To learn more about the Explore Fund visit www.ExploreFund.org, applications for 2013 grants are open until May 1st.
the next generation of America’s public lands stewards
Montana Wilderness Association, in partnership with Big Brothers Big Sisters
and the U.S. Forest Service, and with support from the North Face Explore Fund,
leads monthly outdoor adventures for Montana’s underserved youth.
A dozen "Bigs" and "Littles" gathered at
Pattee Canyon Recreation Area to try out cross country skiing, most of them for
the first time. Only a few miles from downtown Missoula, Montana, this popular
locals spot on the Lolo National Forest was an entirely new destination for
It was a warm Saturday in mid-January, and the experts in the
crowd -- college student volunteers -- tried to explain the techniques of the
sport: Push, pole, kick, glide, herring bone, and so on. The kids patiently
fidgeted with bindings and jacket zippers, and focused on trying to stay
upright on skis.
As soon as talking and introductions were finished, in a burst
of energy, the crowd headed off down the trail. Gliding fearlessly, many little
skiers stopped at least a few times mid-hill to topple into a pile of skis,
mittens, puffy coats, and hats, but always with a smile. Quickly scrapping
well-made plans to cruise the trails, the skiers left poles aside and made use
of a meadow, where familiar games of tag, red-light-green-light, and red rover
helped newbie skiers become accustomed to the long boards on their feet.
When it came time to stop for a lunch of chili and hot
chocolate, one stand-out 5th grader was reluctant to take a break from his new
found passion - cross country skiing. After scarfing down a bowl of chili, he
was off on the trails again, tumbling down every downhill, slipping up every
uphill, and sliding to and fro across the path, all with a special gusto to
keep at it. Where adults might have shed a tear or two after the first couple
of falls, he kept pushing ahead with a big smile, eager eyes, and a tenacity
unique to 5th grade boys.
Towards the end of the day, again tumbling into a pile of skis,
he stood up, raised his arms high above his head, and exclaimed with a grin,
"I love skiing! What's better
than the great outdoors?!"
This exclamation of joy is exactly why the Montana Wilderness
Association partners with Big Brothers Big Sisters in three Montana
communities. The Montana Wilderness Association's college student volunteers
help provide Montana's underserved youth - kids whose families are struggling
to overcome the challenges of poverty, single parent homes, incarceration, and
other social and economic obstacles - with the chance to explore the great
outdoors. Monthly trips in Helena, Missoula, and Bozeman, give "Bigs"
and "Littles" the chance to experience skiing, tracking, rafting,
hiking, birding, and more.
Hopefully - like this 5th grade boy - the pairs return home with
experiences they will carry with them, sharing their new-found love of outdoor
adventure with their friends and families. Perhaps they'll encourage their
families to hike together, or maybe they'll even start a career in conservation
a decade from now. There's no telling what the long-term effects of a day in
the woods might be.
After all, isn't the sentiment of this 5th grader what drives
all of us to dedicate our lives to the cause of conservation? As he exclaimed
so perfectly, "What's better than the great outdoors?!"