Student Spotlight: Charlie Sullivan Diversifies Shepherd

Student Charlie Sullivan is non-traditional in most ways, from two hikes on the Appalachian Trail to activism, publication, and even maintaining the Western Maryland Rail Trail.

Sullivan is currently an RBA student focusing on Appalachian studies. Behind the book bag and studying, Sullivan has a decorated personal narrative that is still continuing today.

Sullivan cites Thoreau throughout his life and everyday activities as well.

“I was fortunate enough to read ‘Walden’ and ‘Civil Disobedience’ at a formative young age,” said Sullivan. “I was probably about 19 or 20 then. I read Thoreau when I began camping and hiking. In essence, Thoreau became my mentor.”

Sullivan supposes that he encountered Thoreau at the right time and in the right place.

“Conditions were favorable for him to take root and grow,” Sullivan said. “Over the years, I have made many pilgrimages to Concord and Walden Pond. In fact, I camped out at the site of Thoreau’s cabin with two friends, illegally I might add, in 1977.”

In 1982, Sullivan made a choice that continues to hold an effect on his lifestyle choices. Over the course of five months, Sullivan would migrate from Georgia to Maine, spending the time out in every type of weather. His life became about finding water, shelter, and food. Sullivan would complete the Appalachian Trail for the first time, sleeping, eating, writing and carrying Thoreau’s “Walden” with him.

Sullivan, describing the 2,100 mile hike, said, “It was not a walk in the park. It was hard work. Life on the trail teaches self-reliance and spiritual resilience. It was also one the highlights of my life.”

In 1987, Charlie would again start the walk from Georgia to Maine, completing another 1,500 miles.

The remainder of Sullivan’s life has been spent involved in environmental activism. He has been affiliated with such groups as Earthfirst!, Virginians for Wilderness, and Heartwood, on whose behalf he would go before Congress. He even founded the Appalachian Bio-Diversity Project in 1993.

Sullivan is passionate about the Earth.

He said, “I have always seen the Earth as a super-organism, not something to be exploited. Because of this, I have been involved in everything from anti-war to feminism to anti-fracking. All issues are interconnected.”

Sullivan has published many essays with such sources as Dissident Voice, Information Clearinghouse, OpEd News, and Counter Currents. He often writes about his opposition to capitalism. Most of his writing these days is concerned with ending capitalism and creating a more egalitarian political economy.

“Ecology is the only economy that really matters,” said Sullivan. “We must think small economies of scale, kick our fossil fuel addiction, and design economic systems in accordance with the edicts of ecology.”

He also spent several years doing environmental education at Hemlock Outlook Center for Outdoor Education, at Clifton, Va. Sullivan lived with his canine companion, Ursa, in a 430-acre park. He was the assistant director and responsible for the environmental education programs. The exhausting but rewarding work involved social cooperation and interaction with thousands of people on the subject of the environment.

Currently, Sullivan works at Fort Frederick State Park as their Master Naturalist. He continues to educate on the environment while developing nature programming and activities. Sullivan also helps maintain the Western Maryland Rail Trail, routinely biking up to 45 miles a day.

As a student, Sullivan has taken classes here and there throughout his adult life. However, at the age of 58, he officially entered Shepherd University after completing his associate degree at Blue Ridge Community and Technical College. Sullivan originally came to Shepherd as an English major but feels at his age, it is more about the learning than the degree. He switched to the RBA program for the freedom of courses it allows.

Sullivan, however, does not allow homework to interfere with his activism and love of the world.

“These old mountains get into your blood and nourish your soul,” he said. “We have a responsibility to make things better.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.