By: Julie Judkins
Two breathtaking long-distance trails, the Costa Rican Camino and the Appalachian Trail in the United States, face a shared challenge. These trails wind through areas of unparalleled natural beauty and remarkable biodiversity, and both have fostered vibrant communities of hikers and locals. However, they also present a significant challenge to the rural schools along their paths, which strive to educate their students on the impact of these trails on their local ecosystems, as well as the numerous benefits of long-distance hiking.
The Camino is a 280-kilometer trail that spans across Costa Rica’s diverse terrain, from the Caribbean Sea to the Pacific Ocean. Managed by Mar a Mar, the trail passes through some of the country’s most stunning national parks and protected areas, including Corcovado National Park and La Amistad International Park. The Camino’s trail managers work with local communities, schools, and indigenous peoples to create a trail that is accessible to all.
The Appalachian Trail (A.T.) is a 2,200-mile (3,500 km) long hiking trail that stretches from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine, passing through 14 states in the eastern United States. The trail runs through a diverse landscape, including forests, mountains, and valleys, and provides hikers with the opportunity to experience the natural beauty and cultural heritage of the region. The trail was completed in 1937 and is maintained by a network of volunteers and organizations to this day. It is a popular destination for hikers and outdoor enthusiasts from around the world.
The Camino and the A.T. are part of the World Trails Network, a global network of hiking trails that promotes sustainable tourism and inclusive trail development. Through the World Trails Network, the two trails were brought together, connecting communities and educators in both countries. Through this relationship, came the idea to connect the schools along the Costa Rican Camino and the Appalachian Trail.
Over the course of several months, Trail leaders and educators came together to discuss ways to communicate and collaborate. Teachers shared curricular resources. Students shared information about their cultures, languages, and environments. This exchange provided a unique opportunity for both to learn from each other and gain a broader perspective of the world.
Between January and March of 2023, five schools along the Camino connected with two schools along the Appalachian Trail, connecting over 125 students.
The project inspired Julie Judkins of Just~Trails, and Ali Pretty of Kinetika, to walk the Camino, and meet with schools, students, and communities along the way.
The experience was moving for everyone. A workshop with Indigenous Cabécar women from Naiwi Awari left a profound impact on those involved. Throughout the workshop, the women shared their personal stories and experiences, highlighting the delicate balance between their interest in promoting cultural tourism and advancing their artistic techniques, while also expressing their concerns about the potential negative impacts of the outside world on their traditions. They emphasized the importance of visitors paying respect to their cultures and to their Elders – past, present, and emerging.
And so, the story of connecting schools along the Costa Rican Camino and the Appalachian Trail became a symbol of the power of collaboration and the importance of preserving our natural world. It showed that by coming together and sharing our knowledge and resources, we can create a better future for ourselves and the generations to come.