GA-ME On! Play and Learn Leave No Trace Principles on the AT
The following is a guest post courtesy of Mark Hanf, co-creator of the The Appalachian Trail Game. Have a story to tell? Submit it here.
After Scott Jurek’s highly publicized, record setting hike and Robert Redford bringing A Walk in the Woods to the silver screen, the AT community is anticipating a wave of newly inspired, potential thru-hikers on the trail this year. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy has been proactively planning to prepare for this surge in numbers. One of the unique responses that has emerged recently to the growing need for awareness about Leave No Trace practices is a fun board game that allows people to play and learn simultaneously. As one of the game’s designers, this project is close to my heart.
The Appalachian Trail Game started three years ago, when I crossed paths at a shelter with a teenager and his grandmother who had trashed the campsite. Plastic was burning in the fire, food was strewn in the woods, and trash was all over the ground. To be honest, my immediate reaction was anger.
I also noticed that the grandmother was in pain and holding her knee. It didn’t take long to realize that they were completely inexperienced hikers who had taken an extremely difficult route with far too much gear. Simply put, they didn’t know any better and I realized that I was taking for granted the training in low-impact camping and backpacking skills that I had growing up. I’m an Eagle Scout, and I could hear my leaders’ voices in my head saying, “pack it in, pack it out” and “leave every campsite better than you found it.” I offered to get water and help clean up the shelter. After talking with the grandmother about her injury, it was obvious that she needed to get off the trail, so I called for a shuttle at the next road crossing.
As I said goodbye to them and set out the next morning, a flood of ideas came rushing in about a board game that could help to teach the basic skills that would be essential to a safe, responsible, and ultimately enjoyable backpacking trip. What if this game was fun enough that people would want to play with their families and friends at home prior to coming out on the trail? The game could include basic first aid, plant and animal I.D. (including poisonous and medicinal varieties), essential gear items, navigation skills, and have a strong Leave No Trace ethic. It literally created itself as I walked.
Shortly thereafter, I received a small grant from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy to create the prototype of the game. After beta testing with schools and scout troops, it was obvious that we had something special and needed to share it with a wider audience. A small team of talented educators, artists, conservationists and backpackers formed to turn that prototype into a fully realized product.
Just over one year ago, we launched The Appalachian Trail Game on Kickstarter and were overjoyed with the response. We achieved our goal in the first 48 hours, and by the end of the campaign, we were over-funded by almost 600%. Since that time, we have sold over 5,000 copies and donated over 150 copies to non-profit organizations, schools, and volunteer hiking clubs. The game has received rave reviews by teachers, hikers, A.T. volunteers, and players of all ages, and we are inundated with requests for new questions.
In addition to partnering with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, this year we have partnered with Leave No Trace and the American Hiking Society to create the new content for the Special Edition. Recently we have also forged new partnerships with Broad Green Pictures and a range of other national non-profits to help promote best practices on the trail. As more people embark on their own A.T. adventures, trail management and resource protection becomes more important. We are proud to be part of the #ProtectYourTrail campaign that integrates various strategies to educate new hikers about Leave No Trace principles and ways to get involved with volunteer trail clubs. Also, $1 from each game goes to the ATC for the ongoing protection of the trail.
Our company, Outdoor Edutainment, LLC, is a two-person operation based in Asheville, NC. My partner, Kristin Peppel brings a background in conservation planning, trail community development, environmental education and coaching. We are both avid backpackers and hikers—our company was born out of a love for being in nature and a desire to inspire and encourage others to create their own outdoor adventures. We hope that this is just the beginning of a range of educational games and expansion sets that continue to allow people to play and learn. Thanks to everyone for helping us to make that dream possible and an even bigger thank you for protecting the Appalachian Trail. Now go enjoy the trail…. And pack out that trash.
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