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Students trek with donkey to connect to environment
Karin Bolender, center, with her donkey Aliass, walks with a group of Gainesville State College students along Old Federal Road Wednesday as they make their way from Old Federal park to the Gainesville State College campus as part of an ecological art project. - photo by Tom Reed

Wild Culture Ecological Perspectives

What: An ecologically minded exhibit of works by Karin Bolender, Greta Brubaker, L. Ashwyn Collins, Nicole Foran, Joshua Dudley Greer, David Hamlow and the artist team of Kent Manske and Nanette Wylde, Meg Mitchell, Robert Mullenix, Lauren Rosenthal and Jennie Thwing
When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursdays and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Fridays through Oct. 26
Where: Roy C. Moore Art Gallery, Gainesville State College, Oakwood
Cost: Free
More info: 678-717-3438

Karin Bolender's class attracted some curious stares Wednesday as she and her students silently trekked six miles of roadway, with a donkey.

The hikers were part of the Wild Culture Learning Community at Gainesville State College. Bolender, an art instructor, and 11 students departed from Lake Lanier in the morning, passing through quiet residential streets as well as busy commercial intersections. The route included Stephens and Mundy Mill roads.

"Considering the dangers present when walking down the side of the road, I think it went pretty flawlessly," she said.

Living in a fast-paced world, Bolender said people tend to tune out their environment. She wanted her students to experience a slower commute to help them connect to the local area. The students were asked to remain silent, unless in the event of an emergency.

"When you're having a conversation, you don't hear the
crickets in weeds while there's a truck blowing past on the other side of you. Those are things I wanted to share; things you might not otherwise hear. Most of us would not otherwise make this walk," Bolender said.

Freshman Josh Amerson described the excursion as "eye-opening." He said he could also relate to the donkey's point of view in some of the high traffic areas.

"We're so used to vehicles, but when you're on the side of the road and a motorcycle goes by at 60 miles per hour it gets your heart going. And you can see the donkey is nervous, too. You realize you're in the same place," Amerson said.

The students, staff, Bolender and the donkey, Aliass, ended their trip at Gainesville State College where they camped out for the night near Lower Pond. The walk started from Lake Lanier because it represents an important ecological symbol in the community, Bolender said.

The Wild Culture Learning Community art exhibit launches this month and is a new initiative on campus that links several core courses, such as English and art, to ecological issues.

Bolender said she was excited to share her personal experience of traveling with Aliass, the American spotted donkey. In the past, she has made similar journeys, such as a seven-week hike from Mississippi to Virginia.

"We're pretty comfortable together out on the road," she said. "He's a perfect companion."