cullowhee, NC. This 5 day course introduced the topic of Leave No Trace (LNT) to myself and a several other outdoor professionals and recreationalists.
During that course, a foundation of experiential learning and outdoor ethics were built, and upon graduation, we would teach to our respective spheres of influence. We were tasked with teaching the course to each other throughout the 5 days. What better way to learn the material!?
What Is Leave No Trace?
Since the 1980’s, Leave No Trace has been a respected organization in the outdoor community who’s mission has been to protect the outdoors “by teaching and inspiring people to enjoy it responsibly” (LNT Mission Statement). Through “cutting-edge education and research”, LNT has become a household name in the outdoor industry and continues to send ripples well beyond the banks of the outdoor industry. So what is it exactly?
- Plan Ahead and Prepare
- Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
- Dispose of Waste Properly
- Leave What You Find
- Minimize Campfire Impacts
- Respect Wildlife
- Be Considerate of Other Visitors
These 7 principles can be applied to all outdoor activities, sports, and environments at any time by anyone! While following each principle, you will find that they relate back to and support one another in countless combinations and scenarios.
To illustrate, let’s say I am going on a camping trip, I will want to consider the following:
- I am prepared for the endeavor by the gear I take and research I do beforehand. Do I have a map, do I understand the local laws, do I have a bear bin, and have I packed appropriately?
- I am conscious of what I am going to be camping and hiking on. This can be anything from established trails, rocks, endangered grasses, to delicate highland bogs.
- I want to make sure that I use proper restroom facilities and trash bins, when available. Otherwise, I will want to bury or pack out waste appropriately.
- If a particularly intriguing natural souvenir such as a rock, flower, or artifact catches my eye, I make sure to take only pictures and leave it where I find it.
- When it’s time to build a fire, I am mindful of where and how I do this. Should I use an existing fire pit, build a new one, or reconsider the appropriateness of a fire altogether?
- Wild animals can be dangerous when approached or fed, so I am always diligent when I recreate in their space. If I cannot cover the animal with my outstretched thumb, I am probably too close.
- Lastly, when recreating, I am bound to run into other people keen on enjoying the same space I am. I want to make sure I am respecting their experiences by giving them the room to do so and for all extensive purposes, remaining as invisible to them as possible.
Hopefully, this information has gotten you thinking about ways you can implement the principles on your next outing and how to influence your circle of peers. I encourage you to look for signs of poor and exceptional Leave No Trace principals the next time you enjoy a natural space. For now, I will leave you with a couple final thoughts from my course…
Education Is Preferred Over Regulation
A theme that stood out to me during the course was how much LNT desires to avoid creating constricting rules, a multitude of do’s and don’ts, that only discourage us from heeding them. Instead I found that LNT seeks to motivate and inspire people to care for the natural world. This is, more often than not, done through education. Your chances of educating successfully are multiplied greatly by interacting with individuals face to face, by demonstrating proper usage, and by taking the time to understand the context of their visit to that space. Nobody likes to be scolded for doing something wrong, especially for something that they were not taught was important. Part of the job of a Master Educator is to teach people in the classroom but also to teach people in the moment. For example, it is one thing to have an LNT workshop with participation from enthusiastic individuals. However, it is a different thing altogether to confront someone who is poorly exhibiting one of the principles. The goal of LNT is to meet people where they are, to educate them in the classroom, in the backcountry, and in the small every day moments we find ourselves in.
Leave No Trace Is For Christians Too
By now you may be asking yourself, “how is LNT relevant to believers?” True, conservation and stewardship can sometimes take the back burner to more pressing world issues. However, as Christians we should be the first ambassadors of God’s creation. In fact, it was our first task assigned to us from God in Genesis. One of my favorite aspects of LNT is that it recognizes that nature and outdoor spaces are meant to be used and enjoyed, not simply left in idle wilderness. As a Christian, we should believe that the world can and should be a better place with us in it. Our fallen nature often fails at this, but remember the many triumphs of using nature throughout history such as the invention of carpentry, farming, sailing the 7 Seas in the name of exploration, or the establishment of civilization in general. Jesus himself was a carpenter after all with a special place in his heart for fishermen! As Christians, let’s continue to use and enjoy nature but to protect and preserve it for future glorification and Kingdom use.
Remember that Leave No Trace is not simply “leaving it alone” but rather “leaving it better than we found it.”
