Students from across the globe learning to make sustainable trails in Rockingham County

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ROCKINGHAM COUNTY, N.C. -- Located on a mostly wooded 260 acres, Rockingham Community College is the perfect setting for an outdoor recreational program that brings in students from across the globe.

"It's something people like to do," said Davis Montgomery, Duke Energy District Manager. "It's recreation. It's fun, and you couldn't find a better place than right here."

Duke Energy contributed $700,000 to establish the Duke Energy TRAILS program at Rockingham Community College.

TRAILS, or Trail Recreation and Adventure Institute for Leadership and Service, is a one of a kind, community college outdoor skills program. TRAILS offers several courses like chainsaw safety and community paths placemaking.

But Trevor Flanery, Duke Energy TRAILS Director, explained the program is mostly known for its sustainable trail skills training.

"They may be very experienced builders, but they don't have the design experience. Or they may have had a lot of course work and this is their chance to get their hands dirty literally," Flanery said.

So with rakes and axes in hand, 15 students from North Carolina to Vermont are learning how to build trails that are good for us and for the environment.

That's why Hunter Campbell made the trip from Marion, North Carolina.

"I learned how to plan out a trail, being able to weave in and out of a trail, knowing where it needs to be," Campbell said.

Natalia Sanchez works for the National Park Service. While she had experience maintaining trails in the Washington, DC area, this was the first time she had to build a trail.

"It was actually a lot easier than I thought," Sanchez said. "It's something pleasant because it's something a lot of people that have never been outside think it's hard to do, but it isn't."

With the on-campus trail nearly complete, the students are ready to take what they learned and apply it to their home towns.

"I plan to implement some new trails we have planned in our district," Campbell said. "I can go out and give an idea instead of being in the background."

Sanchez can't wait to begin building trails to connect nearby parks.

"The opportunity to help them out and see the opportunities," Sanchez said. "The ability to connect different spots community members have not seen, to instill outdoor recreation, health and the opportunity to be outside."

Rockingham Community College President Dr. Mark Kinlaw said the TRAILS program has the potential to become an associate degree program.

"One of the things we are going to be working on is a two-year degree in TRAILS. That will allow us to attract students to get a two-year degree and transfer," Dr. Kinlaw said.

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