From the Summer 2008 American Trails Magazine
By Jerry Severns
It’s three-thirty in the afternoon at the top of 7,000 foot Flagstaff Mountain overlooking Boulder Colorado. Eighty-eight people gather for ice cream and water, lots of water. They are tired, sweaty, caked with dirt, and many will have sore muscles tomorrow. But to a person they feel good; there is a pervasive sense of pride, accomplishment and camaraderie.
These people have completed a trail project that will provide an outdoor experience, usually reserved for hikers and bikers, to people with disablities, people in wheelchairs. Parts of the existing trail have been rerouted or groomed. A culvert and earthen bridge has been installed to raise the trail over a drainage draw. New trail has been built to a ridge-top overlook providing panoramic views of the snow-capped Indian Peaks.
Projects like this take place across the country. Unique to this one, almost half of the participants are young people, the youngest just 11 years old. In addition youth are members of the leadership team that organized the project, including 20 year old project team leader Kim Inglis.
“This was a lot of work over the last three months,” says Kim, “but it’s totally worth it when you cruise the trail with our guests in wheelchairs (two people in wheelchairs participated in the project, providing design guidance), and realize just what we accomplished.”
Inglis gained the experience and skills to lead this project in VOC’s youth program. Young volunteers for outdoor Colorado join crews on projects, help select and plan youth projects and participate in training to improve technical and leadership skills.
“You can’t assume that just because they’re kids they can’t take on a challenge and make a difference,” states Fletcher Jacobs, VOC Youth Manager. VOC encourages youth to participate in public lands stewardship at all levels, and in ways that they find interesting. The result…hundreds of young people with more confidence, leadership and teamwork skills, and a growing environmental stewardship ethic.
Change is a constant
Kids are all about growth and change, that’s what they do, individually and as a group. To remain relevant and fresh in today’s world VOC’s youth program it is evolving. Two initiatives are new for 2008:
Cairn: Stewardship Challenge
Cairn combines volunteer service, environmental education, and challenging outdoor activities. Monthly stewardship challenges, hosted by partner organizations, expose 14 to 18 year olds to topics like climate change, growth and land development and water conservation. Each challenge encourages teamwork, problem solving and leadership.
To provide opportunities for tomorrow’s leaders, the Cairn Leadership Council helps plan monthly programs and direct Cairn activities.
SWAT – Stewardship with a Team
Kids are social and usually like to hang with their friends. SWAT makes it possible for young people to make a difference with their friends and on their schedule. Work is planned for clubs, church or school groups of 10 to 30, during the week or on weekends. SWAT sessions are usually two to four hours and include time to discuss the work and why it is important.
“You have to meet youth where they are,” says Bevin Carithers, VOC Deputy Director of Community Stewardship, “and where they are today is not where they were 5 years ago and is not where they will be next week.”
VOC is meeting youth where they are, in cyberspace. Profiles on My Space and Facebook share information about youth stewardship opportunities and get kids talking, well ok, messaging. In addition, color posters and matching calendar cards attract attention in schools and churches.
“The initial buzz on Cairn and SWAT has been very positive,” says Ann Baker Easley, VOC Executive Director. “But, we will monitor these programs closely to make sure they are reaching kids and relevant to their lives. If we are going to leave a legacy of land stewardship, reaching kids now is the key.”
Need trail skills and education? Do you provide training? Join the National Trails Training Partnership!
The NTTP Online Calendar connects you with courses, conferences, and trail-related training
Promote your trail through the National Recreation Trails Program
Some of our documents are in PDF format
and require free Adobe Acrobat
Download Acrobat Reader
|American Trails and NTTP support accessibility with Section 508: read more.|
Updated August 17, 2008