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Grand Canyon Rails to Trails Travel Course Slated for Spring Break; Deadline to Enroll Nov. 1

October 21, 2013

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MACOMB, IL – Next March, Western Illinois University students will have the opportunity to view the unique combinations of geologic color and erosional forms that make up one of the most breathtaking tourist destinations in the United States. A two-hour credit course, "Grand Canyon: Rails to Trails Travel Workshop," offered through the WIU Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Administration (RPTA), will cover tourism, accessibility, themed excursions, rail travel and national park tourism and will provide students with a distinctive learning opportunity during their Spring Break at WIU.

Led by Rachel Smith, an instructor in the RPTA department, the course (RPTA 450) is slated to take place during WIU's Spring Semester 2014, with the trip scheduled Sunday-Friday, March 9-14 (Spring Break). Prior to the travel part of the course, the students who enroll will meet three times during a Monday evening class time. The class will also meet one time after the travel part of the course. According to Smith, the trip is open to both undergraduate- and graduate-level students (grad-level students will be assigned additional coursework to earn credit) and promises to provide a variety of learning experiences.

"The idea for this course came to me after I took my family on a cross-country Amtrak trip to Washington, D.C. I started thinking about the impact of tourism in our national parks and how much you can learn in the national parks, from concepts in biology, geography, geology to recreation and risk management and accessibility. Being in west central Illinois and having access to Amtrak is really a gift to us," she said. "For the travel part of the trip, we'll take the Southwest Chief from Galesburg and travel to Arizona to visit the Grand Canyon. To me, with Amtrak available so readily to us here at Western, it just seemed like an obvious opportunity."

Smith noted the course will be able to accommodate 10-12 students and will provide students with learning experiences in areas applicable to the recreation, park and tourism field.

"I'm a therapeutic recreation specialist, and so because of my training, I not only look at accessibility standards from a legal standpoint and an accommodation standpoint, but also from the perspective of universal design. We know one in every five Americans has some type of disability, so we'll be reviewing how goods and services in the travel and tourism industries are made to be more accessible, so people with disabilities can participate. For example, we'll be looking at how Amtrak has modified to change to become more accommodating to people with disabilities, as well as how our national parks provide accessibility," Smith explained.

She added the course will also explore issues related to train and national parks' operations (e.g., safety/security/health, environmental management, marketing and working with diverse populations and regulatory organizations), as well as provide students with hands-on learning opportunities.

"At the Grand Canyon, we'll take a bus tour of the south rim, so the students can experience that component of the tourism field. One of the assignments they'll have is to interview another tourist and find out why this person chose this trip and what motivates a person to travel," she said.

Smith noted the accommodations (train, bus, hotels) will be purchased as an Amtrak travel package and will mostly be all-inclusive (which will include train, bus and vehicle-shuttle travel, as well as hotel accommodations, most meals and all the excursions' taxes and insurance). She said each student will be responsible for one dinner and one lunch on his or her own and added the class members will likely carpool to Galesburg for departure March 9.

The cost for the travel package—which does not include tuition and is based on enrollment of approximately 10 people—is currently $1,215 per person. Smith said a $215 deposit is due to the RPTA department office (Currens Hall 400) by 4:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 1.

"The cost will vary based on the number of people. Space is limited, so I'm encouraging students to email me [] if they're interested. The course is open to faculty and staff members, as well." Smith said.

The tentative Amtrak package itinerary for the trip is available below. For more information, contact Smith at

Trials and Rails: Rails to the Rim Adventure

Sunday, March 9 (Day 1) - 5:38 p.m. Depart Galesburg aboard Amtrak's Southwest Chief
Board Amtrak's Southwest Chief and depart for Williams Junction, AZ. Make the most of your time on the train, meeting your fellow travelers and ensuring a visit to the Sightseer Lounge with its floor-to-ceiling windows offering impressive views of the picture-perfect scenery passing before you. As your train crosses the mighty Mississippi, cutting across Illinois, briefly into Iowa, and then onto Missouri, enjoy a hot meal in the dining car before retiring for the evening. Overnight train.

Monday, March 10 (Day 2) – Southwest Chief to Williams Junction, AZ
The sun rises as you leave Kansas and travel through southern Colorado. Start your day with breakfast in the dining car followed by a series of presentations from volunteer park rangers as part of the Trails & Rails program (seasonal). Enjoy hearing stories and viewing artifacts from the region as your travel through Colorado and New Mexico. Your train arrives in Williams Junction around 9:30 p.m. A shuttle will transfer you from the rail station to your hotel. Overnight Grand Canyon Railway Hotel.

Tuesday, March 11 (Day 3) – Historic Grand Canyon Railway Train
Wake-up early and enjoy a hearty breakfast buffet at the Grand Depot Cafe. Then board the vintage rail cars of the Grand Canyon Railway for a 9:30 a.m. departure to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Travel the same route as other notable Railway passengers before you including William Howard Taft, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Clark Gable, Jimmy Durante and Doris Day. Upon arrival you will be met by tour buses waiting to take you on a Freedom Tour of the Grand Canyon. This narrated motorcoach tour of the South Rim visits the most scenic overlooks of the canyon, with stops at breathtaking vistas including Mohave Point, Pima Point, the Abyss, and Hermits Rest. Overnight Maswik Lodge.

Wednesday, March 12 (Day 4) – Grand Canyon at Your Leisure
Spend the morning exploring the South Rim on your own or take another guided tour. There are several historical buildings worth visiting including Buckey O'Neill's Cabin, the longest continually standing structure in the South Rim; Desert View Watchtower with one of the few views of the bottom of the Canyon and the Colorado River; and Bright Angel Lodge with its small museum honoring Fred Harvey, who played a prominent role in popularizing the Grand Canyon. Board the Grand Canyon Railway southbound to Williams at 3:30 p.m. Dinner this evening is at the Grand Depot Cafe. Overnight Grand Canyon Railway Hotel.

Thursday, March 13 (Day 5) – Southwest Chief Chicago-bound
Wake-up early and transfer to Williams Junction to board Amtrak's Southwest Chief to Chicago. Nap, read a book, or spend the day marveling at the canyons, deserts, mountains, missions, pueblos, and ranches that comprise the colorful scenery and getting to know your fellow travelers. Overnight train

Friday, March 14 (Day 6) – Arrive at Galesburg
Awake to the wheat fields of the Midwest this morning. Leisurely prepare for your arrival in Galesburg a little after 12:08 p.m.

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