Glendale Outdoor Leadership School (GOLS)

“Recreation is the new wilderness.” That’s what environmental historian Hal Rothman says about the shift in priorities in the last 20 years in much of the environmental community nationwide. What Rothman means by this is that in the heyday of the environmental movement wilderness was the number one issue worth fighting for, and instead today it is often, “How can we have fun out in the wild?”

On the nonmotorized end of outdoor recreation, enthusiasts are looking for opportunity (and wild, scenic territory) to mountain bike, hike, paddle kayaks and canoes, and rock climb in unprecedented numbers. You can see them in commercials for SUVs on TV. You can track their outdoor desire in print ads.
The motorized recreation lobby is strong as well- snowmobiles, ATVs, helicopters dropping backcountry ski teams on the tops of mountains. National forests and parks are often screaming with the sounds of someone enjoying the Great Outdoors with the aid of an internal combustion engine. John Muir and Henry David Thoreau wouldn’t believe the decibel levels.

Even Spartanburg, a community known mostly for road cycling, YMCAs, church basketball, and health clubs, is taking it outside. Saturday night we went to the old mill community of Glendale for a climbing wall party. The event was hosted in the old Methodist church by the Glendale Outdoor Leadership School, one of the newest recreation providers for our traditional community.

There was a band, burgers, and local microbrews in the old church sanctuary. Adults in fleece jackets and hiking boots sat around and listened to 70s-style rock while their kids, supervised by outdoor professionals, scampered up and down the GOLS indoor artificial climbing wall. It was part of the effort of GOLS to raise money for an expanded climbing wall and to establish itself as the premier outdoor recreation provider for this corner of the piedmont.

What I love about GOLS’ effort is that it’s grass-roots and scaled to the community. They’ve started small and included the community of Glendale all along the way. Several years ago a community taskforce led by BG Stephens looked at how the decommissioned church might best benefit Glendale and Spartanburg. They came up with the idea of the outdoor recreation center, and GOLS was born under the wing of the Palmetto Conservation Foundation.

Now GOLS program director Christine Bousch, an accomplished kayaker and outdoor educator, directs an ambitious slate of adult recreation programming, seminars, outdoor education, and fun stuff “just for kids.” George Fields directs the Palmetto Conservation Foundation’s upstate office and its Military Heritage Program out of the Sunday school rooms in the back of the old church, and Mike Fields, onsite grounds manager, works daily to complete the ambitious recreational trail system on the Lawson’s Fork below the old Methodist church.

When it’s fully developed and operational, the GOLS site at Glendale will be a miniature version of mountain destinations like the Nantahala Outdoor Center for outdoor recreation possibilities-river kayaking, mountain biking, hiking along a rocky creek, challenging climbing in various sites indoors and out.

But for me there’s something even more exciting about the emergence of GOLS than there was with the development of the outdoor recreation industry in the mountains back in the 1970s. The mountains naturally pull at the desires of those with outdoor inclinations. The scenery is dramatic, and you don’t have to work too hard to see how it’s a place to get closer to nature.

The piedmont is the working class cousin of the mountains. For 200 years we really haven’t looked to our hilly landscape for much deliverance from day-to-day realities. Work hard during the week, then head to the nearby mountains for relief-that’s often the old pattern down here.

Glendale hasn’t been a working textile community since the early 1960s. The mill burned in 2004, erasing the last vestige of the industrial revolution but also opening up a beautiful vista of the river with its dramatic falls and rapids. Now there’s new hope in Glendale for renewal, and it looks like it’s coming in the form of mountain bikes, kayaks, and rock climbers.

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