Known as the land of one thousand waterfalls, Brevard, N.C., boasts beauty within our Blue Ridge Mountain region. Pisgah National Forest and DuPont State Forest surround the town. Brevard College, located at the base of downtown, offers a unique spin on education by focusing on experiential learning.
Jim Wall, Brevard College alumnus, professor, and logistics coordinator for the Wilderness Leadership and Experiential Education (WLEE) department at Brevard College was able to talk to us, shedding light on his life of whitewater and wild turkeys.
BRO: What is a major passion in your life?
JW: I am a whitewater kayaker and have been since around 2007. I had a few friends back in Alabama who were into it and I always thought it looked awesome. Now I paddle class IV on a regular basis.
BRO: What is your earliest memory of being in the outdoors?
JW: I remember one morning [my dad] took me out in to the woods during turkey mating season and early morning at sunrise, when they’re waking up, those birds make a lot of noise and gobble a lot. And that’s probably one of the neatest things and memories that I have. I was about five and I would just sit in my dad’s lap and the sun would rise as I listened to the wild turkeys.
BRO: How did you decide to pursue outdoor education?
JW: In 2010 I did a semester with the National Outdoor Leadership School, NOLS, and I knew that the path I was going down at the University of Alabama was not the right one for me. I was studying advertising and it just wasn’t fulfilling so I took a semester off of school to do NOLS. It was like 85 days total in the field and we did backpacking, canyoneering, rock climbing, a river section, and horse packing was our final section. And after that course and being out there and experiencing all of that just solidified that nature was the place that I should be.
BRO: Did you have a professor at Brevard who impacted you in a memorable way?
JW: I met Robert [Dye] in the Fall 2010 semester, I was in his WLEE 101 class and then I took Immersion* with him as well. We were able to develop a good relationship; I really like his teaching style and he’s the one out of all the professors who had the largest impact on me as an outdoor educator. He once told me ‘If you’re early, you’re on time and if you’re on time, you’re late’ which really has stuck with me over the years as a professional in the outdoor industry.
BRO: What was your favorite memory from Immersion*?
JW: On our 21 day, we were hiking up past Indian Grave Gap by the Nolichucky and there was a place called Beauty Spot on the Appalachian Trail and it was cold and it was raining and it was just dreary – really awful conditions. We got up to what was supposed to be this beautiful spot with a bald area where you could just see for days but it was cold and cloudy and nasty. So we decided to camp there and hunker down and we were cooking our food and setting up camp and one of our participants cut a pretty significant chunk into his finger. He was surrounded by nine other Wilderness First Responders who were there to take care of him and keep him warm and give him the proper treatment. That kind of community of us all being out there in the field together and us all relying on each other was probably one of the coolest things and more memorable experiences. It was a negative event and what came out of it was super positive.
BRO: What was significant about your Immersion group?
JW: We made it all 21 days without anyone getting evacuated for sickness or injury in the backcountry. That’s pretty rare in Immersion history and something to be proud of.
BRO: What has been a noteworthy paddling trip for you?
Jim: I went down to Costa Rica this past winter through Green River Adventures to teach kayaking for Johns Hopkins University. I loved the culture for sure, it was like small town and everyone spoke in Spanish, and everyone was so friendly and it was gorgeous jungle land. Being able to see the wildlife and fruit trees that grow in that area was awesome. I have also gone to the Grand Canyon and that was really amazing experience with some big water.
BRO: What’s your number one piece of comfort equipment in the backcountry
JW: I would say a little pillow is my nice thing. It’s the little things that make it a little bit nicer out there in the wilderness.
BRO: What is your favorite backcountry meal?
JW: Gadogado for sure, which is a spicy peanut butter pasta, and quite possibly the greatest thing to bless your mouth after a day of backpacking.
BRO: What is your definition of a perfect day?
JW: I would say camping out on the side of the river after a full-day running rapids and just that kind of peace you have next to the river, where you just chill out, relax and tell stories about how much fun it was. Where you just get to live life day to day, one day at a time.
* Immersion Semester: A part of the WLEE major, requiring an entire semester of skill development and Wilderness First Responder (WFR) certification, culminating in a 21-day backcountry experience designed by the students.
Jess Wiegandt is one of our 2015-2016 college ambassadors. Learn more about Jess, and our other interns, here.