Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Mountain Institute Appoints New Appalachian Program Director

Vicki Fenwick-Judy is The Mountain Institute’s (TMI) new Appalachia Program Director. She will be taking up leadership for our ongoing environmental, watershed and wilderness education in the region, particularly focusing on underserved communities. Her responsibilities will also include identifying opportunities for the Institute to contribute to conserving nature while advancing sustainable economic development.

Ms. Fenwick-Judy joins TMI with a passion for community-based education. She currently serves as the West Virginia representative for the Mid-Atlantic Environmental Education Workgroup. Vicki is a lifelong resident of West Virginia and grew up working and playing in the mountains and rivers of the state. She received a Master of Arts in Psychology from Marshall University in Huntington, WV and started her career in education as a field instructor at The Mountain Institute. She developed and coordinated WV Sustainable Schools in partnership with the West Virginia Department of Education, and also worked with the Canaan Valley Institute developing community-based education programs.

“We’re fortunate to have Vicki return to TMI in this capacity,” commented Dave Martin, Program Officer. “Her enthusiasm, fresh ideas, and focus on expanding our educational programming will be a great asset to the organization and our efforts in the region.”

Vicki Fenwick-Judy succeeds interim Appalachia Program Director, Kevin Stitzinger. Kevin stepped down at the beginning of 2014 after serving with TMI in various capacities for more than five years.

The Mountain Institute is a non-profit organization promoting economic development in mountain communities, conservation of mountain environments and support for mountain cultures, and has been working to advance outdoor education and stewardship in West Virginia since 1972. For more information, contact Braja Smith, Communications Specialist, at (304) 567-2632 or go to: 

Monday, April 28, 2014

Return of the Spring Staff

 The spring season has started up here at the Mountain Institute, and we are lucky enough to have lots of returning staff and one new residential instructor, Olivia Klein. Returning staff include Course Directors Jeff Debellis and Melinda Brooks, Kitchen Manager James Crawford, Education Coordinator Kellee Waddell, and instructors Sophie Roblin, Ryan Stewart, Michael Escol, and Craig Hauptman. Resident instructors are Olivia, Katy Medley, Sara Dorsey, Eric Winter, and Braja Smith.

Before we welcomed our first Spruce course, we got the opportunity as a staff to crawl through the Sinks, poke at salamander eggs, marvel at the explosion of ramps on the way up to Spruce, and shiver through a snow storm on the banks of Big Run. Soon we'll get the opportunity to share our knowledge about our lovely home with the bigger world. In the next couple of weeks, we'll be meeting up with students from Winston, Riverdale, JE Robbins, and other schools. It ought to be a lot of fun. In the meantime, take a look at a few our photos from staff training below.

Sophie tells Mel to get excited.
Getting some sun near Big Run after a forest history lesson.
Looking for the signs of the beaver.

Rappelling near the Lafe Elza trail.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Blizzards and Wilderness Medicine

Matt Rosefsky is a Wilderness First Responder instructor for SOLO and a regular visitor at the Spruce Knob Mountain Center. After leading a Wilderness First Aid recertification course in March, he reflected on why he loves teaching here:

Students in Matt's course near the yurts.
Ahhh, learning at TMI's Spruce Knob Mountain Center … Awesome course, delicious food, and beautiful views come to mind as I think back to being a student in the SOLO Wilderness First Responder course there in 2004.  I adored that holistic experience and SKMC so much that I became a regular annual donor.  Since then, I have guided 500+ outdoor adventures (based in Charlottesville, Virginia), become a SOLO instructor, and with great excitement came full circle to now teach SOLO courses at SKMC each year.  It feels great doing my best to give TMI staffers and other adventurers the knowledge and skills on how to prevent, equip to handle, and treat medical emergencies -- enabling parents to rest assured that their loved ones are in great hands at this magical place.

A magical place it is indeed, making my annual WFR teaching engagement there be, by far, the one I look forward to most each year.  Why?

~ The people (incredibly kind, warm, friendly, and with down-to-earth and environmental values at the core).
~ Mountain-top environment, ecosystem, microclimate and natural beauty.
~ Wooden deck with expansive view. 
More first aid practice.
~ Yurts!!!  Awesome big one with central kitchen, surrounding dining, library, and meditative 3rd floor bubble. 
~ Wholesome and plentiful home-cooked cuisine.
~ Conserving water (with everyone pitching in) by using the three-tub dish cleaning system.
~ Feeling of having come full circle, from cherished memories of being a wilderness first responder student at SKMC in 2004, to return as instructor (since 2012).
~ Having a yurt as a classroom. 
~ Getting to stay in a guest yurt. 
~ Hike in an hour or less to West Virginia's highest summit.
~ Campfire circle and s'mores.
~ Dark skies, and the bright stars & constellations that they reveal. 
~ Total absence of ticks and cellphone service.
~ Beautifully-painted bathroom murals depicting the area's flora and fauna. 
~ Supporting – both educationally and financially -- an important mission to educate and preserve mountain ecosystems, indigenous cultures and people.

A somewhat embarrassing and perhaps revealing admission:  despite having not been much of a recreational reader throughout my life, I recently completed the "Little House on the Prairie" book series and additional Laura Ingalls Wilder compilations.  Though I certainly do appreciate and take advantage of modern life's many conveniences and opportunities, sometimes I feel as though I was born in the wrong century.  Sometimes I crave to experience a life without electricity, electronics, and oil-based fuels, machinery and other products.  When living at TMI's Spruce Knob Mountain Center (especially when teaching there for a week or longer) I love the feeling I get of being reconnected to a more basic life on earth, in a community and environment that soothe my soul.  Thank you TMI and all of its supporters and fans for enriching my life, and the lives of countless others.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Randolph County Outdoor Education Program

"I like the science fiction station the most."

Students from Midland and Pickens Elementary Schools gather together.
This is one student's response when I asked him about the stream he just explored. He is talking about the stoneflies, mayflies, and other benthic macroinvertebrates that his group collected from Millstone Run in a kick net. Benthic macroinvertebrates are so abundant and so diverse in Millstone Run that a net full of them can indeed look like something out of a science fiction film.

Field Instructors from The Mountain Institute are in Beverly, WV this week working with 5th graders from four Randolph County schools as part of the county's outdoor education program. Every 5th grader in the county will have participated in the Randolph County Outdoor Education Program (RCOEP) by the end of April.

In addition to aquatic ecology, students learn local forest history and ecology, traditional Appalachian music, map reading, and orienteering. They make candles, create landscape drawings, and learn about the colorful heritage of Randolph and nearby counties. 

Randolph County 5th graders captured the landscape near Beverly in these watercolor drawings. Field Instructor Sara Dorsey hangs the works to dry in the sun.

The two-day, one-night program was created in 2001 by a partnership between TMI and the Randolph County School Board. Over 5,000 students have participated in the thirteen years since.

The goal of the program is to get kids excited about the world outside their own front doors. The climate and topography of Randolph County help to make it one of the most biodiverse areas in the United States. It also spurs kids to start thinking about their futures.

Much of the county, once home to rambunctious logging boom towns, is now within the Monongahela National Forest. Logging still employs many county residents, but the forests provide a wide variety of other economic opportunities these days. Artists, musicians, scientists, naturalists, and numerous government agencies and non-profits are based in the area. Randolph County Outdoor Education Program introduces students to role models in some of these careers. 

Hard rain turns to hail as students tromp between different content stations on Millstone Run. The group is so happy to be outside though that they scarcely notice the challenging weather.

For more information about the program, visit