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Idaho backpacking trip offers Iowa high schoolers window into conservation

Johnson County Conservation

Participants of the Idaho backpacking trip are trained by U.S. Forest Service staff in conservation stewardship skills.
Johnson County Conservation Participants of the Idaho backpacking trip are trained by U.S. Forest Service staff in conservation stewardship skills.

OXFORD — A backpacking trip organized through Johnson County Conservation is slated to take Iowa high schoolers to the deep wilderness of Idaho this summer while imbuing a conservation ethic and outdoor skills.

The group of up to 11 students will travel to the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness in northern Idaho July 11-20. An informational meeting for those interested and/or parents and guardians is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Conservation Education Center in F.W. Kent Park, 2048 Highway 6 NW in Oxford.

“For an Iowa kid, it’s a pretty unique experience,” said Kristen Morrow, a naturalist for Johnson County Conservation. “We don’t have a lot of wilderness. An experience like this can give them different perspectives on life and the land, and can change their interests.”

Morrow attributed a backpacking trip at age 12 to the Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico for shaping the direction of her life and converting her into a “lifelong naturalist.”

In Idaho, the students will work with staff from the U.S. Forest Service and volunteers from the Selway-Bitterroot-Frank Church Foundation on conservation projects. Last year’s students worked with axes and saws to clear fallen trees. This year’s project won’t be known until closer to the trip, she said.

In past years, they’ve also swam in alpine lakes, slept under the stars, summited peaks, and reflected as a group and individually, she said.

The Forest Service describes the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness as having “rugged peaks and connection to four national forests,” which make it a popular destination for people looking to spend time in the wild.

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The trip fee is $450, which covers travel, food, and most significant gear items, including tents, backpacks and sleeping bags. Participants will need to provide clothes and boots. Morrow said a goal is to involve kids from underrepresented populations, particularly those with limited exposure to the outdoors. A limited number of scholarships are available to apply for on a financial needs basis, she said.

Fin & Feather, 125 Highway 1 W in Iowa City, is hosting a pint night in partnership with Osprey backpacks on April 19 with proceeds going to the scholarship program. People also can help directly by contacting the Conservation Education Center at (319) 645-1011.

No prior backpacking experience is necessary, but applicants should be physically fit, able to hike an average of eight miles a day while carrying gear, and able to spend multiple nights tent camping, she said. All Iowa high school students who have completed their freshman year are eligible, though preference will be given to Johnson County residents.

The application deadline is April 20, and those interested should call (319) 645-1011 or email kmorrow@co.johnson.ia.us. The application also can be found at www.johnson-county.com/conservation.

l Comments: (319) 339-3177; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

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