When Madison Donohue asked her environmental education AmeriCorps supervisor if she could host a guided bike tour, she didn’t expect it would kickstart a full-fledged social enterprise.
Appalachian Understories, a social enterprise of Rural Action, offers events like guided hikes, bike rides, camping trips, historical tours and animal tracking workshops, among others. The company even offers a guided hike all about beavers.
Through its efforts, Appalachian Understories aims to provide a sense of place, preserve cultural knowledge and benefit human health. In addition, by purchasing food and refreshments for its events from local businesses, Appalachian Understories helps stimulate the local economy.
Donohue, tourism specialist at Appalachian Understories, said the company has supported local businesses such as The Farmacy, Crumbs Bakery and Shagbark Seed & Mill.
On guided tours, participants have a chance to learn about the historical significance of natural wonders in Appalachian Ohio.
“Appalachian Ohio has really an amazing history that is strongly woven in with the natural world,” Joe Brehm, director of environmental education at Rural Action, said. "I always think of Robinson's Cave as one of the best examples of this."
Robinson’s Cave, located in New Straitsville, is a natural cave where labor workers and organizers held meetings that led to the formation of the United Mine Workers of America. Brehm, who gives tours with Appalachian Understories, enjoys helping participants deepen their connections to the natural world.
“Really, the art of this is really about connecting with the participants,” Brehm said. “I really like to just connect with people on the fly and learn more about why they came, what they're hoping to see or learn about, and empower them to find just as many cool things as I could see.”
Although they provide great experiences and learning opportunities, events can be challenging. Appalachian Understories offers a wide variety of bike tours. While rides geared toward families tend to be short, some rides are 17.5 or 20 miles and have hills and elevation gain. Donohue said doing something difficult with a group can encourage bonding.
“That's one of my favorite things about all the tours: that kinship that is developed during the events,” Donohue said.
Though some rides might be challenging, many of the lengthy bike tours have become fan-favorites.
Dawn Handley, who has participated in some events with Appalachian Understories, said her favorite guided tour she’s been on has been the “A Ride Through Time: Nelsonville,” which is 17.5 miles. Handley said although she is from the Athens area, the bike tour provided unique information about some of the tour’s stops, like Nelsonville, Haydenville and Carbon Hill.
“I haven't been to some of those places since I was a kid, so it was really cool to visit them again and hear the stories,” Handley said.
Many participants of the tours have felt excited to connect with others in a fun and active way.
“Right now, being in a pandemic, it was really great to connect with other people and to socialize and also to keep that history alive in these areas,” Handley said.
Employees at Appalachian Understories enjoy sharing their passions with the public and inspiring others to enjoy the beauty of nature. Brehm especially enjoys hosting tours that take place in the forest. He said he has become more enamored with the Appalachian forest with every passing year.
“There's just something beautiful under every rock and log and in about every tree and its place in the ecosystem,” Brehm said.
Those who are interested in learning more about Appalachian Understories can visit https://www.appalachianunderstories.com.