Trails Carolina Death
Trails Carolina Death

Are you aware of the dangers that lurk in some wilderness therapy programs? If you are a parent of a troubled youth, you want to ensure their safety and well-being at all times. Unfortunately, some programs have been under scrutiny due to allegations of abuse and neglect. One such program is Trails Carolina, which has been in the news recently due to a tragic incident.

In this blog post, you will learn about the case of Trails Carolina’s death. You will know the details of the incident and the responses from the program and the public. Most importantly, you will understand the significance of this event.

By the end of this post, you will have a better understanding of the risks and benefits of wilderness therapy programs. You will also know what to look for in a program and how to ensure your child’s safety and well-being. So, if you want to make an informed decision about your child’s future, keep reading.

What Is Trails Carolina?

What Is Trails Carolina

Trails Carolina is a wilderness therapy program for youth located in the Nantahala National Forest of North Carolina. This wilderness therapy camp has been operating since 2008. The program is designed to help troubled teens who are struggling with emotional and behavioral issues. The program provides a unique approach to therapy by utilizing the natural environment as a way to help teens connect with their inner selves.

The history of Trails Carolina is rooted in the belief that nature can be a powerful tool for healing. The program was founded by two therapists who recognized the benefits of combining wilderness therapy with traditional therapy. The program has since grown to become one of the leading wilderness therapy programs in the country.

At Trails Carolina, teens participate in a variety of activities, including hiking, camping, and outdoor adventure activities. The program is designed to challenge teens both physically and emotionally, helping them to develop resilience and coping skills. The program also provides traditional therapy sessions with licensed therapists to help teens work through their issues.

The Case of Trails Carolina Death

Trails Carolina is a wilderness therapy program for troubled adolescents located in the serene mountains of North Carolina. Unfortunately, the program has been marred by several tragic fatalities over the years, including the death of Alec Lansing in November 2014. Lansing died during a group camping trip organized by Trails Carolina, and his death was linked to a fall.

In addition to Lansing’s death, there have been disturbing claims of abuse and neglect at Trails Carolina. One of the most widely publicized incidents involved the tragic death of 17-year-old Sarah, a program participant who died of hypothermia. Sarah’s family had entrusted her well-being to Trails Carolina, but her death raised questions about the program’s safety and the level of care provided to its participants.

Following these incidents, both Trails Carolina and regulatory bodies responded promptly. Trails Carolina issued statements extending condolences and reaffirming their commitment to safety. Investigations were initiated to comprehend the circumstances surrounding the tragedies.

Despite these efforts, the disturbing claims and tragic fatalities have led to a struggle for reputation and reform at Trails Carolina. The program has faced scrutiny from both the public and regulatory bodies, and there have been calls for greater oversight and accountability.

Response to the Incident 

After the Trails Carolina Death incident, both regulatory bodies and the facility responded promptly. Immediate actions were taken to comprehend the circumstances surrounding the tragedy and to ensure the safety of the participants.

Immediate Actions

Upon Alec’s body being discovered, Trails Carolina immediately contacted the authorities and the family. They also provided support to the other participants and staff involved in the incident.

Official Statements

Trails Carolina issued an official statement expressing their condolences and reaffirming their commitment to participant safety. They also assured parents and guardians that they would continue to improve safety measures and provide the best possible care to participants.

In addition to the official statement, Trails Carolina communicated with parents and guardians to provide updates and answer any questions they may have had regarding the incident.

Trails Carolina has also offered a wilderness therapy program designed to help troubled youth overcome their challenges and lead healthier, more productive lives. They have expressed their commitment to participant safety and have implemented improved safety measures to prevent similar incidents from happening in the future.

Investigation Findings of Trails Carolina Death

Investigation Findings of Trails Carolina Death

Cause of Death

The official investigation into Trails Carolina’s death found that Alec Lansing, the participant who died, succumbed to hypothermia. The autopsy report confirmed that the cause of death was “hypothermia complicated by environmental exposure and dehydration.” The regulatory bodies also found that the wilderness therapy program had a disturbing pattern of allegations of physical and emotional abuse, neglect, and inadequate safety protocols.

