The WildeBeat

The audio journal about getting into the wilderness.


The WildeBeat edition 91 & 92: Bay Area Wilderness Training

This is a supplementary transcript of our audio program. CLICK HERE to listen to the original program, and see the associated show notes.

ROGER MILLER: It's kind of like a teach-a-man-to-fish model of developing outdoor youth environmental education programs.

STEVE: This edition of The WildeBeat; Bay Area Wilderness Training.

[Intro Music & SFX; 0:07.6 and under]

News from the Wildebeat, the audio journal about getting into the wilderness.

This is a combined edition of program numbers ninety one and ninety two.

I'm Steve Sergeant.

[Intro Music: 0:04.5 ends]

STEVE: Earlier this year, in our show number seventy three, we heard from Nina Roberts, Ph.D., an assistant professor at San Francisco State University.

NINA ROBERTS: A smaller proportion of the population of the US visiting wilderness and outdoor areas are ethnic minorities. ...but it's changing as more people become interested, educated and desire to travel and learn about and experience outdoor areas.

STEVE: This is the next in a series of follow-up stories on diversity in wilderness users. In these editions, we'll take a look at people who are making a difference in bringing a wilderness experience to under-served groups.

[SFX: Campsite background]

STEVE: I'm at the Cherry Lake car campground, in the Stanislaus National Forest, just outside of Yosemite National Park. I'm surrounded by a busy group of men and women. They're a diverse group, both in their ethnicities, and ages. They're busy packing gear and food in preparation for several days of backcountry camping. They're all students in the Wilderness Leadership Training program taught by the non-profit organization, Bay Area Wilderness Training, or BAWT, as they often call it. Roger Miller is their executive director.

ROGER MILLER: Bay Area Wilderness Training provides training service as well as access to gear resources for youth development professionals here in Northern California... Most of the folks that we're working with are working with youth service agencies, so these are adults that we're training. We're training camp counselors and group home staff and gang violence prevention program folks. Folks who are teachers and who are working with some population of especially at-risk or under-privileged youth. We're training them how to get their youth out on trips, and then providing them with a bunch of the other resources that they need to get their youth out on backpacking and camping trips.

STEVE: Roger stands back and watches everyone working around him. My first impression was that, he doesn't even act like he's in charge. Hector Nuno seems to be directing the activities of one of the two groups.

HECTOR NUNO: We had a lot of equipment, the food, we had to organize the food, we had to organize the equipment, to separate, because we had two groups, and all the equipment was in a single pile, and so we had to organize that -- it was hard for me to tell people that I don't know to do things, but ...the group was very nice. They helped with everything and we were able to do everything on time, ...everything worked out fine.

STEVE: Hector, why did you sign up for this outing?

HECTOR NUNO: Well, it's all about the youth. I'm hoping to get the right training so I can take my youth out in the wilderness.

HECTOR NUNO: For instance, I have like one kid who came from broken families, divorced parents, they express their inside feelings in so may ways. Some of them they use drugs. I've seen my kids carry knives, and they try to be away of education. They try to do something else instead of doing homework. So you're talking about these kids that don't have good grades. ...They want to put their mind on something else; something, I guess, not related to education. That's why I want to do this, so they can, I can make them set their mind on something positive -- education and also in nature.

[SFX: Tent pitching]

STEVE: After the chaotic process of packing food and group gear, it's time for everybody to try pitching their tents for the first time. Nobody lectures them about it. Mostly, the students seem to be teaching each other.

ROGER MILLER: ...The great thing about the way the Wilderness Leadership Training course is set up is that we essentially teach some of the basic hard skills -- map and compass, how do you purify water, how do you pack; those kinds of things -- and then we point at two people, "you and you, you're on. You get us from point A to point B on this map. Go. You're leading us." Now those two youth development professionals are leading the group, and they have to deal with all of the rest of the group as if they were a bunch of sixteen-year-olds, and deal with a wide variety of scenarios and role-plays that we throw at them. Our job really is to help coach and manage the overall groups so that everyone can succeed. If that means that we partner somebody who has less skills with somebody who has more skills that they can learn directly from, then that's what we do.

STEVE: But then the time comes for a lecture. BAWT's program director, Chelsea Griffie takes the stage.

CHELSEA GRIFFIE: I want to get going. So, your sleeping bag often comes in a really large bag. You need to make it smaller right. So, we don't have small stuff sacks because stuff sacks are expensive and we can't just buy a hundred of them, so what we often have people do, you should put your sleeping bag in a plastic bag, you know, because that would really suck if your sleeping bag got wet. And know if you have any kind of water issues, it's probably just a good idea to keep it in a plastic bag... The technique that I use for these bags to kind of get it in there and lock off the air, and then just start squishing, and let the air out a little at a time. So that by the time you're done, it's as small as it can be and there's no more air that's going to get in there.