August 28, 2019
Written by Luke Whitmire
Conservation is a topic that is coming more into the limelight as we continue to realize that our actions are negatively impacting the environment around us. As the conversation continues to escalate, it naturally gravitates towards the bigger issues, such as large-scale manufacturers and consumer habits. While these conversations are important, they can often distract us, as individuals, and what we can do in order to further conservation efforts.
One way to get involved and make a difference in conservation is to change your daily habits and consumer practices in order to favor environmentally friendly pursuits. How do you decide what clothes you buy? What food you are going to eat? Every time you make a purchase, you are “voting” with your money. Just as you should be conscious in the political sphere with your vote and know what a politician stands for, you should be conscious with your money, and support businesses and purchasing practices that support values that you care about.
Here are a few things that you may want to consider:
- Buy local, in-season, organically grown produce. It increases nutrients, biodiversity, promotes a connection to food, and local farms often pursue farming habits that are more friendly to the soil, crops, insects, and your produce. Check out the documentary Sustainable.
- Animal agriculture, mainly red meat sources such as cattle, are responsible for the second most greenhouse emissions in the world, including 18% of global CO2 emissions, as well as 37% of methane emissions. Reducing your red meat intake by eating more chicken, fish, and considering plant-based protein alternatives can all help to reduce your environment impact. Check out these articles on a sustainable food future.
- Take time to research companies before you buy gear, clothing, cars, and so on. Look for companies that have green initiatives and release reports on their environmental impact and sustainability efforts. Support companies that are open about the impact they have and their vision for sustainability. Here are just a few great examples: MSR, Ford, Starbucks.
Businesses and manufacturers pay attention to your purchasing habits. Companies spent $76 billion worldwide on market research in 2017. They want to listen to what we have to say. Let us leave complacency behind and make conscious decisions to use our voices and our money to move together towards conservation and being better stewards of our beloved earth.
July 6, 2018
Written by: Asia Allen
Recently I have been researching popular hiking trips and camping locations, and one article, in particular, has resonated with me. The Path More Traveled by Wally Smith was featured in the Blue Ridge Outdoors magazine, which I might add, has some great reading and information about life in the Blue Ridge Mountains! Smith talks about one of his favorite swimming holes and how in the recent years it has become so popular and even over-crowded on most hot, summer days.
“I think it is beneficial to adopt a sense of stewardship in our small adventures, as well as our daily lives.”
The tone of his words struck me as one conflicted by emotions. He speaks about the recent boom in the outdoor industry and how that has significantly helped the economy of local small towns near popularly visited sites. Yet, he also communicates how many national forests and local natural attractions have been swarming with locals and tourists. It is not hard to look around and see the negative impact on the natural environment – a plastic water bottle laying alongside a trail along with its companion or a food wrapper a few feet away.
While I am a strong supporter for being outside experiencing the beauty and simplicity of nature, I also share the hesitant feeling of wondering what impact these large groups will have on that same beautiful landscape. As we start to experience our natural surroundings, I think it is beneficial to adopt a sense of stewardship in our small adventures, as well as our daily lives.
There are a few ways that one can practice small steps of stewardship:
- Leave No Trace – These are seven small steps that are easy to remember and should be practiced whenever you are venturing outdoors. Check out the Leave No Trace Principles website for more information!
- Don’t Do It For the Gram – You can always catching me taking pictures of flowers or creeks along a trail, so I am all for taking pictures of these amazing views. However, it is important to filter these picture and post in a “socially and environmentally responsible way.” Read this article for more info on social media stewardship
John Muir once said “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.”
I think it is equally important to enjoy the outdoors, as well as let others enjoy it after you. Consider how your actions affect not only the hiker behind you, but also the generations to come.
May 31, 2017
Written By: Asia Allen
The summer for us at Outdoor Rec feel a little different then what we are used to. All the students are gone and our programming is basically non-existent. Though we have a lot to do! We take this time to evaluate our existing programs, organize our facilities and procedures, and spend time training up our personal skills. The “to-do” list can very easily become overwhelming during a season that is typically known for being restful.
I remember a time earlier this semester where I was totally overwhelmed by the tasks that were on my “to-do” list. My Dad called to chat and he could tell something was wrong just by my tone of voice. He proceeded to give me this one piece of advice that will most likely stick with me for the rest of my life: Keep it simple.
He told me “Life will always find a way to throw things at you 80 miles per hour. The key is to be able to slow them down to about 30 miles per hour. Keep life simple.”
