A couple who has contributed more than 20,000 hours during 20 years of service to and for the Nantahala Hiking Club (NHC) and the Appalachian Trail (AT) was honored during the organization’s annual awards banquet, Dec. 2. But not only was the award presented to Bill and Sharon Van Horn, but the award was also named for them.
“The [NHC] board of directors felt that their long-term dedication to our club deserved a kind of recognition we never planned for,” said NHC President Victor Treutel. “We created a new award which we named ‘The Van Horn’ that will be given annually to a club member who has contributed greatly to our club and the AT.”
“We enjoyed hiking the AT and wanted to give back so others could enjoy it, too,” said Sharon Van Horn, after she and her husband received the award. The couple, who retired to Franklin in 2002 and joined NHC in 2003, have accomplished much in their outdoor pursuits – including section hiking the entire AT, which runs from Georgia to Maine.
“In terms of volunteerism, we first became hike leaders [for the NHC],” said Sharon. “We then volunteered to maintain a section of the AT.”
Additionally, Bill eventually served as NHC vice president and then president.
“We also became involved with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC),” said Sharon, adding that both she and Bill also became AT Ambassadors.
The couple has achieved much more in the last 20 years, including education outreach, hiking 101 classes, Leave No Trace instruction, and organizers of the annual Thru-Hiker Chow Down.
“The award is quite an honor,” said Sharon. “To think that each year someone will receive an award with our name on it …wow!”
NHC member and former club president, Katharine Brown, expounded extensively on the Van Horns’ achievements, but noted especially, “One of the most amazing things they did was to create the AT 110 logo and direct the year-long effort for Franklin to become the first AT Community within the ATC. Communities along the trail now work hard to be designated a trail town and must meet rigorous criteria for that designation.”
“Leave it to say they have initiated, created, organized, and carried out many of the ongoing programs people now take for granted, and they have done it for so long no one knows all the things they are responsible for starting,” said Brown.
Nantahala Forest Service coordinator shared importance of Leave No Trace
At a recent Macon County Public Library presentation, Gillian Watson, VISTA Volunteer and Service Programs coordinator for the Nantahala National Forest, provided insight into how people can Leave no Trace.
While Leave No Trace is a national organization, it is also a “way of life,” explained Watson, that prompts people to leave land as they found it – if not better. Leave No Trace was founded during the COVID-19 pandemic primarily because people in general became more interested in nature and the outdoors.
“When there were more people in nature, there was a bigger need for education,” said Watson. She shared principles of Leave No Trace: Plan ahead and prepare; travel and camp on durable surfaces; minimize campfire impacts; respect wildfire; and be considerate of other visitors.
Watson offered her view of the most important part of Leave No Trace, which is “having the mindset to leave the land better than you found it, and to be able to connect with the land.”
Watson assured attendees to the presentation that people do not need to memorize all the principles but rather be very conscious in nature.
“Caring for the land and serving the people is most important,” she said. “People may think that their actions may not make a difference, but when one person doesn’t care about their action, another person won’t care either,” she said.
She provided the example that if one person leaves a piece of trash in the forest and does not care, it may not make a difference; but, then another person may leave a piece of trash and it will all start to add up. Watson added that it is important to think about the collective impact people have on their land.
Throughout teaching the principles of Leave No Trace, Watson offered fun activities to show how people really are connected with the land more than they may think. She asked the audience to pick a piece of natural material, think about how it relates to them personally and how it could help them or others. Watson’s example was the trees.
“The trees help people because they improve the air quality and they are relatable because of the thick bark; just like trees, people also have a layer that can protect them,” she said.
Next, Watson had people participate in was a game of trivia. The game consisted of a circle of people and attendees threw a ball around. This ball had questions about Leave No Trace on it and whatever people’s right thumb landed on would be the question people would need to answer.
For example, one question was, “What are some alternatives to a campfire?” Answers included “bring a lantern, mini stove ….” and more.
“Leave No Trace” submitted by Sara Young, an honors student at Macon Early College.