Great Escapes

Carson Tortorige, coordinator for Touch the Earth — Georgia State’s outdoor recreation program — connects Panthers to nature

TTEIlloWhat is Touch the Earth?
The Touch the Earth program at Georgia State began as a whitewater paddling club in 1974 with instruction, recreational trips and competitions for open boats and recreational rafting. It has grown to a staff of nearly 75 to offer an equipment rental program, a climbing wall and bouldering cave, and 100-plus trips a year – instructional and recreational in nature — providing experiences in the following sports: backpacking, day hikes, horseback riding, inline skating, rock climbing, waterskiing, sailing, windsurfing, geocaching, fly fishing, canoeing — whitewater and flatwater — whitewater kayaking, snorkeling, kayak touring, skydiving, hang gliding, surfing, rafting, snow skiing, caving and whatever else the imagination can initiate. We’re a non-academic outdoor recreation program that provides users with the ability to scale vertical indoor climbing walls, get outfitted with outdoor rental gear to head out on your own, strengthen groups and unfold participant dynamics through exciting teambuilding, and travel the world on a variety of domestic and international experiential adventure trips.

Can Georgia State alumni participate?
You bet. Alumni and their guests can participate on any trip at the Guest rate or freely reserve the Challenge Program for their group. By purchasing a Graduate Membership to the Student Recreation Center, degree holding alumni will receive Member pricing on any trip and receive the benefit of renting any item of gear available. In addition, they’ll receive all the perks of utilizing the recreation center for their workout, which includes access to the climbing wall and bouldering cave.

What’s the Challenge Program?
Well, you may have heard the term “ropes course” and wondered just what it meant. Georgia State has its very own “ropes course” out at the Indian Creek Recreation Area. The ropes course is within a large teambuilding program we call the Challenge Program. Through active participation in a series of initiative problems, adventure games and ropes course challenges, individuals face obstacles, seek solutions, deal with the concepts of risk and as a result, learn, change and grow. These activities are designed with some important goals in mind that will translate into “real world” applications and attributes. The objectives of these activities focus on increasing personal self-confidence, trust in others, mutual support for effective teamwork, good communication skills, leadership and new friendships. Just imagine all that and a lot of fun, too!


Paddlers in the Everglades during a recent Touch the Earth trip.

What have been some of your most memorable trips?
There are incredible moments on even the smallest of trips. Like this spring when Cataloochee Ski Area got enough snow to open the pastures, the High Meadow Run, for the first time in 15 years on one of the six Friday’s Touch the Earth went! Or the time we took a student who grew up in Atlanta to see the ocean for the very first time — it was as if solitude seized them for hours on that beach staring into nothing.
But nothing compares to what I have witnessed or personally felt on break trips. Extended trips in the most powerful of locations create amazing emotional responses that develop into incredible group dynamics. From new perspectives on one’s life and place, to witnessing the beginnings of life-long relationships – all fostered through experiences of relaxation combined with trying hardships — these break trips have provided some of the most inspiring feedback from the participants. Sometimes this feedback comes years or months later.

What are some trips you have upcoming?
Starting in August, the fall semester will bring a few new trips such as a river cleanup service project that is teamed up with the Sustainable Energy Tribe on campus. We’ll also bring back a few of our signature getaway trips to Okefenokee Swamp, Cumberland Island and St. Joseph Island State Park. Of course, it’s always easy to take the family rafting or horseback riding, or even bicycling on the campus of Berry College or the Silver Comet Trail. Two large-scale break trips will be the annual Steamboat Ski and Snowboard trip in December and an international trip to Peru in November.