he 2017-18 season marks Muddy Sneakers’ tenth year of bringing an experiential format to teaching 5th-grade science curriculum at participating public schools across Western and Piedmont regions of North Carolina as well as Upstate South Carolina. Muddy Sneakers began as a pilot program in the spring of 2007 with Brevard and Pisgah Forest Elementary Schools in Transylvania County and has grown each year to now serve 36 schools across 12 counties and 13 school districts in the Carolinas.

Muddy Sneakers has developed an extraordinarily cost-effective, results-driven model for learning by engaging children through the natural world. Here are just a few reasons why we are unique:

  • Continuous exposure to the outdoor classroom (6-10 days over the course of the academic year) through utilizing a diverse portfolio of natural areas in close proximity to the school
  • Strong commitment to partnering with teachers and administrators
  • Small group focus (maximum of 12 students per instructor)
  • Emphasis on establishing and refining a model of excellence that produces measurable results

We see ourselves as a ‘gateway’ program that seeks to introduce the concept of environmental literacy into the public schools at a critical developmental stage. Beyond enhanced scholastic achievement, the aim of Muddy Sneakers is to build life-long bonds between the students we work with and the natural world.

Community support has been significant since our inception and Muddy Sneakers as stated above has a goal of seeing 30% of its programming cost raised within the communities where we work. One strategy Muddy Sneakers employs is an annual membership opportunity via ‘Community Sponsorship’. Every sponsorship dollar raised goes directly toward funding student participation in the Muddy Sneakers program – a $50 donation will sponsor a child for a full year. Each new sponsor helps to build sustainable support for their local schools. It is the organization’s goal to serve the majority if not all the schools in its growing program area and we need your help. It is our goal to see the number of schools we work within our program area grow from 30% to 50% in the next four years. For more information on how to become a Muddy Sneakers Community Sponsor, view our Become a Sponsor page.

Join in the movement to reconnect children and nature! You are enthusiastically invited to become a program volunteer, a parent-in-the-field, a liaison in building new school partnerships and/or a donor who can make an immediate difference with a tax-deductible contribution. Muddy Sneakers is generously supported by its own board and staff, philanthropic organizations and donors like you.



he original idea behind Muddy Sneakers came to life out of the imagination and experience of Sandy Schenck, owner of the summer camp Green River Preserve near Brevard, North Carolina.

Sandy had witnessed, summer after summer, the invigorating effects of the outdoors on young people, as well as the importance of passed-down stories that define a sense of place, community and relationship to the land. In this concept, a non-profit organization would work to merge active outdoor experiential learning with traditional studies in public schools, beginning in Western North Carolina.

To that end, Muddy Sneakers formed an initial Board of Directors in the fall of 2007. John Huie, former director of the North Carolina Outward Bound School and Environmental Leadership Center of Warren Wilson College, signed on as Executive Director. Chuck McGrady, camp owner and former national chairman of the Sierra Club, became the first board chair. Writer Jay Fields worked to conceptualize how Muddy Sneakers would actually look, function and make a difference.

With the help of long-time educator, Transylvania County Principal and Board Member David Williams, board members and staff began developing a curriculum aimed at enriching North Carolina’s Standard Course of Study.

In the spring of 2008, under the leadership of Program Director Lauren Agrella, an experienced outdoor educator, Muddy Sneakers partnered with Pisgah Forest and Brevard Elementary schools to run day-long pilot expeditions into forested areas near students’ schools. During our pilot program, DuPont State Recreational Forest, with its rock domes, creeks and waterfalls, became a main staging area for learning expeditions led by our seasoned instructors. Since then, we have come to utilize National and State Forests, National and State Parks, City and County lands as well as privately protected properties across western North Carolina. Following the pilot semester, word spread and interest in the program quickly expanded beyond Transylvania County. In only a few short years, Muddy Sneakers was operating in five school districts across four western North Carolina counties (Transylvania, Henderson, Buncombe and McDowell).

