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Programs link recreation and education

May 25, 2006|by TAMELA BAKER

Want to add a little learning to your leisure?

Elderhostel offers thousands of programs for travelers 55 and older that combine recreation with education.

Elderhostel is a not-for-profit organization designed to provide lifelong learning experiences. Programs last from a few nights to a few weeks and are available in a number of price ranges.

The price of a trip includes accommodations, meals and instruction in various subjects. The trips range from very active to more instructional programs.

Trips are available in all 50 states and in 90 other countries, according to the organization's Web site.

But one needn't go far to participate.

Elderhostel offers 14 to 18 programs a year at Shepherd's Spring Outdoor Ministries Center near Sharpsburg, according to Ann Cornell, the center's administrator.

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Guests spend the week at the center, going off-site for tours, training or service projects, she said.

So far this year, Shepherd's Spring has hosted history, service and recreational programs that have included excursions to local Civil War sites, service projects at Antietam National Battlefield and hiking/biking along the C&O Canal.

Service projects can include repairing fences at the battlefield or planting trees at the National Conservation Training Center across the Potomac River in Shepherdstown, W.Va.

A recent program had about 13 Elderhostel participants learning about the history of the C&O Canal from Hagerstown Community College instructor Karen Gray, who explained early navigation along the Potomac River - and the push by none other than George Washington to exploit the river for economic development.

"George knew how to rough it," Gray explained to her audience, "unlike Jefferson who never got far from the nearest Holiday Inn."

The following day, participants planned to go exploring along the canal. By nightfall, they would return to Shepherd's Spring.

"One of the neat things about Elderhostel is that once you arrive at the site, everything's included," Cornell said.

This particular gathering included travelers from several states.

Kay Messing of Seattle was intrigued by the title of an Elderhostel program offered in Nevada City, Calif., called "Gold, Ghosts and Gaslights." Newly widowed, Messing said she appreciated the program and the camaraderie among participants, and was immediately hooked.

Since she began taking Elderhostel trips, Messing has visited Savannah, San Antonio, Phoenix and other Elderhostel destinations.

"I think it's a bargain," she said, adding that she loves "meeting people and seeing new things. They keep us very busy."

The C&O Canal program was the 47th Elderhostel experience for Tom Miller of Bethlehem, Pa. Elderhostel programs have taken him to destinations all over the world, he said - England, Israel, San Salvador, New Zealand and Australia, to name a few.

One of his more memorable trips was a week aboard a schooner off the coast of Washington state, he said.

Elderhostel offers programs on "just about anything," said Miller, who noted the average age of participants is 76.

Elderhostel travelers tend to be well-read, he said. They generally have "good health, a few dollars and a sense of curiosity," he said.

He and his wife, Bunny, have a certain criterion for deciding which Elderhostel programs to choose, he said: "What do I want to see tomorrow that I haven't seen before?"

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