For the second year, American Councils Armenia hosted a group of students from Warren Wilson College (Asheville, NC) to explore the natural beauty and burgeoning ecotourism industry in Armenia.
The students, who are majoring in outdoor leadership at Warren Wilson, study a combination of wildlife, outdoor adventure, and teambuilding dynamics. The group visited Armenia to further develop their outdoor adventure planning and leadership skills in the context of a new culture and environment. With its mountainous landscapes, hiking trails, and rich biodiversity, Armenia does not disappoint.
During the program, the group visited the Urtsadzor Reserve, which introduced them to projects implemented throughout the Reserve, including its wildlife rescue center. Later, the group visited the nursery of the Armenian Tree Project, which works to plant trees in urban and rural sites and to educate the public about environmental issues and sustainable development.
The group also hiked with and learned about initiatives from ARK Armenia, a nonprofit NGO based in Kapan, the Syunik region of southern Armenia, dedicated to promoting sustainable development and implementing solutions that provide social, economic, and environmental benefits to the region. During their time together, the group also took in a lecture on “Leave No Trace” principles for local youth in Kapan.
A true highlight of the trip was hiking Mt. Aragats, Armenia’s highest mountain. There, the group not only admired the panoramic views afforded by Mt. Aragats, but took on intensive problem solving scenarios based on actual outdoor leadership trips.
Finally, Armenia’s Ministry of Environmental Protection held an informative session for the group, presenting details on the reserves under the control of the Ministry. The Ministry presented the functions of the RA Ministry of Nature Protection as well as the perspectives of ecotourism development in Armenia, closing the session with an open discussion on existing problems the country and industry at large faces in ecotourism and environmental protection.
Overnight stays with Armenian host families, allowed students to connect with locals and experience Armenian culture, people, environments, and history directly. Apart from exploring the country’s landscapes and hiking trails, the students volunteered to help people better prepare to host future backpackers as Armenia’s ecotourism industry builds. Together with host families, the group enjoyed cultural activities, master classes in making lavash and gata, crafts, wood carving, and dancing.