History Up Close: Extreme Journey Campers Wrap Up Tour of Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area

Two weeks. Biking, hiking, canoeing, running/walking, swimming all mixed in with history. 

That’s not the latest reality TV show. It’s the Extreme Journey Camp that’s put on each summer in partnership with Journey Through Hallowed Ground organization and Loudoun County Parks and Recreation and Community Services. 

Participants go on a two-week adventure where they get to experience hands on, the history and places that shaped America and its leaders. 

Camp Director Blaine Horton has been with the program for 12 years. He said they try to have an extreme element at each of the sites. He said they try to teach students history in a fun way.  

The mission of Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area Partnership is to promote appreciation for the historically significant sites in the 180-mile corridor between Gettysburg and Charlottesville, passing through the heart of Loudoun County.

For Extreme Journey campers, it’s an up close and personal look at history where it happened. 

Ben Verhey, 10 a rising fifth grader was a first-time participant. He’s also one of the youngest.

He said he was interested in history before going to camp and knew a lot of the bare facts but said, “this tells you about the blow-by-blow things. Like this happened here and then [actually] be there. I’ve never done that,” he said.  He liked that he didn’t just learn the history through a history book. 

He also talked about the extreme nature of the camp—including canoeing six miles on the Potomac River, cycling 12 miles along the C&O canal and the entire Gettysburg National Battlefield. He said he learned from one of the guides you get out what you put into something and said that really helped him to enjoy the camp.

“I’m kind of sad its over. I got my fill of history and I’m going to miss my friends, but I barely got any sleep so I’m looking forward to more sleep,” he said. 

Junior counselors, or red shirts as they are called, volunteer their time to take the participants on the two-week journey. 

They are often former program participants who loved the experience so much they come back year after year.

Naavya Shah, 16, a rising Junior at Heritage High School and the Academy of Science, is a return camper and counselor. She attended camp all three years of middle school then came back as a counselor for the past three years.  She talked about how its easily at least 80 hours of volunteer time a camp session. But it’s all done out of a love for history and the camp and a desire to pass that love on to the next generation. 

“I come back every year and I learn something new. This is my sixth year, so I’ve been to Monticello six times, and I just want to make sure these kids have fun and a great experience because you hear about how siblings are coming the next year and their brother or sister is excited for them and that makes you excited and you want to give them that experience,” Shah said. 

“They call it the extreme journey. It’s not just in a battlefield telling history. We make it interactive. Kids who love sports get to bike and learn about all this incredible stuff,” she said.

Matthew Cifuentes, 15, rising junior at Broad Run High School and Monroe Advanced Technical Academy, was a junior counselor for Session One. 

“This camp is really fostering leaders and showing the history of our country. And these guys don’t mince words. We talk about a lot of ugly stuff from our country’s past, but we are teaching them the past, so we don’t repeat it. That line is so overused but it’s true,” he said.

He got involved after developing a love for history from his fourth-grade Virginia Studies teacher at Ashburn Elementary School. 

He said learning in a hands-on setting like what the campers experience at camp is priceless. “You get them out into these places and see them. I mean biking around Gettysburg, it just hits different,” he said. 

Each session gets a history teacher and a technology teacher as counselors. Session One had Zachary Gargan a social science teacher and football coach at Lightridge High school and Wendi Walker an instructional facilitator at Stone Hill Middle School.  

At the end of their two-week session the participants present a video they created highlighting some of the places and people they learned about. The videos answer the questions: “What does leadership mean to me? What lessons can I learn from the examples of leadership provided by historical figures?”

Videos were presented July 22 at Loudoun County High School. 

The next session starts Monday, July 25 and runs through Aug. 5. As of Friday, there were a few spots available. Registration is through Parks and Recreation website.

One thought on “History Up Close: Extreme Journey Campers Wrap Up Tour of Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area

  • 2022-07-23 at 3:07 pm

    I think it’s marvelous for students to experience history on such a personal level. When I was 17, I visited relatives of Mary Todd Lincoln in Springfield, Illinois. It was part of my high school’s Independent Study Program. I spent a week touring Springfield & will never forget the experience. Ah, to be young again!

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