Touch The Earth Trip Leaders Are Ready For Adventure
Touch the Earth, Recreational Services’ outdoor program, offers a unique opportunity for Georgia State University students and community volunteers to learn skills that can be used in the wilderness, classroom, home, or office. Trip leaders are responsible for organizing all the needed trip equipment, transportation, and meals. Some trip participants are outdoor novices, so trip leaders have to possess the knowledge required to protect the environment and to keep the participants safe. Currently, anyone who completes the required training can become a trip leader, regardless of experience.
“There are two routes available to individuals who want to become a trip leader,” explains Hailey Hester, Outdoor Coordinator for the Department of Recreation Services. The first option is to attend trip leader training clinics that are held throughout the semester. Each clinic teaches specific skills associated with different outdoor pursuits. For example, a two-day rock site management trip was held earlier this semester that taught skills like building an anchor, finding climbing routes, and performing rescues. Other one-day clinics include outdoor trip planning, risk management in the outdoors, and outdoor survival skills. These clinics provide the comprehensive training a trip leader needs to not only keep a group safe, but also to protect the environment from human interaction. For example, trip leaders are taught the importance of proper caving attire, like wearing gloves. “Because the oil found on human skin can stunt the growth of stalactites, stalagmites, and other cave formations, we wear gloves to ensure the continued health of the cave and the natural habitat,” says Hester.
The second route to becoming a trip leader is to attend expedition training. Expedition training is a four day class that is held each fall. This past September, potential trip leaders traveled to Cloud Canyon State Park in northwest Georgia to tackle a 16-mile hike, then traveled to Chattanooga for a canoe trip along the Tennessee River. Participants learned kitchen safety skills, like using the “bear-muda triangle” to keep bears away from camp sites, as well as search and rescue techniques, the seven principles of leave no trace, and proper outdoor etiquette.
Trip leaders are also required to get Wilderness First Aid training. Wilderness First Aid training is a certification offered once a semester that teaches basic emergency management skills for backcountry situations, such as dislocations, bleeding, heat related injuries like heat stroke and heat exhaustion, animal bites and stings, and environmental emergencies like lightening. The two-day training is free to current trip leaders. Students interested in becoming a trip leader may have the fee waived if they agree to lead future trips. Even after completing all the required trainings, a new trip leader must also complete a check-off before they can lead a trip. Hester also requires two leaders for each trip, so no trip leader is ever leading a trip alone.
The benefits of becoming a trip leader aren’t limited to the technical skills of outdoor pursuits. In fact, trip leaders learn skills that could be used in many different professional and personal situations. Being a trip leader comes with great responsibility, from maintaining a budget to managing group dynamics. Groups are made up of participants with completely different abilities and attitudes, so trip leaders have to possess top notch communication and people skills. Part of every trip experience is group facilitation and debriefing. During this process, trip leaders lead participants in reflection on the learning outcomes of the day and then building transferences to their everyday lives.
Hester has several goals to expand the trip leader training program. She would like six days of Expedition training instead of the current four days. She would also like all her trip leaders to be certified Wilderness First Responders. “Wilderness First Responder training is more advanced and in-depth than the training you receive from Wilderness First Aid,” explains Hester. For example, Wilderness First Responders are taught how to provide extended care in the backcountry, from triaging emergency situations to building improvised litters to help evacuate patients that need to be back boarded. Most professional outdoor jobs require Wilderness First Responder certification, so it’s a worthwhile investment for those that might pursue careers in this field. Hester would also like to see more students become trip leaders. She says, “Students can benefit so much from being a trip leader, from the hard skills they learn like orienteering and paddling techniques, to the soft skills they learn like how to lead a group in teambuilding and bonding exercises. Plus, they get to go on a really awesome trip for free!”