Investigating Authorities

The local authorities led the investigation with cooperation from the organization. Local law enforcement, in collaboration with wilderness experts and medical professionals, conducted a comprehensive investigation to ascertain the events leading to the participant’s death. 

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) also investigated Trails Carolina’s policies and practices. The investigation found that the program failed to follow its own protocols and failed to provide adequate medical care to the participants.

Trails Carolina’s response to the investigation findings was to make changes to their policies and procedures. The program implemented new safety protocols and hired additional staff to ensure that participants receive proper medical care. The DHHS also recommended that the program undergo additional training and hire additional staff to ensure that participants receive proper medical care.

Legal Proceedings

The legal proceedings surrounding the Trails Carolina Death have been closely scrutinized by the public and industry experts. The incident has sparked a broader conversation about the regulation of wilderness therapy programs and the need for increased oversight to ensure the safety and well-being of program participants.

Court Hearings

The lawsuit against Trails Carolina began in 2021 and has since undergone several court hearings. The most recent hearing took place on January 15, 2024, during which the defense argued that the incident was a tragic accident and that the program had followed all necessary safety protocols. The prosecution, on the other hand, argued that the program had been negligent in its duty of care and had failed to adequately assess and respond to the risks involved in the camping trip.

Verdicts and Sentences

The verdict in the Trails Carolina case is expected to be announced in the coming weeks. If found guilty, the program could face significant fines and other legal repercussions. The outcome of the legal proceedings will affect not only Trails Carolina but the wilderness therapy industry as a whole. 

All organizations in this field must prioritize participant safety, continuously improve their protocols, and operate with the utmost care and diligence to prevent such devastating incidents from occurring in the future.

Industry Implications

The Trails Carolina Death has sparked a broader conversation about the wilderness therapy industry. The incident has raised concerns about the safety and well-being of program participants and has led to calls for stricter regulations and increased oversight to ensure that such tragedies are prevented in the future.

The wilderness therapy industry has been largely unregulated, and the Trails Carolina Death has highlighted the need for more stringent regulations to ensure that programs are safe and effective. The incident has prompted a reevaluation of wilderness therapy programs and their ethical practices, with many experts calling for a more comprehensive approach to participant safety.

Moving forward, the future of wilderness therapy is likely to be shaped by the lessons learned from the Trails Carolina Death. It is expected that the industry will undergo significant changes in the coming years, with a focus on improving the safety and effectiveness of programs.

Prevention and Future Measures

To ensure the safety and well-being of program participants, Trails Carolina has implemented several measures. Enhanced staff training is one of the key measures that have been taken to prevent future incidents. Staff members are now required to undergo more rigorous training to ensure that they are equipped with the necessary skills to handle any situation that may arise.

In addition to enhanced staff training, Trails Carolina has also implemented stricter safety measures. These measures include more thorough participant assessments, as well as increased supervision during activities. The goal is to create a safer environment for participants and reduce the risk of future incidents.

To further ensure the safety of participants, Trails Carolina has also implemented more rigorous mental and physical health assessments. These assessments are designed to identify any potential health issues that may put participants at risk. By identifying these issues early, Trails Carolina can take the necessary steps to ensure that participants receive the care they need to stay safe and healthy.

Greater Context and Impact on Society

The impact of the Trails Carolina Death extends beyond the immediate community and has reverberated throughout society. The incident has highlighted the need for greater oversight and accountability in programs that cater to at-risk youth.

As a society, we have a responsibility to ensure the safety and well-being of our most vulnerable members. The Trails Carolina Death has underscored the importance of this responsibility and has brought attention to the potential dangers of wilderness therapy programs.

In the wake of the incident, there has been a growing demand for increased regulation and oversight of such programs. This has led to greater scrutiny of the industry and a push for more transparency and accountability in the care of troubled youth.

Media Coverage and Representation

Media coverage has played a crucial role in shaping public perception of the Trails Carolina death incident. Investigative journalism and documentaries have brought attention to the controversies, humanizing the stories of affected families and raising awareness about the potential risks associated with therapeutic wilderness programs.

