This past June, 7 students and 2 staff left the Cove Ridge Center at Natural Tunnel State Park, heading off on the annual Virginia Is For Students Tour 2010. It’s a trip that’s been done before, visiting sites such as coastal Virginia during the 400th Anniversary of the founding of Jamestown, as well as Chincoteague, False Cape, touring Washington, D.C., and visiting 9 Virginia State Parks in 1 week! But this year marked something different … something that hasn’t been done before in the history of Virginia Is For Students.
This year, the students followed in the footsteps of the American Civil War, from events that helped trigger it, to the first major land battle, to the site of some of the most important moments, and to the site of the surrender of Confederate forces that marked the end of the war. This year, the Virginia Is For Students Tour was planned around the Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War – the 150th Anniversary.
So what is the Virginia Is For Students Tour, you ask? That’s easy – it’s a multi-day, overnight, educational and adventure touring program that focuses on the recreational and historical opportunities that exist within Virginia, or have direct bearing on our state. Working with Virginia SOLs, it offers rising Sophomores and Juniors a chance to visit parts of the state they may have never seen, while allowing them to be immersed in activities that can make a lasting impression. The Tour is run by the Cove Ridge Center of Natural Tunnel State Park in conjunction with the school systems of Scott, Lee, and Wise counties, and the City of Norton. It is partially funded through gracious contributions from the Cove Ridge Foundation & Advisory Board, a non-profit group that works with the Cove Ridge Center.
This year, the Virginia Is For Students Tour took 5 students from Lee County High School and 2 students from Rye Cove High School (in Scott County) on a 8-day trip around our state. Beginning on Sunday, June 20th, the students traveled through more than half the state, and took in 3 State Parks, 1 National Battlefield, 1 National Military Park, 2 National Historical Parks, a large Ropes Course and Zip-Line, whitewater tubing, and canoeing – not to mention the sights, experiences, and friendships that occurred along the way! Two nights were spent in tree house shelters – yes, in real trees! – at Maple Tree Campground, while 2 nights each were spent at Lake Anna and James River state parks, and 1 night at Hemlock Overlook. The group returned to the Cove Ridge Center on Sunday. June 27th.
When it came to adventure and recreation, this year’s Tour made sure that the students kept active. From whitewater tubing on the Potomac River during their first full day out, to tackling an 8-mile canoe trip on the James near the end of the trip – this trip made full use of the outdoor activities throughout our state. In addition to the swimming and hiking offered at each State Park, the students spent an entire day in the middle of the week at the Adventure Links Hemlock Overlook, where they participated in various team building activities. From ground initiatives to low-ropes elements to soaring down a zip-line – the programs at Hemlock Overlook helped to raise group and individual confidence, self-esteem, and group dynamics and cohesion. And all the students agreed – it was definitely one of the highlights of the trip!
While adventure and recreation were an important part of the trip, some of the most unforgettable moments came from visiting the historical sites throughout the Tour. As the first stop on the trip, the students toured Harpers Ferry, WV, site of the infamous John Brown Raid on the federal armory, and one of many precursors to the American Civil War. The next historical stop centered on Manassas National Battlefield, where the students toured the sites of the first and second battles of Manassas (or Bull Run). It was here that they learned about spectators venturing out from nearby Washington, D.C. to watch the first battle – only to flee back to the city when the Confederate forces won. One student told the staff after visiting: “Manassas was heartbreaking. It’s sad to hear about the thousands of men dying and (us) actually being there.” It was also here the group saw firsthand the spot where General “Stonewall” Jackson earned his nickname.
Later in the week, the students toured the battlefields and sites around Fredericksburg, VA. They followed the Sunken Road and saw the wall that protected Confederate forces during the Marye’s Heights portion of the battle, where failed Union charges led to more 6,000 casualties. The group also visited the Stonewall Jackson Shrine, where they saw the bed in which he had died. One student commented, “It was awesome, yet very… creepy. The bed he passed away in still had the indentation of his body.”
The last place the students visited was Appomattox Courthouse National Historical Park, the site of the last major battle of the Civil War. The group toured the McLean House, and saw firsthand the room and desks where Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant signed the surrender papers that ended the war. All the students mentioned that site and the house had a profound impact on them, and one student said, “We got to see ‘where our nation reunited.”
Waging through “battles” of their own, the students fought heat and bugs and long days to follow in the footsteps of some of the most important parts of Virginia’s history. They witnessed and toured sites that marked the beginning, middle, and ending to a war that saw more battles fought in our state than in any other. And one thing all the students and staff could agree on was the fact that there was no information in any textbook that could compare to the impact of actually being there.
So, where will the Virginia Is For Students Tour go next year? When will it run? These are questions that the students are already asking! Not to worry – planning is already underway, with hopes that next year’s Tour will be better than ever!