November 21, 2011
NOTE: Students will send periodic updates about this trip. To read them, go here.
Nine Knox College students will canoe and camp through more than 100 miles of the Florida Everglades during winter break, gaining first-hand knowledge of the deep connection between people and national parks.
Nic Mink, visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Knox, is leading the 10-day trip, which is an extension of a fall term class he taught about U.S. national parks.
The class "really seeks to use national parks as a way for us to understand how Americans value nature, how they have valued nature (in the past), how they see nature as central to their identity, and how that's changed over time," said Mink (pictured at right). "The thinking behind going on the trip is that there's only so much you can learn in a book, there's only so much you can learn in classrooms."
Students who will be taking the trip agree.
"If you're learning about national parks, you should see them, you should interact with them," said Knox senior Audrey Todd, an international relations major (photo below, right) who grew up in Duxbury, Massachusetts, and Arvada, Colorado.
Sophomore Emily Cooney, an Indianapolis, Indiana, native (photo below, left) who is majoring in environmental studies, added: "We keep reading about what it is like in the Everglades, but I think in order to truly appreciate or understand it, you need to see it with your own eyes."
Mink's class has examined the challenges of managing national parks, and students on the Everglades trip will become more familiar with those issues.
For example, he explained, native peoples rely on the Everglades for their livelihoods, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers aims to restore its original ecosystem, and residents of south Florida depend on it for their drinking water. "One of the things we've explored is: How do you balance competing uses for a landscape that are oftentimes in conflict with one another? We've asked that question about all national parks this past term. The Everglades, though, offers one of the park system's most interesting case studies."
In Florida, the Knox group will meet with park rangers, Florida Farmworkers Association members, and hydrologists and ecologists from the Army Corps of Engineers to learn more about their work.
While canoeing and camping, the students will study the various ecologies, eco-systems, and biodiversity unique to the Everglades. At the same time, they'll study the park's cultural and historic resources and pursue their own special areas of interest, such as anthropology and land-use management.
Mink said he hopes to "get students to see the interconnectedness of these disciplines and the interconnectedness of the world. You can't understand this landscape without understanding ecology and history and anthropology and policy."
Another key aspect of the trip revolves around critically understanding and experiencing "primitive recreation," a phrase that refers to spending time outdoors, but with little reliance on modern-day conveniences.
The idea of primitive recreation, Mink explained, has guided the philosophies of U.S. environmental thinkers as diverse as Theodore Roosevelt and Aldo Leopold. It also helped establish the modern movement for federally designated wilderness areas like the one where the students will be canoeing.
Members of the Knox group will have to carry their own water and food for the duration of the canoe trip -- an estimated nine days. Mink said he and the students will lack access to cell phone service and most other forms of communication during that time.
Each student will have a "dry bag" measuring about 28-by-14-inches for personal items, such as clothes and a sleeping bag. They'll also fish for food along the way.
"I'm looking forward to the sense of adventure," said Aaron Barton, a senior from Galesburg, Illinois, (at left) who is majoring in environmental studies. "It's going to be a challenge. We will be seeing an entirely different ecosystem and a very unique ecosystem."
Todd added: "I really value working in small groups to learn, and I love the way you learn about yourself and learn through others by challenging yourself and the group.
"That goes back to why I like Knox -- the small classes provide an opportunity to know classmates intellectually, as well as personally. This is just taking that outdoors."