High school students complete WCU bike trek

out bikememorialEleven high school students from Western North Carolina had an opportunity to learn about biology and ecology this summer as they participated in “Life-Cycle,” a 200-mile exploration by bicycle offered through Western Carolina University’s Project Discovery-Talent Search Program.

Accompanied by adult chaperones, the students followed a route on the historic Chesapeake and Ohio Towpath from the Eastern Continental Divide at Cumberland, Md., to just outside Washington, D.C. Other bike paths then took the group right up to the Lincoln Memorial and other landmarks around the nation’s Capitol, said Todd Murdock, director of the WCU program.

Participating students were Blayne Ambler, Morgan Nichols and Seth Pyle from Andrews High School; Josh King and Zane Waddell from Erwin High School; Staci Knighton and Brandon Lee from Robbinsville High School; Shelby Reynolds and Josh Thomas from Madison County High School; and Michael Smith and Nate Southards from Swain County High School. In addition to Murdock, participants included program counselors Jessie Nosworthy and Cassie Dickson; Murdock’s wife, Therese Murdock, and the couple’s son, Griffin Murdock; and Karen Kandl, a faculty member in WCU’s Department of Biology who recently became associate director of the Highlands Biological Station.

The group left Cullowhee on a Monday in June and rode Amtrak from Greenville, S.C., to Washington, and then on to Cumberland. The 200 miles of riding on mountain bikes were spread out over a six-day period. “It was a big physical challenge for the students, but they all did well,” Todd Murdock said. “After a couple of days of getting used to it, they were good to go.”

The students spent about an hour each morning during the ride learning about amphibians, aquatic invertebrates, invasive plants and plant communities during lessons led by Kandl. “I asked the participants to compare plant and animal communities along the C&O towpath and to think about how and why these communities change along the towpath,” she said. “Over the course of the week, the students became better observers of nature. Just as we supported each other in the physical journey, we also gave confidence to each other as learners and scientists.”

Camping out each night and doing their own cooking, the students also visited historic sites during the journey, including Antietam National Battlefield, and discussed topics such as leadership, conflict resolution and decision-making, Murdock said. “I think the kids were amazed by how much fun they had and how well they got along, and they learned a lot, too,” he said.

For more information about WCU’s Project Discovery-Talent Search Program, contact Todd Murdock at 828.227.7137.

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