trails carolina “investigation”: Exposing the Truth about the Controversial Wilderness Therapy Program

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Trails Carolina, a wilderness therapy program located in the mountains of North Carolina, has recently come under intense scrutiny after serious allegations of abuse and mistreatment of youth participants. As authorities investigate the shocking claims, questions arise about oversight, ethical practices and the wellbeing of vulnerable teens sent to the controversial facility.

Introduction to Trails Carolina Wilderness Therapy Program

Founded in 2008 by Graham Shannonhouse, Trails Carolina is a wilderness behavioral therapy program aimed at troubled teens aged 12-17 years. The facility is situated in the picturesque Blue Ridge Mountains and uses nature exposure, outdoor activities, therapy sessions and life skills training to treat adolescents with emotional, psychological or behavioral issues.

Trails Carolina

Trails Carolina holds a license from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) to operate as a residential therapeutic camp. It claims to have helped over 2800 youths with lowered rates of anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and suicidal thoughts. However, the program that promises transformation is now under the scanner for allegations of trauma, abuse, and questionable practices.

Disturbing Allegations of Abuse and Negligence

Over the past few months, multiple troubling accounts have emerged from former participants and families about incidents at Trails Carolina ranging from emotional neglect to physical abuse.

Some of the core allegations against the wilderness therapy program are:

  • Physical and verbal abuse by staff
  • Denial of basic hygiene like showers, toilet access
  • Emotional trauma from humiliation, shaming
  • Negligent medical care and unsafe conditions
  • Lack of mandatory reporting of abuse
  • Unqualified staff and inadequate training
  • Excessive physical punishment and deprivation

These consistent claims reveal exploitative conditions and mistreatment of adolescents at the controversial facility. While Trails Carolina has dismissed some cases as isolated incidents, the pattern of allegations merits proper investigation.

The Tragic Death That Exposed the Dark Side

In November 2014, the death of a 17-year-old participant named Eric Lansing exposed the dangerous lack of supervision and oversight at Trails Carolina. During an outdoor expedition, Lansing ran away into the wilderness and fell off a tree, succumbing to extreme injuries.

Shockingly, staff delayed calling for emergency help by several hours, leading to the teenager’s death. An inspection revealed the negligent conduct of the wilderness therapy program but it continued operations after paying a fine.

The tragedy opened the floodgates to deeper scrutiny of the unethical practices and potential harm to children at such camps.

Authorities Launch Investigations into Trails Carolina

In response to public criticism and civil complaints, state authorities have initiated thorough investigations into Trails Carolina’s functioning.

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services is closely examining any regulatory violations in areas like child safety, medical care, housing conditions and staff training. It aims to take necessary actions to improve oversight and accountability.

Additionally, the North Carolina Senate held a rigorous review of Trails Carolina’s practices involving testimonies, compliance documents and inquiries about potential abuse. It highlighted gaps in staff training, licensing policies and child protection safeguards.

Law enforcement agencies are also probing individual criminal complaints related to negligence, assault and exploitation of minors. These multi-agency investigations will uncover if Trails Carolina violated codes of conduct and ethics in dealing with adolescents.

Trails Carolina Reacts to the Allegations and Scrutiny

With growing media spotlight, Trails Carolina has issued statements acknowledging the serious inquiries into its programs.

The wilderness therapy provider claims that the allegations are from a vocal minority aimed at dismantling the facility. It has promised full cooperation with ongoing probes to demonstrate adherence to all regulations and laws.

Trails Carolina asserts that its therapy programs have life-changing results for most youths despite some risks associated with nature exposure. It has agreed to implement suggested measures to improve participant safety and experience in the future.

Broader Impact on Wilderness Therapy Industry

The Trails Carolina expose has brought wider scrutiny on the largely unregulated wilderness therapy industry. Critics argue that such expensive programs for troubled teens are often not subject to stringent oversight and standards.

There are calls for stronger governance, trained staff, mandatory abuse reporting, transparent practices and ethical treatment of children sent away for therapy. Otherwise, the Trails Carolina case indicates that such programs can leave adolescents worse-off than before.

Key Takeaways from the Trails Carolina Investigation

As authorities undertake detailed probes into allegations, several vital factors emerge:

  • Need for greater oversight and compliance audits of wilderness therapy programs to prevent abuse
  • Importance of proper risk assessment, trained staff and background checks before licensing
  • Legal duty to report safety incidents, negligence and crimes against youth participants
  • Access to medical care, hygiene, nutrition and mental health services as rights not privileges
  • Goal of therapy should be ethical healing rather than punitive behavior change
  • Participant feedback and experiences must inform reforms to regulations

The Trails Carolina scrutiny is a sobering reminder to balance the rewards and inherent risks in wilderness behavioral therapy for vulnerable populations. As the investigation progresses, the priority should be strengthening protection, transparency and accountability so no child faces needless trauma again.

FAQs about the Trails Carolina Controversy

Here are some key questions on the Trails Carolina investigation:

Q1. What kind of therapy does Trails Carolina offer?

Trails Carolina is a wilderness behavioral therapy program that treats teens with issues like depression, addiction, aggression etc. through nature exposure, challenging activities, counseling and life skills.

Q2. How did the allegations against Trails Carolina emerge?

After the tragic death of a minor in 2014, former participants began speaking out about abuse and exploitation at Trails Carolina leading to official probes.

Q3. What are the main allegations against Trails Carolina?

Major allegations include physical/emotional abuse, denial of food and hygiene, medical negligence, excessive discipline, unqualified staff and safety violations.

Q4. Who is investigating the allegations against Trails Carolina?

Regulators like NCDHHS, law enforcement authorities and the state senate have launched official investigations based on complaints.

Q5. What is Trails Carolina’s response to the allegations?

While denying systematic abuse, Trails Carolina has promised cooperation with probes and making changes to improve participant safety.

Q6. What is the broader impact of the controversy?

It has led to calls for tighter regulation of the wilderness therapy industry to protect vulnerable teens from unethical practices.


The disturbing allegations against Trails Carolina demand thorough investigation to reveal the truth and prevent future harm. While wilderness therapy can benefit troubled teens, ethical conduct, qualified staff and stringent oversight are vital to safeguard children. The Trails Carolina scrutiny should become a turning point for reforms and accountability in youth behavioral programs. With compassionate care and transparency, therapeutic spaces can truly nurture transformation.

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