Appalachian Trail journey INSPIRES area hikers

The INSPIRE Academy lived up to its namesake in early June, as a small group of hikers affiliated with Ivy Tech Community College–Northeast shared an inspirational experience during a four-day, 20-mile trek along the Appalachian Trail.

Nationally known author and trail guide Jennifer Pharr Davis encouraged the adventurers to savor each moment, which included the nearly 5,000-foot-elevation panoramas from the Max Patch and Bluff mountains, the dramatic and rapid-filled French Broad River and the simple pleasures of Hot Springs, N.C.

The tourist town, with its nearly 700 residents, is one of the few communities that the Appalachian Trail winds through along its nearly 2,200-mile rugged corridor that spans 14 states, from Maine to Georgia. 

The trip marked INSPIRE’s second-of-four activities planned for this year, which began with Discovery Channel star and stormchaser Reed Timmer’s visit to Ivy Tech–Northeast in March. By design, the academy is an ongoing series of events, exhibits and opportunities to inspire the residents of northeast Indiana.

“Each of us has something inside, whether it’s a known or unknown passion,” said Patrick McCormick, hike participant and INSPIRE Academy creator. “The purpose of the INSPIRE Academy is to expose people to experiences where they might not be familiar. If people can be passionate about something, it makes them and their communities better.”

A number of reasons made Pharr Davis an ideal host to share the geographic wonders nestled in this portion of western North Carolina’s 500,000-acre Pisgah National Forest. She is a 2012 “National Geographic” Adventurer of the Year based on her unofficial speed record of conquering the entire Appalachian Trail in 46 days last summer. The trail’s distance can take leisurely paced hikers as much as six months to complete. In addition, the region is literally the backyard to her business, the Blue Ridge Hiking Company.

Following three nights split between mountainside and riverbank camping near the trail, the participants awoke on the final morning of their trip to complete a trail maintenance volunteer experience, where they uprooted evasive, non-native Japanese knotweed from both banks of a stream that flows into the French Broad River.

By journey’s end, Ivy Tech–Northeast Business Administration student and hike participant Mason Brandenberger became proof that the INSPIRE Academy is achieving its aim. “I saw God’s beauty and power through creation in a way I never have before. I was able to spend an adequate amount of time thinking, reflecting and realizing what is really important in life. I believe this trip has inspired me with a lifelong passion to hike and explore the world,” he said.

Check out IvyTech.edu/northeast/inspire.

The Ivy Tech–Northeast hikers included (l–r)Penny Miller, Mason Brandenberger, Patrick McCormick and Patty McCormick. Appalachian Trail record-holder Jennifer Pharr Davis (center) was their guide.