Of course, I did not really think too much about it until a few days later when I began to feel stressed out again. My dad’s words flooded back into my thoughts and helped me to remember to look at life through a lens of simplicity.
Now I understand that simplicity looks different to everyone. But just humor me and take a look through my lens of simplicity.
My lens of simplicity is one where amongst the stress and chaos, I can look at the little things in life, the things that most people look over and pass by every day, and find joy in them.
And by joy, I mean a sense of purpose and fulfillment that brings a source of peace and contentment.
“Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.” -John Muir
This quote by John Muir is so powerful and serves as a reminder that nature is a great place to look for rejuvenation and simplicity. The calmness of nature can often bring peace and contentment to those who look for it. Camping at a national forest, kayaking on your favorite river or hiking the tallest mountain in your state are all great avenues to explore God’s Creation.
However, there does not always need to be a grand adventure that occurs in order for you to find nature’s peace. While exploring a new country is an awesome adventure, sometimes a walk on nearby trails or fishing at a local stream are enough to remind you of the beauty and peace that nature offers.
I encourage you to take time this summer and let the above Jon Muir quote sink in. Write the quote out and reflect on how this can play a role in your life, especially in the way that you look for peace this summer and discover your own lens of simplicity.
February 24, 2017
Written by: Cari Phillips
“If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” – C.S. Lewis
Minimalism is often a topic of discussion with those who love the outdoors. It seems that so many of us are drawn to this kind of living. It is in this type of existence where we can downsize our lives, live off the land, travel the country in a camper van, or live out of a pack for weeks at a time. This sense of adventure seems to give us purpose, peace, and a sense of satisfaction. But how much validity can be found in this cultural movement?
Minimalism: A Documentary about the Important Things is the #1 indie documentary of 2016 (largest box-office opening) and is becoming increasingly popular on Netflix. It caught my attention after three different friends in three separate cities encouraged me to watch it. After repeatedly hearing great reviews, I decided to give it a chance. If you haven’t seen it, I encourage you to view the trailer.
The documentary highlights the problem of materialism in America today and examines what it looks like to be a minimalist, to intentionally live without excess. The film follows several minimalists from all different walks of life but mostly focuses on the story of best friends Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus as they travel the U.S. sharing their message on minimalism and promoting their book Everything that Remains. These two inspirational speakers tell of their transition from being corporate ladder climbers with well-paying jobs and large houses to world travelers who eliminate the items in their lives that do not bring them a high sense of value. Millburn explains, “Minimalism is the thing that gets us past the things so we can make room for life’s most important things—which actually aren’t things at all.” The idea of minimalism is to evaluate your daily life and minimize the inessential, tangible items in order to maximize the time, energy, and money you have to spend on the essential, intangible aspects of your life.
It’s no secret that Americans have a problem with materialism. As easy as it is to say that money won’t buy us happiness, many of us are living as though it will. As consumers, we gravitate towards anything advertisers can offer us. We feel unsatisfied unless we have the newest, most updated electronics, clothes, phones, furniture, appliances, and other meaningless stuff. And deep down we all know that these items will never truly satisfy our craving for more. The iPhone 7 is only desirable until Apple comes out with the iPhone 8. Most of us can agree that our quest for happiness and fulfillment will never be satisfied through consumerism.
So where can we find our happiness? According to The Minimalists, “Happiness, as far as we’re concerned, is achieved through living a meaningful life— a life filled with passion and freedom in which we grow as individuals and contribute beyond ourselves. Growth and contribution: those are the bedrocks of happiness. Not stuff.” It seems as if the Minimalists have correctly identified a growing problem in our society. However, they may have missed the mark with their solution. Don’t get me wrong; minimalism is a great concept to live by, but if we become minimalists in a quest to find happiness, it will lead us astray almost as quickly, deceivingly, and dangerously as materialism has. Getting rid of all our excess stuff will not bring true freedom; it will bring a temporary sense of freedom until we remember this: life is hard. When trials come at us, we can’t rely on a single suitcase full of essentials any more than we could rely on a three-car garage full of boxes. The quantity and quality of stuff have nothing to do with our joy because regardless of what we have, we will always have a desire for something else, a longing to fill an empty void.
Perhaps identifying that you place too much value on stuff is the first step to bringing fulfilling joy into your life. But getting rid of your stuff will still leave you wanting something else in your life to make you feel whole and to give you a sense of purpose.
