116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Members of Linn County’s conservation and sustainability departments have teamed up to offer local high school students a free way to get in touch with nature and learn leadership skills this summer.
High school students in Linn County can apply to be a part of the South San Juan Wilderness Trek in Colorado. The trek is a two-week backpacking trip near Pagosa Springs along the Continental Divide in southwest Colorado.
The application is currently available on the county’s website, linncountyiowa.gov/1589/South-San-Juan-Wilderness-Trek, and due by April 22. No camping or backpacking experience is needed. The trip takes place July 19-29.
Kent Rector, Linn County Conservation Nature Center manager, is one of the trek leaders along with Linn County Sustainability Manager Tamara Marcus and Step Outdoors’ Stacy Boone.
Rector said though this is the first time Linn County will be doing a program like this, he has done similar programs in his former role in Des Moines County.
“It’s such a powerful program where kids learn self-confidence and critical thinking along with those survival skills, and they get exposed to worldly concepts,” Rector said. “We're focusing on empowering the youth that don't really have access or the opportunity to this level of programming.”
Through donations from local organizations like the Natopakama Bittersweet Foundation, Linn County Conservation is able to offer the program at no cost to students. All equipment, transportation and meals are included for students accepted into the program.
“When I was a young student, I would see brochures for programs that cost money and had scholarships available and that was enough for me to not take it home,” Marcus said. “We wanted to remove any barrier for students.”
The trip leaders are experienced and trained in wilderness first aid, navigation and group management. SPOT devices will also be used for daily communication and weather updates.
Rector also graduated from college and worked in the area previously.
“It’s very near and dear to me. I love it. It’s a cherished area that I’ve always been active in,” Rector said. “I’ve actively done work and hiked in the area quite a bit. Plus we got Step Outdoors and Stacy Boone in. She hikes for a living. She will be handling a lot of the hiking navigation and backpacking 101 which will free us up to focus on making sure the students are engaged, hydrated and healthy.”
This year, the group is taking eight students. Due to the area being a federal wilderness area, there are group-size restrictions in place.
Rector said the most consistent theme of the program will be developing students’ personal definition of what wilderness means to them. The group will hike, eat, talk and complete readings together on conservation and environmental justice.
“When they come back to Iowa, it will hopefully empower them to explore our areas too and conserve our spaces and advocate for them,” Rector said.
“The concept of including environmental justice in this intersectional work is new too,” Marcus said. “It’s just super encouraging and I’m excited to see what we learn from the students too.”
Students interested in applying to the program can do so on the county website’s South San Juan Wilderness Trek page. Donors interested in helping support the program can donate on the same page as well.
An informational meeting is being held March 10 at 6:30 p.m. at the Wickiup Learning Center for those wanting more information and a chance to meet the trek leaders.
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