Save Our Canyons Kids works with youth groups from around the Salt Lake Valley to get kids outside and into the Wasatch Mountains. Our hope is that by introducing kids to the wonders of the wilderness and educating them about the importance of conservation the future generation will grow to be strong stewards of the Wasatch.
In June Save Our Canyons Kids did five hikes with more than 80 kids! To make this possible we partnered with the Boys and Girls Club of Sugarhouse, the Lied Club (the Boys and Girls Club located in Glendale), the Refugee and Immigrant Center sponsored by the Asian Association of Utah, and Sunnyvale Neighborhood Center.
SOC Kids is particularly excited about our new partnerships with the Refugee and Immigrant Center, and Sunnyvale Neighborhood Center because both organizations work with Salt Lake’s growing refugee population. On one of our hikes the leaders of these groups were telling me that a lot of the kids think Utah is ugly because they spend a majority of their time in the valley. We are excited to have the opportunity to help youth, especially those new to Utah, experience the Wasatch Range.
SOC Kids’ first hike of the summer season was first hike Monday the 13th with middle schoolers from the Boys and Girls Club of Sugarhouse. I had worked with them before for our Earth Day hike so I was familiar with some of the kids and leaders. Our Earth Day hike only had 8 kids so I was expecting a smaller group this time around. To my surprise there were 27 kids! We hiked Twin Lakes, which is a short but steep trail. There was a lot of groaning, but everybody made it to the lakes!
Every hike has an educational component, for this one I had prepared a lesson about our watershed. The lesson goes briefly into the water treatment process, the importance of the watershed for the valley below, the six watershed areas near Salt Lake City, and a summary of the watershed regulations.
The second hike of the summer was Friday the 17th to Donut Falls with the Refugee and Immigrant Center. There were twelve kids, ranging from middle school to high school. I felt less overwhelmed than the previous hike with 27 kids. These kids shocked me with their great attitudes and excitement for being in the outdoors. When I gave them the watershed lesson they were attentive, asked tons of questions and thought it was crazy that the water we saw on that hike is the same water that comes out of their tap. I was really impressed with the kindness and respect these kids showed towards one another and to myself. What really amazed me about these kids was that most of them were in summer school, which is Monday through Thursday, and they had chosen to wake up early on their day off to do this hike. Also, this hike was during Ramadan so a few of the kids were fasting and not drinking water while hiking and yet they still maintained incredibly positive attitudes. What amazing kids!
Monday the 20th, we hiked to Donut Falls with twelve kids, ages 9-12, from the Lied Club. Most of the kids and the leader had never spent time in the mountains. When we were driving up they were amazed by the beauty and vastness of Big Cottonwood Canyon and the wildlife we saw. The kids could have played at the top of the hike for hours! They loved climbing around, jumping on rocks and walking across the frigid water.
We had our second hike with the Refugee and Immigrant Center on Friday the 24th. There were 25 kids, twice as many as the first time we hiked with this club! We hiked up to Lake Mary because it’s a little more challenging than Donut Falls and I knew this group was up for it. With a group this large it’s challenging to make sure everyone stays together on the trail and doesn’t throw things or picks flowers but the kids had a great time. The lesson for this hike was on trail etiquette. The lesson discusses right of way, staying on the trail, not yelling (too much), Leave No Trace, and greeting people on the trail. After I told them it was polite to greet people on the trail every single one of them – and there were twenty five – greeted every person we passed. I think we may have overwhelmed some people. We danced and sang and laughed a lot.
The last hike of the month was Monday, June 27th with kids ages seven to eleven from the Sunnyvale Neighborhood Center. I chose the boardwalk around Silver Lake for our hike. I wasn’t sure about the kids’ ability level because I hadn’t worked with this group before so I chose a hike that, in retrospect, turned out to be a little too easy. I thought it would be a good introduction to the mountains because it’s not strenuous and very beautiful. It’s sometimes difficult choosing a hike that will challenge the kids, but not leave them frustrated. The most important thing to me is that the kids have fun and enjoy their time in the mountains. To my surprise kids complained about the hike being too easy and that they wanted to climb up the mountains. These are kids after my own heart! I promised them we would do something more challenging on our next hike.
Sunnyvale is the youngest group of kids I have worked with so far and it was amusing to see their excitement about all the different types of wildlife we saw: fish, tadpoles, a family of ducks, squirrels, chipmunks and robins, but sadly no moose! I had planned to have them work on the SOC Kids field journals because there’s a section that corresponds with Silver Lake. I could tell that it wouldn’t work though because the kids were very restless and some were just learning english.
Each hike has had it’s own unique challenges. We’ve had some small injuries, a few minor scrapes and splinters, and learned some valuable lessons about packing enough water. Hiking is great way for kids to learn how to be uncomfortable and persevere through obstacles in the interest of achieving a larger goal. I think that sometimes we’re so accustomed to being comfortable all of the time that we forget the value of discomfort. Falling and scraping your leg, running out of water or getting your shoes wet and having to continue to hike shows kids what they are really capable of.
It’s easy not try things out of fear of being inadequate or looking silly. There are few activities that kids participate in that don’t involve grades or losing and winning. That’s why I think that hiking is so beneficial for them. On one of the hikes there were a couple kids who were 20 minutes behind everyone else and instead of making fun of them all the kids at the top cheered for their peers who were struggling and chanted their names. A lot of kids would apologize to me for being out of shape and going slowly. I told them it was no problem because we are hiking to have fun and enjoy nature, not to win anything. I also let them know that if they wanted to get into better shape hiking is a great start!
June has been a great month for SOCKids. As we build upon last month’s momentum I am excited to watch how the kids in our community are enriched by the time they spend in the Wasatch. With the knowledge and skills I have gained from last month I am confident that July will be even better. I can’t wait to see how this program grows in the future and am so thankful I get to be a part of it.
Lauren Stephenson, a junior at the University of Utah majoring in Parks, Recreation and Tourism and the summer Save Our Canyons Kids project coordinator.