In 2011, program success and growing recognition culminated in Muddy Sneakers being awarded the NC Governor’s Award for Outstanding Conservation Organization of the Year, as presented by the NC Wildlife Federation. Later that year, Muddy Sneakers was the featured environmental education organization in an episode of UNC-TV’s Exploring North Carolina titled ‘Nature’s Classroom’. Increased exposure drove a surge of interest in the program and communities have since reached out to the organization asking how they might start their own Muddy Sneakers Chapter.

In January 2012, Ryan Olson took over as Executive Director after having spent almost four years previously working as the Assistant Director of Land Protection with the SC Chapter of The Nature Conservancy. With an eye towards further refining and progressing the excellent Muddy Sneakers model, Ryan’s goals also include building financial relationships that will ensure long-term organizational sustainability and developing a growth model that will allow the organization to consider opportunities for expansion. The organization launched a 3 year pilot program in Upstate South Carolina, and currently serves 2 schools in Greenville County.

In January 2017 after receiving a one-time appropriation from the state in July 2016, Muddy Sneakers opened its second field office in Salisbury, NC, to test the portability of the program to new communities across the state. This state-supported expansion brought experiential science education programming to 300 additional students in WNC as well as nearly 1,000 students in the Piedmont region of NC, and grew Muddy Sneakers’ impact to serve a total of 2,700 students in the 2016-2017 school year, providing each child multiple outdoor classroom experiences over the year.

Muddy Sneakers continues to seek opportunities to sustanably grow as we enter our 10th year, marking a decade of outdoor science education. A second state appropriation in the 2017-2018 school year brings the prospect of serving students in regions further removed from our existing programming area. We could not achieve this success without healthy private support from the communities we serve, as it is essential in leveraging further state support and expansion. Your support is imperative. To find how you can bring the joy of learning outside to more deserving students or to donate today, view our Become a Sponsor page and join us. To stay up-to-date on Muddy Sneakers news and events, sign up to be on our email list using the box at the bottom of this page.

How We Are Funded



s a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, Muddy Sneakers has generously received funding support in the past by its own board and staff, friends and allies (who support the philosophies behind the “No Child Left Inside” movement), matching grants and foundational grants. We are currently seeking corporate sponsorship that would allow the program to grow beyond its current regional focus in order to reach more communities around the southeast and beyond. Muddy Sneakers’ program cost, which does not account for general overhead, is funded through a three-part cost share formula split evenly between the schools, Muddy Sneakers and the communities where we work. Each contributor is tasked with raising its own 1/3 share and currently Muddy Sneakers is developing strategies to better develop consistent, annual community funding in the areas where we currently work. The cost for one child to participate in the basic 6-expedition format is approximately $150 per year. That cost is split three ways using the above formula. As a Community Sponsor, $50 will fund the community portion needed to sponsor a single child for an entire year of Muddy Sneakers!



he Muddy Sneakers program aims to embody many values in how we relate to one another and to the world around us.

Core Values

In relationships between instructors and students, between students and students, and between Muddy Sneakers and the broader world, three values hold sway:

  • Respect

    (For yourself, for others and for all living things)

  • Gratefulness

    (From understanding our connections to and gifts from nature)

  • Compassion

    (Born out of unbargaining service to others)

Field Instructor Values

Central pillars of instruction:

  • Appreciation

    (Of self, others and surroundings)

  • Communication

    (Strong, clear and compassionate)

  • Leadership

    (In seizing the instinctual opportunities of the moment)



uddy Sneakers’ vision is to bring 5th-grade students onto nearby, protected lands, with the goal of introducing them to the wonders of the natural world through teaching the science curriculum using experiential methods. Merging the energy of young students with the energy of these outdoor places sets the stage for deeply felt experiences that instill a “backyard” awareness to the Standard Course of Study. Muddy Sneakers strives to create in children a life-long love of nature and to do this in a way that enhances academic achievement, inspires the joy of living, and plants an understanding of the interconnectedness of all things.

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