During spring break in March, five students and OP director Adam Katrick ’07 made a trip to Great Smoky Mountains National Park for hiking, botanizing, and exploring the history of this extraordinary mountain range in Tennessee and North Carolina. The two-week trip was expertly planned and led by students Claire O’Pray ’20 and Lydia Nuhfer ’20—a testament to their leadership skills, including the experience they have gained at Marlboro.
“Being a Bridges leader for the past two years, planning the menu for the Yellowstone trip last year, and taking the Outdoor Leadership class all helped a lot in terms of feeling like I had a handle on the logistical aspects,” says Claire. “Leading this trip was super rewarding. Having people laugh every night, or just sit in silence at a waterfall, and knowing that I made that happen, felt good.”
The group hiked almost every day, walking through biologically diverse and unusual forests to visit waterfalls, caves, and historic sites from the European pioneer era. They also explored Cherokee, North Carolina, and learned about the Indigenous people who thrived in this region for centuries before most were forcibly removed. In the evenings, the hikers shared stories, poetry, music, games, and the camaraderie of adventures together.
“I felt lucky to have the opportunity to plan and lead something from scratch like this as a student—you wouldn’t get the opportunity to do that at a lot of schools, but it’s something the OP here values and prepares us well for,” says Lydia. “I’m studying plant ecology and botany, and the Smokies are a great place to do that, with the highest tree species diversity in the United States.”
One of the many memorable moments occurred while hiking to Mingo Falls, when they saw some graffiti in a six-year-old’s handwriting that read “I love the woberfol.” “We repeated this at every waterfall we went to, and there were many,” says Lydia, who also memorably “dragged” everyone to Waffle House. “In some sense I helped plan this whole trip to Appalachia just so I could go to Waffle House. That’s not entirely true, but it’s a little true.”
On the long drive home, a stop in Maryland at Assateague Island National Seashore was a balm for the weary travelers. It was a gray and stormy afternoon, so they were the only visitors there on the beach trails, where they hiked alongside some of the island’s famous wild horses.
“As soon as we got to the beach, everyone went silent and did their own thing,” says Claire. “It was beautiful to watch some people just kneel down and look at the water, and others run into the waves. I just ran along the sand until I got tired. It was a really quiet, special moment that I loved sharing with everyone there.”