The media has also been instrumental in highlighting the need for reform and accountability within the industry. Reports have shed light on the lack of regulation and oversight of wilderness therapy programs and the need for more comprehensive safety protocols to protect participants.

It is important to note that media coverage can also be sensationalized and biased, leading to a distorted representation of the incident. Some reports have been criticized for focusing too much on the negative aspects of the program and failing to acknowledge the positive impact it has had on many participants.

How Can We Take Measures to Prevent Such Incidents in the Future?

To prevent incidents like the Trails Carolina death from happening in the future, it is crucial to implement stricter safety protocols and regulations. This can include regular training for staff members on how to handle emergencies, such as medical emergencies, severe weather, or dangerous situations. 

Implementing stricter safety protocols, such as regular safety checks and inspections of equipment and facilities, can help ensure that everything is in proper working order and reduce the risk of accidents.

Here are some additional measures that can be taken to prevent similar incidents in the future:

  • Conducting thorough background checks on all staff members and ensuring that they have the necessary qualifications and experience to work with children and young adults.
  • Provide adequate supervision and ensure that staff members are properly trained and equipped to handle any situation that may arise.
  • Regularly reviewing and updating safety protocols and regulations to ensure that they are up-to-date and effective.
  • Encouraging open communication between staff members, parents, and guardians to ensure that everyone is aware of any potential risks or concerns.

By taking these measures, we can help ensure the safety and well-being of all participants in programs like Trails Carolina. While there is no way to eliminate the risk of accidents or incidents completely, implementing these measures can help reduce the likelihood of them occurring and ensure that everyone involved is prepared to handle any situation that may arise.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What are the most common concerns raised in reviews of Trails wilderness programs?

The most common concerns raised in reviews of Trails wilderness programs are related to safety and oversight. Parents and participants have reported incidents of abuse, neglect, and inadequate medical care. In addition, some participants have reported feeling traumatized by the experience and have not seen any long-term benefits from the program.

What are the potential impacts of “Trails Carolina Death” on wilderness therapy programs?

The “Trails Carolina Death” incident has cast a spotlight on the safety and oversight of wilderness therapy programs. It has prompted questions about the well-being of participants and the need for increased transparency, accountability, and regulation. The incident has also led to calls for stricter regulations and qualified staff to ensure the safety of participants.

What is the Earth Phase program associated with Trails Carolina?

The Earth Phase program associated with Trails Carolina is a part of the wilderness therapy program. It is designed to help participants develop a deeper connection with nature and learn survival skills. During this phase, participants live in the wilderness and are responsible for their food, shelter, and safety.

Can you explain the legal basis for wilderness therapy programs?

Wilderness therapy programs are legal under state and federal laws. However, the regulations governing these programs vary by state, and there is no federal oversight. In general, these programs are considered to be a form of mental health treatment and are subject to state licensing requirements.

What controversies have been associated with Trails Carolina?

Trails Carolina has been the subject of several controversies over the years. These include allegations of abuse, neglect, and inadequate medical care. The program has been criticized for its high cost, lack of transparency, and questionable effectiveness.

How much are families typically charged for participation in Trails Carolina?

Families generally are charged between $500 and $1,000 per day for participation in Trails Carolina. The total cost of the program can range from $20,000 to $60,000, depending on the length of the program and the level of care required.

Who is the current owner of Trails Carolina?

As of January 2024, the current owner of Trails Carolina is not publicly known. The program has changed ownership several times over the years, and the current owner has not been identified in any public records or news articles.


The Trails Carolina Death incident has raised important questions about the safety and oversight of wilderness therapy programs. The incident highlights the need for stringent safety measures and constant vigilance to ensure the well-being of participants. The program’s history of allegations, injuries, and fatalities is a cause for concern. 

It’s crucial to remember that, with the correct supervision and management, wilderness therapy programs can help troubled teenagers. It is vital to do extensive research on the program and inquire about safety and oversight if you or someone you know is thinking about participating in wilderness therapy. 

Remember, the safety and well-being of participants should always be the top priority.