By Sioux Towner
I had the privilege to witness, for the second year running, Youth Leadership Adventures in action. North Cascade Institute really knows how to navigate the tremulous water of teens in America, all kinds of teens: The diversity of the group I listened to today demonstrated to me that the strength of our country lies in its variation. After five days of wilderness hiking, team building, mentoring and “public speaking” (within the group twice a day or more), the ups and downs of North Cascades National Park along Diablo Lake did its magic once again.
It’s called “Visitor Day”; what that means is that each participant shares challenges, accomplishments, thoughts and dreams with an eclectic group of interested people who could be donors, teachers, park employees, national forest employees, alumni from former leadership trainings. It is a melange of adults often as diverse as the participants. What happens during this day, in my experience, is nothing short of perfect. It is filled with a kind of authenticity that can only blossom in a safe and caring environment. How that environment gets made was my personal quest today.
Stewardship along the trails is an integral part of the Youth Leadership Adventures experience. The teens pack/canoe all their tools into the backcountry themselves.
I came up with several ideas based on what I heard from the group dubbed the “Tree Huggers” (a name they gave themselves). The recipe goes something like this:
1.) Combine a group of total strangers — the more diverse, the better
2.) Provide for all their basic needs and no more
3.) Marinate in an atmosphere of wilderness and experienced staff
4.) Structure the days with meaningful work, challenges (nature usually takes care of most of that with rugged topography, weather, insects, wind, etc.) and the opportunity to talk to someone and be heard by all
Out of this relatively simple yet refined formula comes the most heartwarming stories of companionship, confidence, and insight — a backcountry utopia really. So many times we heard about some transformation that was incubating or starting to fledge. There were tears and laughter, questions and surprising answers. The unpredictability of the speeches was as refreshing as the environment, clean and pure — leaders in the making.
Protecting wildlife, protecting their food! Participants become experts at hanging their food and any other scented items, an important responsibility in the backcountry.Leading photo: Youth Leadership Adventures participants harnessing the ancient power of fire. All photos by Carolyn Waters, Youth Leadership Adventures instructor.
Chattermarks gives a huge “thank you” to Sioux Towner, both for heading out to experience the backcountry with the student-participants and for being inspired to write her reflections.