Giving Back

Kayak the Appalachians with the Sierra Club

by Rebecca Dameron

Let's Kayak. All photos courtesy of Rebecca Dameron.

Founded in 1892, Sierra Club has been protecting and conserving our environment long before global warming and GMOs entered the vernacular. Longtime member and environmental activist Rebecca Dameron believes in the importance of giving back to our environment. She tells her tale as leader of the Sierra Club's Appalachian Kayaking service trip.

Tell us about the trip.

The Appalachian Kayak Service Trip started at the request of a National Park ranger who liked to kayak and wanted to see clean-up work done in Lake Santeetlah, North Carolina. I love kayaking and service opportunities, so it felt like a wonderful fit! This is the fifth year the trip has taken place. We camp near the lake and spend each day collecting litter on kayaks. So far we've collected over 6,000 pounds of trash. We also repair tent pads at water-accessible only campsites. Depending on which campsites we work at, we get to paddle through and enjoy the beauty of a great deal of the 3,000-acre lake. The main goal is to get people out into the North Carolina Mountains and do work that improves the amazing experience of being on the lake. It's a beautiful place and a popular spot for many grassroots environmental organizations.

How did you get involved?

I grew up loving the outdoors, playing and exploring in my own backyard and taking long, cross-country camping trips with my family in the summers. In 1986 I joined Sierra Club to have an active role in protecting the environment, which I had come to love so much. Like many other Sierra Club members who are passionate environmentalists, I now lead national and international outings. I focus on service trips because I believe in giving back and encouraging others to do the same.

Ready to Kayak

All lined up and ready to clean.

Why Sierra Club?

Sierra Club and its many followers do great work for the environment. The Club runs educational programs, outings (local, national, international), and host outings for military personnel and inner-city children. Its monthly magazine, Sierra, educates people around the country about environmental awareness. Offering unique specialty programs really sets it apart from other environmental organizations.

Sierra Club also has several campaigns such as Beyond Coal, Beyond Oil and Our Wild America that educate people about critical environmental issues and encourage them to learn about the use of sustainable resources. One thing that has impressed me about Sierra Club is the flexibility of the staff — they are more than willing to change their programs based on results and feedback. The Beyond Coal campaign has moved from just opposing coal processing plants and the use of coal to dialoguing with willing coal companies and employees to create alternative jobs and economies in the energy industry. Willingness to address environmental issues as they arise has allowed Sierra Club to exist for as long as it has and to grow into such a dynamic organization.

What's your favorite part about the Appalachian kayaking service trip?

Kayaking in the North Carolina mountains, listening to the bugs at night, working with the National Forest staff, getting caught in a late summer rain shower, and warming and drying by the evening campfire.


Hard at work.

What's the most challenging experience you've had as a leader?

I was physically challenged by my second kayaking service trip in Alaska's Kenai Fjords National Park. It rained every single day, making it impossible to paddle. Because it pushed my limits, it's one of the best trips I ever went on. I'd like to offer the experience of testing personal limits to others. Its unbelievably rewarding.

What should volunteers expect from this trip?

Hard work, a fun time, and a great group of folks.

Who should go on this trip?

Anyone who loves the mountains, appreciates doing service work, and enjoys kayaking and camping.


Sunset over the Appalachians.

What is your favorite thing about working in the Appalachians?

The beauty of the ancient ridged mountains and the cultural history of the area. It's been home to a wealth of different cultures, from the Cherokee to the Scottish-Irish immigrants, and their traces are everywhere.

Tell us about a favorite moment from your trip.

I've been leading trips for four years, so there are too many to count. One moment that sticks out was when we had to cook dinner under the tarp during a huge rain shower. People were sitting around occasionally punching the tarp with spatulas to dump the water off the top so it wouldn't collapse.

Have you ever led another trip with Sierra Club?

I lead another service trip in the Nantahala National Forest in the spring. I've also assisted on many Florida kayaking trips. I've recently begun to lead the Coast to Coast Walk in England, where participants trek through three national parks and learn about life in rural England from locals. I also lead a cross-country ski trip in Alaska, a service trip with the Alaska State Parks, and the Nellie Juan-College Fjord Wilderness Kayaking Trip in the Prince William Sound, the site of the Exxon Valdez oil spill of 1989. You could say I'm pretty involved.


Get Schooled

First and foremost, educate yourself about ways you can reduce your energy consumption. Take it one step at a time: Take showers instead of baths; recycle, or buy less items with plastic packaging. Learn why these steps are important and how what seem like such small actions can make a huge difference.

Get Involved

Learn about a local environmental concerns. Go to meetings, volunteer, learn more. Most environmental issues are not black and white. Not every problem has a simple solution, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try to find the solutions that work best.

Get Focused

No one can save the world overnight. Pick a few things, even just one, and focus. Hard. Find where your passion lies and immerse yourself completely in that issue. My heart breaks for the lost mountains and destroyed communities of the Appalachians due to Mountain Top Removal. What's your cause?


Kayaking isn't your game? Check out other awesome ways you can save the environment with Sierra Club here.


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