Hal Boyle gets goose bumps a lot, and it’s not because of the air conditioning.
Boyle, owner of Triad Eco Adventures in Winston-Salem, gets these goose bumps because of his passion for the outdoors — and the unique way he’s able to bring outdoor recreation that extends beyond park boundaries to city residents.
“Just taking people outside and seeing them have a blast, or learn something they didn’t think they could do, it gives me goose bumps,” says Boyle, who refers to himself as the tribal leader of the outing company. “I like doing things and helping other people, coaching swim teams or teaching wind surfing.”
Triad Eco Adventures offers a variety of recreational activities, including Segway tours, trolley rides, stand-up paddle boarding, and electric bicycles, all of which can be booked online. So when you see a large group of folks zooming their way around Fourth Street on Segways donning colorful helmets, that’s Boyle’s passion in action.
“Segways were the first thing we did, and a lot of people said we couldn’t have a Segway tour in Winston-Salem; that it wouldn’t work,” Boyle says. “Not only do we now have a Segway tour in Winston-Salem, but we also sell and service Segways between Charlotte and Raleigh.”
The business provides the unique opportunity to combine technology with an outdoor adventure, not quite asking you to risk it all in the wilderness, but rather explore the city with a new lens.
“You can take the electric bicycles to Quarry Park or go around Salem Lake,” Boyle says. “[Our business] is driven by people saying it won’t work, by fun, and by local history.”
Recently, the Triad has seen a spike and growing interest in stand-up paddle boarding, aka SUP. Boyle has formed partnerships with organizations behind many local lakes and ponds in the area, allowing him to lead paddle boarding adventures in what could be a stone’s throw from your home.
“Nobody in the Triad — zero — knew anything about paddle boarding. So I went to High Point, Greensboro, and Salem Lake,” he says. Because of these new relationships, he’s been able to host groups of 60 people out on paddleboards.
At the start of a SUP class, Boyle or the day’s coach will teach guests what it’s like to “dance on water,” and will offer some local insights on Triad lake life. The company can host a minimum of two people, and kids age 10 and up can participate. Training and lessons are usually held at their kick-off location on YWCA Way or at the stand-up paddle board launch site, and Boyle and his staff take time to make sure everyone is comfortable — and all safety precautions are being met.
On Facebook, the company has been recommended by 29 people, and every one of the 31 reviews has a 5-star rating.
“There were 33 women who had never stepped foot on a paddle board (well at least most of us hadn’t), and within minutes, with the helpful instructions and persuasion of the Triad ECO Adventure team, almost all of us were standing and moving down that lake,” writes Barb Kaiser.
It’s these experiences that matters most to Boyle.
“We put eco in our name … but what’s so eco-friendly about that?” Boyle asks. “Well, we’re taking 32 people out of their cars and putting them in one vehicle together. And, we’re creating fellowship, friendship, and we’re supporting small businesses.”
On a wooded trail behind his house in the Celo community, Tal Galton points out plants on the forest floor that the majority of people would never see. Tiny white shoots rise a couple of inches above the fallen leaves and turn their tops back toward the soil. Ghost pipes, Galton says, are parasites that get their energy from their fungus host because very little sunlight filters down this far. As the trail continues, Galton identifies bear corn, a favorite snack of its namesake animal, and buffalo nut, which is said to contain the same poison as cobra venom.
Many of us would never see these fascinating plants because, we as a society, suffer from a condition called “plant blindness.” Even though we might be surrounded by plants daily, we never notice them. When Galton and his wife moved from Durham to the Celo community, just outside of Burnsville, 20 years ago, Galton was far from a plant expert. But he immersed himself in books and, more recently, the internet to find out more about the world around him.
“I was always curious, but I didn’t know one plant from another when I moved here,” he says. “Learning about the woods makes spending time there that much more interesting. Now every time I walk through the woods, I see something new. My goal is to share that with other people and help them make that connection.”
Galton shares his knowledge with others through his business Snakeroot Ecotours, where he leads guided, themed hikes and custom outings. His offerings change with the seasons. Spring brings wildflower walks, while summer and fall treks lead to rare orchids and fireflies.
Many of the hikes wander through the 1,100 acres that belong to the Celo community. Established in 1938, Celo is managed collectively by the members who live here. One of Galton’s roles, fittingly, is to oversee the trail system.
Other custom hikes take visitors through the adjoining national forest and up into the Black Mountains, the highest mountain chain on the East Coast. The tours provide an insider’s perspective, revealing hidden waterfalls, secret swimming holes, and rare plants and fungi.
“More and more people want to be out in the woods, but a lot of people don’t know how,” Galton says. “We are such an urban and suburban species, so it’s helpful to have someone facilitate that outdoor experience.”
Snakeroot Ecotours is now in its fourth season, and Galton hopes to eventually offer longer, multi-day retreats. As a naturalist, his goal is to promote the forest through education and explanation. This area of the southern Appalachian Mountains is one of the most diverse temperate ecosystems in the world. The unusual combination of high elevation and the climate of the Southeast leads to an abundant number of species that call these mountains and valleys home.
As Galton winds his way through a twisted grove of laurel and rhododendron trees that resembles a scene from “Alice in Wonderland,” he stops to listen to a black-and-white warbler. Its call sounds like a squeaky wheel. Galton admits he’s not an expert birder, but he’s doing some research. And when he’s ready to test his newfound knowledge, he steps out his back door to take a walk and listen to the trees.