Forget the Beach; Spring Breakers Hit Tennessee’s Woods

grview-37907-1Public News Service
Tuesday, March 4, 2014
John Michaelson

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – They could have picked ski slopes or maybe a sunny beach, but some college students are choosing instead to spend their time away from class in the wildest woods in Tennessee. Their alternative spring break program is offered by theSouthern Appalachian Wilderness Stewards (SAWS). Director Bill Hodge said the students gain a real appreciation of the commitment needed, since only basic hand tools are allowed in forests designated as wilderness.

“So that means digging trails with pulaskis and pickmatics. That’s clearing trails with handsaws and big crosscut saws. That’s one of the most exciting things these kids get to participate in,” Hodge said. “Taking young people and engaging them in very old skills is a lot of the joy of this.”

Spring Breakers from Michigan State are currently in the Citico Creek Wilderness. Later this week, students from UNC Charlotte will begin working in the Linville Gorge Wilderness.

While it may start as simply a service project for some students, said Brenna Irrer, SAWS education and volunteer engagement coordinator, for most, being immersed in the wilderness is an entirely new experience.

“I had one girl say, ‘This doesn’t even feel real. I keep taking pictures, but they’re not even capturing how amazing this landscape is.’ We’re introducing them to brand new landscapes that they’re completely falling in love with, and it’s a great opportunity for them to give back to public lands that belong to them,” Irrer said.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, which established the National Wilderness Preservation System for the use and benefit of the American people.

More information about SAWS is available at