Diamonds in the Rough: Trail Blazers search for gemstones beneath Douglas Falls in Pisgah National Forest, N.C. Photo: Nicole Hinebaugh
Kentavius can see the Blue Ridge Mountains from his apartment beside the interstate in downtown Asheville. But the nine-year-old had never hiked in them until last month.
Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine has helped create the Trail Blazers Youth Adventure Club. Children from inner city communities are learning outdoor skills on a series of adventures throughout the summer.
Last month, I accompanied Kentavius and twelve other Trail Blazers on a hike to Douglas Falls, a 70-foot waterfall surrounded by an old-growth forest. The kids, who ranged in age from 8 to 14, were awestruck. None of them had ever been hiking in a national forest; most had never left the city.
They marveled at yellow-striped millipedes and the towering trees, including an overturned hemlock with its intricate root system exposed. “This was all underground? Daaang!” said ten-year-old Tahtiona.
More than once, I was asked if cobras and anacondas lived in this forest. But by the time the kids reached the waterfall, they had completely forgotten about snakes. They quickly splashed across the creek to stand beneath the falls.
As the frigid water pounded down on them, Alexus screamed with wild, shrill delight; Diontae flexed his muscles; Kentavius simply extended his arms and looked skyward, smiling.
Afterward, the kids climbed into an old rock cave, scampered up a steep dirt trail, searched for gemstones in the creek, and even shimmied across an old log suspended between two boulders. They were adventurers exploring a brave new world, far away from the barren concrete of their public housing block.
Nearly every day of their childhood has been filled with the sounds of the interstate. But for a few hours, they heard the wind in the trees and water cascading over rock. And on the hike back to the trailhead, they stopped walking, stopped talking, and for a few moments, just listened to the silence of the forest.
The Asheville-based Trail Blazers are organized by the heroic Nicole Hinebaugh and volunteers from the Women’s Wellbeing and Development Foundation. We plan on expanding the Trail Blazers Club into other towns across the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic. Let us know if you’d like to lead a hike or lend a hand. Upcoming hikes, photo galleries, and additional information can be found at trailblazersclub.org.
We hope that the Trail Blazers experience will inspire more kids like Kentavius, who discovered that those distant summits are within his reach.