Yes, right now we probably care too much about our stuff, but at the root of it all, we care too much about ourselves.
Deciding to walk with Christ daily is the only life-change that will bring the kind of satisfaction, peace, and freedom we are searching for. Maybe you are already a follower of Christ, but you’re still interested in pursuing the lifestyle of minimalism. Great! Minimalism is a brilliant concept as long as we view it in the light of eternity. Getting rid of the things that don’t bring value to our lives is beneficial as long as we remember what does bring value to our lives. Having the time, space, and money to do what we are passionate about will certainly add some meaning to our lives, but how much more value is there if we are using that extra time, space, and money to glorify God and delight in Him?
If you are interested in getting on board with minimalism, Millburn and Nicodemus have some great tips of where to start. However, I’d like to leave you with three thoughts:
What’s your reason for pursuing minimalism? Be mindful of what you are hoping to gain through your minimizing efforts, and be careful that you are not seeking satisfaction or worth in worldly things. Your worth is found in Christ, not in how much (or how little) you own.
How can you use your excess to serve others? If you are minimizing, go the extra mile to find people who can benefit from your clutter. Don’t just get rid of your stuff simply for the sake of downsizing, but give generously as Christ gave, with an attitude of love, not convenience.
How can you use your newfound time, space, and money to glorify God? Part of the documentary highlights spending less money on material things so that we may steward our resources more towards experiences and doing the things we truly enjoy. This sounds like a good idea, but the focus here is still the individual. How can you use that extra cash to do what you love, and more importantly, point people to Christ? 4 Peter 4:10-11 “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.”
The recent trend of minimalism in the United State has the potential to truly revolutionize our standard of living. Yes, right now we probably care too much about our stuff, but at the root of it all, we care too much about ourselves. By putting the focus on serving God by serving others, we can start a revolution of using our resources to eternally maximize our experience on earth.
August 17, 2016
The Lorax State of nature and the state of your heart
Where can one find wonderful literary alliteration, unique rhyming patterns, and an interesting take on environmental practices? Dr. Seuss of course! “The Lorax” is a wonderful book and movie that has a pretty focused environmental theme. If you haven’t read the book or watched the movie, you should. It focuses on the story of the Once-Ler, who destroyed an entire ecosystem. Truffula trees are chopped down and the Brown Bar-ba-Loots, Swomee Swans, and Humming-fish (Dr. Seuss sure is creative) are all forced to abandon their homes due to pollution, food shortage and disease. The Once-Ler’s remorse over his initial removal of the trees is short-lived and he gets lost in his dreams of success. He becomes self-absorbed, unloving, and full of greed.
Some of the principles in this story really resonate with the staff here at Student Activities Outdoor Recreation. We have adopted the seven principals of Leave No Trace and try our best to use resources responsibly and teach participants these same ethics. We are in no means perfect in our execution, but we believe in opening up more discussion about these ideas and are regularly making changes to our programs. Our care for the environment is not an act of worship towards creation; we see it as an act of service to our Creator.
John Piper makes a case for stewardship in a recent podcast by asking “Are you loving others”? He uses the biblical command from Matthew 22 where Jesus tells us to “Love the Lord your God” and to “Love your neighbor as yourself”. You may not personally be destroying rainforests or creating toxic sludge, but the everyday decisions that you make do have a role. Do you care about the people who drink the water that you pollute with your unnecessary waste? Or do you love the people who do not get to take advantage of the extra energy that you use? In this sense, do we become any less self-centered than the Once-Ler in Dr. Seuss’s story?
Taking care of the environment is first loving God. He created the Earth and stewardship becomes an act of gratitude towards the Creator. We are also demonstrating compassion for our current and future neighbors, whoever they may be. We may never even meet them, but we are caring for their land and loving them.
Dr. Seuss intentionally left the face of the Once-Ler unseen because he believed that the Once-Ler should represent big business industrialists and not be a single individual. But, I believe that the Once-Ler could have been left faceless because we each can see a sinful part of us demonstrated in the Once-Ler’s actions. When we think selfishly and believe that throwing that gum wrapper out the window is no big deal, think about God’s creation you just dirtied, or the person who picks it up four months from now. These actions may come from our own egocentric attitude. It isn’t just an issue of global warming, fossil fuels, or recycling; for the Christian, environmentalism is an issue of personal sanctification.
How are your everyday actions in regards to nature, to creation, indicative of the state of your own heart?