Hiking with wild ponies at Grayson Highlands
Anna-Catherine Kueng- Assistant Editor~
This weekend, Nov. 3-4, the Outdoor Leadership Program (OLP) will be hosting a trip to Grayson Highlands in Grayson County, Virginia. According to an OLP email sent to students, “the beginner to intermediate hike will offer scenic views of alpine-like peaks more than 5,000 feet high.”
The Outdoor Leadership Programs Coordinator, Timothy Slusser, said Grayson Highlands is one of his favorite hikes, “What makes it unique is partially the geography and partially the flora and fauna. Grayson Highlands is located right next to Mount Rogers, which is the highest mountain in Virginia, but it is not particularly steep.”
The email also noted that Grayson Highlands has “more than 100 wild ponies roam Grayson Highlands.” Slusser backed this up, saying, “There’s super friendly wild ponies everywhere that come up to you.”
This is not the first time the OLP has hosted a trip to Grayson Highlands, but it is the first time since Slusser began running the program. When planning trips, Slusser explained, “I usually just come up with stuff that I would like to do or things that sound interesting. I reach out to students or students will come to me with ideas. The Outdoor Leadership Programs is catered to students.”
Gabby Jones, a student at the University of Lynchburg, has been able to enjoy the outdoors due to the OLP. She went on the fall break backpacking trip to the Shenandoah National Park in October. With her experience at the fall break backpacking trip , she said, “Hiking allows you to learn more about yourself, appreciate the little things, and work on yourself. I love being outdoors because it makes you appreciate the little things in life, gets you off your phone, and gets you connected with people and nature in real life.”
While Jones cannot attend the Grayson Highlands trip due to a prior engagement, she recommends it to everyone. She said, “The Outdoor Leadership Program provides a way to [enjoy nature] with little to no cost at some of the most beautiful places that we wouldn’t be able to explore without the help of the program.”
Slusser said he makes sure to keep all OLP at affordable costs for students; for example, the Grayson Highlands trip is $10 and the email said it includes “all transportation, food, guides, and equipment.” He also chooses activities that all students can get involved in, saying, “All of the Outdoor Leadership Program trips are designed to accommodate beginners and I will teach you and gear you up for the activity. My goal is to get as many of our students outside.”
In addition to the Grayson Highlands trip, there will also be a rock climbing trip on November 10 and Slusser is planning dates for a Clean Up Day at Blackwater Creek Trail, camping/smores on the dell, and night zip lining. “We try to do something at least two weekends every month and an activity once a week,” Slusser said.
Overall, Slusser said his goal with the OLP is to “get students connected as a university and the outdoors is one of the best ways to do that.” He further explained, “The outdoors is a place for everything. It’s a space to make friends, a space to challenge yourself, and a place of refuge. It can be whatever you want it to be.” His other reason why students should get outdoors is more of a personal one, saying, “I believe that if you want to care about something, you need to be invested in it. I care about the outdoors and it’s such a great classroom that needs to be protected.”
If you are interested in going on the Grayson Highlands trip or getting involved with the OLP, contact Timothy Slusser at email@example.com.