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Environmental Planning & Development

Mar 8, 2021

Popular TRAILS program expands into Associate Degree offering in EPD

Rockingham Community College will offer a new degree program starting in Fall 2021: Environmental Planning and Development. It focuses on skills essential to being successful in outdoor recreational asset design, construction, planning, business, and management.

The success of the existing Duke Energy Trail Recreation and Adventure Institute for Leadership and Service (TRAILS) continuing education program at RCC had demonstrated a need and a demand for more in-depth information and opportunities to expand skills in this field.

RCC is the first community college in the United States to pioneer this type of coursework and applied experience. 

Headshot of Trevor Flanery

“This is a very unique offering, not just on campus, but in the state. It’s really not like anything else out there that I’m aware of,” said Dr. Trevor Flanery, program director. “It is so diverse in the different aspects we will be studying. You have to have the environmental skills, an understanding of the communities you’re working within, and an understanding of recreation and the building and maintaining of recreational assets and facilities.”

The new EPD program leads to an Associate in Applied Science Degree, and will seamlessly transfer to a number of four-year universities in North Carolina so students can pursue a bachelor’s degree if they choose. Four-year programs from Western Carolina University, Appalachian State University, and North Carolina State University have all indicated an interest in exploring an articulation agreement with RCC for easy transfers. Other students may choose to enter workforce upon graduation from RCC.

Students can choose from three concentrations within the Associate degree at RCC:

  1. Environmental Planning is for students who plan to get a four-year degree and maybe even a master’s degree, or who want to get into public policy, environmental management, or landscape architecture or planning.
  2. Outdoor Economy and Development is for students who want to run a business and learn how to market it to attract people to their business.  This track has more of a tourism focus in learning about destinations and how natural assets such as rivers, parks, trails, etc. can be accessed or used without being destroyed. Students could also pursue a bachelor’s degree in business, hospitality, or tourism upon completion.
  3. Trails and Outdoor Infrastructure is closely related to the current Con Ed TRAILS program. These students want to work with their hands and be outside. They would be trail builders or work at state parks, or local parks and recreation departments, or in landscaping or grounds management at golf courses. 

All students will all take a set of core classes, and then branch out to classes specific to one of the three majors. The program is spread across five semesters including summer, and requires 68-69 credit hours.

TRAILS class
An instructor and students in the Duke Energy TRAILS program at RCC work on a campus trail.

The History

The creation of the Duke Energy TRAILS at RCC continuing education program was made possible by a generous gift to the college in spring 2017 of $700,000 from Duke Energy: $610,000 to fund the early stages of the new hands-on outdoor skills program, and $90,000 in student scholarships specifically for Virginia residents to defray costs of out-of-state tuition.

In its first 28 months, TRAILS served 249 students for 4,848 contact hours through 29 classes that have each ranged in length from one to four days. The classes offer lecture, discussion, and fieldwork to help students completely comprehend course content. The program’s continuing education classes have proven to be popular among current outdoor professionals not only in North Carolina but across the United States. TRAILS has attracted attendees from South Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, Massachusetts, Illinois, New Mexico, Indiana, Ohio, Vermont, and even Puerto Rico. The distance these students are willing to travel to receive training demonstrates that the program is not only meeting an existing need, but that the need is valuable and unique.

Environmental Planning and Development Associate Degree program
Duke Energy TRAILS Continuing Education courses
RCC receives $700k from Duke Energy
Flanery joins RCC as Duke Energy TRAILS director

“Following the coal ash spill, Duke Energy convened a stakeholder advisory committee across the Dan River Basin area of North Carolina and Virginia … and one of the recommendations that came out of the stakeholder group was a community college program that would focus on the outdoor potential of natural resources like the river and its health,” Flanery said.

RCC’s EPD program has arisen in part to meet three needs. The first is a critical applied skills gap in traditional bachelor’s degree coursework in the parks, recreation, and tourism management field. There is also a growing need for more knowledgeable and skilled workers with practical experience due to increased popularity of trails and rivers, and a greater awareness of the economic impact of the outdoor recreation economy. Thirdly, the community has expressed a desire for environmentally aware improvements and expansions of sustainable outdoor recreation infrastructure in the area—an area rich with natural and potential recreational resources. 

“With so many new projects, economic studies, and growth in the area’s assets, county residents are keen to see outdoor recreation development. But having assets without a workforce is a challenge, and having a workforce without related employers is a problem.”

Flanery still sees the value in what was in place prior to his arrival to run the TRAILS program.

“The Continuing Education program’s strengths are its national level offerings and cutting-edge skills that are difficult to find anywhere else. With the Associate degree we needed to broaden the scope so that the program and the students would not be locked into too narrow a focus.   With this curriculum we can continue to evolve as outdoor industries do.” 

Continuing Education courses in the TRAILS program will continue to be offered.

For more information on RCC’s Environmental Planning and Development program or TRAILS Continuing Education courses, visit https://rockinghamcc.edu/program/environmental-planning-and-development-a55350/ or call Dr. Flanery at 336-342-4261 ext. 2704.


Rockingham Community College
PO Box 38
215 Wrenn Memorial Rd.
Wentworth, NC 27375


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