Patrick Mercer

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    Professor, Recreation Leadership/Outdoor Recreation

    B.S., Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania

    M.S., SUNY Cortland

When I was completing my undergraduate degrees in Recreation, Outdoor Management, and Leisure Commercial Management at Lock Haven University, I stumbled across a sign while rock climbing during spring break at Seneca Rocks in WV. 

It read, “Here ends the Realm of the Hiker...”

This sign was posted near the apex of the hiking trail that leads fellow outdoor seekers over 900 vertical feet from the trail head to this area along side of a precipitous cliff. This particular cliff drops off on both sides over 500 feet to the deck, like a knife blade, forming an exposed narrow ridge at the top to greet hikers and climbers alike.  

The sign continued, “The area beyond this point has been left in a natural condition. Loose or falling rocks, sheer drop offs and slippery footings are common.”

And then concluded, “Visitors should have rock climbing ability before entering the area.”

It did not say “keep out” or “no trespassing.” Its message was to delineate the end of the hiking trail and the beginning of something greater or more intense than casual hiking. As I later learned while completing my master’s degree in Outdoor Education at SUNY Cortland, the intent of this sign was to protect inexperienced hikers from dangers while at the same time allowing individuals to make a conscious, informed decision as whether to proceed forward or to turn back. For some, the sign serves as a warning … for others, a challenge!

As an Outdoor Educator, W-EMT, Program Director, Camp Counselor, High Ropes Director, and now Associate Professor, I heed the message from this sign as I help people overcome their own challenges to experience something greater or more intense in the field of Recreation and Leisure Studies. I enjoy teaching people the skills and knowledge necessary so that they can safely venture beyond their own sign that marks the end of the realm of who they currently are. Instead of saying “keep out,” I invite and facilitate participants and students to experience their own trials so that, in the end, they can continue on their own path that leads to whatever exposure in life they seek. My overall goal is that these same students become leaders themselves so they too can help others as I have helped them. 

The irony of this sign is that the end of three days of rock climbing, scaling that cliff, my climbing partner and I decided to hike the trail back down to the parking lot as opposed to our usual method of rappelling. It was on this descent from this precarious natural area that we came across this sign and its message. Though I was new to this world of rock climbing, it was at this point I could now consider myself a “Rock Climber.”