The Troubling History of Trails Carolina: A Deep Dive into Allegations and Tragedies



Trails Carolina, a wilderness therapy program located in the serene mountains of North Carolina, has been marred by a troubling history of allegations, injuries, and tragic fatalities. While the program claims to provide therapeutic interventions for troubled youth, a closer examination reveals a disturbing underbelly that cannot be ignored. This article delves into the allegations and tragedies surrounding Trails Carolina, shedding light on the need for scrutiny and regulation in wilderness therapy programs.

Lawsuit Allegations: Staff Misconduct and Safety Concerns

In 2014, a former staff member filed a lawsuit against Trails Carolina, alleging that the program forced them to participate in physically restraining students and witnessing excessive force used by fellow staff members. This lawsuit exposed the program’s deficiencies in staff training and supervision, creating an unsafe environment for both staff and students. Although state regulators have noted improvements in staff training and supervision, the troubling history of Trails Carolina raises doubts about its ability to provide a genuinely safe and effective therapeutic environment.

Tragic Deaths: A Dark Cloud Over Trails Carolina

Perhaps the most chilling aspect of Trails Carolina’s history is the heartbreaking loss of young lives. Four fatalities have occurred within the program, each casting a shadow over its reputation. In 2000, 15-year-old William Edward Lee tragically died from a head injury sustained during a restraint. Two years later, 14-year-old Ian August succumbed to hyperthermia, and in 2004, 17-year-old Charles Moody lost his life to asphyxiation during a restraint.

The 2021 Tragedy: Alec Lansing’s Heartbreaking Fate

The most recent and heart-wrenching tragedy unfolded in 2021 when 17-year-old Alec Lansing went missing during a group expedition and tragically succumbed to hypothermia. Alec’s disappearance sparked an extensive search operation that ended in a somber discovery. His body was found in a stream, revealing a tragic tale of a young life cut short by a fall and subsequent hypothermia. This incident raises serious questions about the adequacy of supervision and risk management within Trails Carolina.

Understanding Hypothermia: A Deadly Risk in the Wilderness

Alec Lansing’s tragic fate highlights the dangers of hypothermia, especially in outdoor settings. Hypothermia occurs when the body loses heat faster than it can produce it, leading to a dangerously low body temperature. Symptoms can range from shivering and confusion to slurred speech and loss of coordination. In severe cases, hypothermia can lead to unconsciousness and death. It is crucial for wilderness therapy programs to be prepared and educated about the symptoms and treatment of hypothermia to ensure the safety of participants.

Calls for Scrutiny and Regulation: Demanding Accountability

The distressing allegations and tragic fatalities associated with Trails Carolina have sparked calls for increased scrutiny and regulation of wilderness therapy programs. Critics argue that the industry lacks adequate oversight, allowing programs to operate with minimal accountability. In 2021, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) conducted an investigation into Trails Carolina following Alec Lansing’s death. The investigation revealed several violations of state regulations, including inadequate participant supervision and insufficient staff training in restraint techniques. While fines were imposed on Trails Carolina by the DHHS, critics argue that more stringent regulations, such as licensing requirements and mandatory incident reporting, are necessary to prevent further misconduct.

Ensuring Safety in Wilderness Therapy: The Way Forward

The distressing allegations and tragic fatalities associated with Trails Carolina highlight the need for an extensive reevaluation of wilderness therapy programs as a whole. The primary concern must be the safety and well-being of program participants, and programs failing to meet rigorous standards should face consequences beyond financial penalties. Parents considering wilderness therapy for their children should exercise caution and conduct thorough research. Reputable programs should have clear policies, open communication with parents, and a track record of positive outcomes.


Trails Carolina’s troubled history, marked by allegations, injuries, and tragic fatalities, raises serious concerns about the program’s commitment to the well-being of its participants. Lawsuits and accusations made by former staff members and students paint a disconcerting picture of life within the program. The distressing loss of young lives further underscores the program’s flawed safety measures and management practices. It is vital for wilderness therapy programs to prioritize safety and demonstrate an unwavering commitment to providing a secure and therapeutic environment for troubled youth. Only then can these programs begin to rebuild trust among parents, the public, and regulatory bodies responsible for oversight.

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