UNC-G students volunteer skills at Bear Path Acres

Published 11:04 am Saturday, March 15, 2014

Anna Decker with her favorite animal, Necco the wolf hybrid. -- Cain Madden | Tidewater News

Anna Decker with her favorite animal, Necco the wolf hybrid. — Cain Madden | Tidewater News


Ashlee Morgan mends a caged-in roof. -- Cain Madden | Tidewater News

Ashlee Morgan mends a caged-in roof. — Cain Madden | Tidewater News

FRANKLIN—A university’s volunteer trip to Bear Path Acres Animal Education Center has led a student to choose her own career path. Kara Harris was one among a group of students from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro who worked at the center this past week.

“I came on the trip to see if I wanted to be a biology major,” said Harris. “Now I’m definitely going for biology.”

The students came to Bear Path Acres on a service trip organized by the UNC-G Office of Leadership and Service Learning. They chose the zoo because they wanted to work with animals, and they were required to stay within a five-hour radius of the UNC-G campus. Furthermore, Debbie Jeter, the founder of Bear Path Acres, was eager for the extra help.

The trip took place during the students’ spring break, from Monday to Friday.

“I can go to the beach anytime,” said Courtney Stephens, who was helping paint habitat roofs. “I wanted to do something interesting and new.”

For five days Harris, Stephens and the other students painted, did repair work on the sanctuaries and fed the animals.

Although the students were of various ages and majors, they all had one thing in common: they loved working with the animals. Bear Path Acres boasts a variety, including a tiger, lemurs, lions, an African Watusi, and a wolf-hybrid.

“My favorite part was working with the exotic animals,” said Anna Decker. “And petting the wolf. How often do you get the chance to do something like that?”

Kourtney Gilbert found it difficult to choose her favorite.

“Probably the grizzly bear. Or the emu. No, the baby llama is my favorite,” she said.

However, it wasn’t all fun and games. The recent weather extremes took their toll.

“I got sunburn on Tuesday and then felt like I had frostbite on Wednesday,” said Gilbert.

But the weather didn’t prevent them from working. They were busy reconstructing the habitats for the lemurs, foxes, vultures and other animals. Many students spent numerous hours painting the roofs of primate and bird habitats.

Gilbert and Ashlee Morgan were the coordinators who chose Bear Path Acres.

“Working with exotic animals has been a good experience,” Morgan said. “I love taking trips, and I also love learning new things and meeting new people. I never expected that I’d be at a place like this, but it’s awesome.”

Cid Nance said he came on the trip because his girlfriend talked him into it, but it’s been a lot more than that.

“Once I got here, and I’ve been working more directly with building habitats, it’s been a good learning experience,” he said. “You get that feeling of accomplishment, plus I got to work outdoors. It’s been a good spring break.”

Nance said the experience didn’t end with just helping animals — he also got something out of it.

“I’m really shy, and this is a program about leadership,” he said. “It’s been good to put myself out there and be social and more open with people.”

Most of the students would love to someday return to Bear Path Acres, and it was a great experience for all of them.

“The animals have so much personality,” said Gilbert. “This trip has really influenced how we all feel about animals.”

Harris said this was her first service trip, but she added that it wouldn’t be her last.

“My favorite part was working with all of the animals, especially the tiger, Chief,” she said. “The hardest thing was trying to catch the lemurs,” she added with a laugh.

“I definitely am going to want to go on other trips, especially if they have animals.”