Environmental Ethics Class Backpacks into the Wilderness

December 21, 2009

A group of students enrolled in the environmental ethics class at Mount Union College recently spent a weekend backpacking in the Monongahela National Forest in Elkins, WV.

Dr. Paul Tidman, professor of philosophy, led a group of eight students through the Dolly Sods Wilderness, along with his wife Barb.

“Prior to the trip, the class discussed some of the issues pertaining to West Virginia including the issue of mountaintop removal, where coal companies are literally destroying entire mountains in order to obtain coal,” said Tidman. “I wanted them to find out about its (West Virginia ) natural and/or human history and how it is governed.”

According to Tidman, the purpose of this trip was to give students the opportunity to observe, question, learn and imagine. The trip brought up questions discussed in the environmental ethics course such as “Is there an ethical obligation to preserve wilderness areas?” One of Tidman’s objectives for this course is to give students the opportunity to engage in this issue first hand.

“It is one thing to read and talk about the value of the wilderness and it’s another to experience the wilderness first hand. There is something about that experience that cannot be captured in any academic discussion,” Tidman noted. “The weather made things tough, but it was a great experience. Some students were experienced hikers, and for others, this was their first time in that type of environment.”

Throughout the trip, students hiked, camped and learned how to do so in an environmentally safe and friendly way. Tidman explained that their trail schedule changed due to the weather.

“We camped out on an island overnight, and the next morning the water had risen,” he said. “We found ourselves surrounded by water, which made our pre-planned trail challenging. The weather changed everything and we had to improvise. The new trail that we decided to take was beautiful. It was definitely a trail we would not have taken if it wasn’t for the water rising.”

Paul and Barb Tidman explained to the students prior to their departure that they would have to pack light but also be strategic and pack the necessities. Some of the items that students brought with them included hiking boots, long pants, rain gear, wool socks, flashlight, insect repellant, toiletries and a water bottle. The Tidmans and the College provided things such as food, compasses, a first aid kit, cooking gear and tents.

“We used a lot of our own equipment, but a key resource was Dr. Kramer and the Department of Psychology who generously allowed the students to borrow backpacks, sleeping bags and other equipment which they had stockpiled for their summer Wilderness Experience course,” said Tidman. “Without their help, I probably couldn’t have done the trip.”

Some of the food that students ate throughout the weekend included trail mix, dried chicken with rice, beef jerky and oatmeal.

“On the last day of the trip, the students were required to spend an hour of reflection alone on the mountainside,” he said. “They were asked to record their reflections in a small notebook that they brought along for the trip. A graduating senior told me last year after the trip that it was the most meaningful experience he had had in his entire time at Mount Union. Overall, I was impressed with how the students responded to the trip.”

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