Bay Area Wilderness Training: Getting Urban Youth into the Great Outdoors

By Burdette, Julia | Earth Island Journal, Winter 2013 | Go to article overview

Bay Area Wilderness Training: Getting Urban Youth into the Great Outdoors


Burdette, Julia, Earth Island Journal


Last June, Carlee Scheinfeld set out for Yosemite National Park's backcountry to take part in a Wilderness Leadership Training course through Bay Area Wilderness Training (BAWT), an Oakland-based nonprofit and project of Earth Island Institute. Scheinfeld, a teacher with the Oakland Unified School District, spent five days with 17 other youth leaders learning about equipment use, nutrition, map and compass reading, and leadership techniques through a program that is designed to give participants a hands-on backcountry leadership experience. The course, she says, allowed her to "feel the magic of the possibility of sharing the kind of support and beauty we encounter in the natural world with our youth."

Founded in 1999, BAWT is based on the belief that safe, well-led educational wilderness trips can change lives, and that meeting wilderness challenges makes urban youth stronger in body, spirit, and ability. Wilderness--like no other teacher--introduces youth to first-hand lessons in personal growth, renewal, and how to help protect and preserve Earth. BAWT's mission is to create opportunities for urban youth to experience wilderness first hand. At a time when studies show that the young generation's alienation from nature is contributing to an ever-growing range of behavioral problems--from childhood obesity to depression--BAWT's work is more important than ever.

Many youth-service agencies and schools with limited resources in the Bay Area would not be able to take their youth into nature without BAWT. The project's training programs equip youth leaders with wilderness leadership skills and offer them free gear loans, financial support (if needed), and the community" they need to assume the responsibility of shepherding a group of urban youth into the wilderness and back.

What's unique about BAWT's model is that it trains those who work with youth, such as teachers and community workers, multiplying its impact: Every leader trained can take an even greater number of young people outdoors. …

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