Connecting Youth with Polk County Recreation

By Seth Young on May 3, 2017.

Polk County is one of the smallest counties of North Carolina nestled in the “Foothills” of the Blue Ridge Mountains and bordering South Carolina.  It maintains an old Appalachian feel with small family farms and large swaths of forest.  Conserving this land and tradition is important to many members of the community and will take a focused effort in the coming years as development pressure continues to grow.  I think that raising awareness of conservation issues in the community is, in some ways, the most important conservation need in Polk County.

Recently, Tryon became a dot on the global map as they began construction on the Tryon International Equestrian Center which will host, among other events, the FEI World Equestrian Games in 2018.  This event will bring up to half a million people to Polk County in 2018.  Of course, this will be a boost to the local economy but may also have some other consequences such as development of land which was previously forest or farmland.  There have already been some foreign investors buying up land in the area.  This, along with some spilling over from the growth of nearby booming cities (Asheville and Greenville, SC),  has increased development pressure.

My position as the Americorps Trails Coordinator, though not directly related, can still have some effect on this issue.  To me, the first step of getting any group to protect local resources is to foster a bond between the people and the land.  Promoting trails in the county and getting folks involved with the trails and public land is a great way to get people to care about it’s future.  Each Wednesday, I take a group of Sixth graders to a trail in the county along with a sixth grade teacher, Rowann Hoy.  Nearly every week,  I’ll ask the students if any of them have been to the trail before.  It is rare to have a single student who has been to the trail before and nearly half of the students had never been hiking before the club started.  As a kid growing up in a rural area (I know because I was one), it is easy to say that it’s “boring” or that there is “nothing there”.  I think it’s important to show these kids (and adults for that matter) that there is a lot here and that maybe what is here is worth preserving.