New River Trail State Park’s new Color Canyon trail will be a little brighter thanks to some of Associate Professor Marc Stern’s students, who created interpretive signs for installation on the trail as part of a service-learning opportunity in his spring 2016 Environmental Interpretation course.

“It’s a drastic landscape. The site doesn’t have the traditional scenery you’d normally find in a park, but you’re able to look right at history,” said Eryn Turney, who graduated in 2017, of the site near Hiwassee, Virginia.

The trail will be used by both hikers and mountain bikers, so the students had to consider multiple audiences. Working in groups, they explored the site, plotted GIS points where the signs would be placed, and decided what information would be most interesting to visitors. The groups presented multiple designs, incorporating a self-guided tour, a scavenger hunt, and even a geocaching experience.

“Our signs featured information about local wildlife, geology, and the history of the site,” said senior Delaney Beattie. “It was challenging to try to figure out what kinds of signs would appeal to the general public and people without any background in natural resources.”

Stern added, “This whole class is designed to make students better communicators about the subjects they care about. It’s interlaced with environmental, social, and cultural issues. By doing a project like this, students can put theory into practice, and the next time they need to support a place they care about, they have the tools they need to do it.”