[Fade Chelsea to background]

ROGER MILLER: ...But we also teach them a lot of the soft skills that they need: How do you deal with risk management in the wilderness? how do you deal with group management? It's a lot different out in the wilderness than it is in a classroom -- or in a group home where it's a relatively contained environment. There are different kinds of dangers, there are different kinds of things that you need to look out for. What are you going to do with a kid who takes off his backpack and throws it down and says, "I'm not going anywhere anymore." You have to be able to deal with the whole different set of kinds of challenges for the youth that these youth workers work with.

[Fade Chelsea out]

STEVE: The next morning, they pack everything up for their first day on the trail.

STEVE: So is it all going to fit, Hector?

HECTOR NUNO: I have today's lunch and dinner, so it is a very, very heavy load. Cause I have tomatoes, avocados, cheese, so I have the heavy stuff. And the good thing is that we're going to have lunch pretty soon, so that's going to eliminate a lot of weight. But yeah, it is a challenge. It's very, very, very heavy. Very heavy.

[Crossfade to trailhead ambience in background.]

JUDY KUANG: Everything's in there where it's supposed to be, but the weight is another issue. I estimate it's at least twenty-some pounds, or more. Cause with all the water, the canister, and our tents, it really adds up.

STEVE: Judy Kuang is from San Francisco. She's a youth coordinator for the Chinatown Community Development Center.

JUDY KUANG: Well the kids I serve live in Chinatown, single room occupancy, SROs, so they're really small rooms, eight by ten rooms. ...Whole family. You have four people most of the time because of family, parents, childrens. Bunk beds, or even just sleeping on the floor, kitchen in that room, you share a bathroom, you share the shower room... you don't have any privacy at all. That's how it is living in the single rooms. ...So, and most of the time is what they do after school that they stay home, watch T.V., do computer, nothing really a lot because most of them living there are immigrants, or are just too shy to walk or to be out, hanging out with their friends, or doing other after school activities...

[Crossfade to Packs-On]

STEVE: Just before they head up the trail, Hector and his partner hand over their leadership role to another pair of leaders in training, Katie and Kellie.

KATIE: So everyone; when we're hiking, we're going to be hiking about two and a half miles or so, so we want to make sure our packs are nice and comfortable. So, I'm going to show you how it's done. Kellie is going to be the model. What you first want to do on your pack is you want to loosen all of your straps.

[Fade Packs-On under]

STEVE: It took them a long time to get underway. Every bit of serious work gets interspersed with games and songs and other efforts to keep the kids engaged.

ROGER MILLER: ...People with a large breadth and depth of wilderness experience, we're able to provide some extra tweaks, some extra challenges, put in some extra role-plays, add in someone who has some problematic behaviors, maybe is extra needy, maybe put an extra scenario in where someone gets lost. We can push each of the youth workers that we work with to their leadership limits. We can challenge them each in fairly individual different ways; pair them up with with someone who would be a good partner from them and from whom they can learn from and through a variety of different scenarios and role-plays we can actually make sure that they get individually challenged to the fullest extent possible, while keeping them maybe just outside of their comfort zone but making sure that they learn from it the entire way, and hopefully have some fun while doing it.

[Fade to Hiking]

STEVE: With these adults acting like unruly teenagers; nothing goes smoothly. In fact, it was absolutely the longest two miles I'd ever hiked. Along the way, we had one student run ahead and get lost, one appear to be suffering heat exhaustion, several who ran low on water, and someone seemed to have to take a toilet break about every ten minutes. I couldn't always tell the difference between simulations and real problems.

[SFX: Stream]

STEVE: Late in the day, we come to a stream. It could only be crossed by getting our feet wet. The group formed a chain to cross it.

STEVE: Hector, would you like to tell me how that crossing was for you?

HECTOR NUNO: Yeah, it was challenging because the water was very cold, and I didn't have my right size of the shoes, because I didn't bring my right sandals for crossing the river. but a friend was kind, and let me borrow his sandals, so fortunately it was not that high, so we were able to successfully cross the stream.

STEVE: Did it give you confidence, or did it make you worried about the next one that might be bigger?

HECTOR NUNO: I think it did give me confidence, so -- plus teamwork was a key feature for crossing the river. So I felt more confident because of teamwork.

[SFX: Crossfade to Cooking]

STEVE: The campsite is a short hill climb past the stream. We're running out of daylight, so they begin cooking right away.

ROGER MILLER: The instructors ...are always watching out for various different dangers that those particular leaders may be leading the group into, any any one point in time, and we will say, "Stop! You, you know, don't do that. That'll be a dangerous river crossing if you just have folks walk forward. Woops! You know, this is a dangerous scenario walking along this cliff, let's not do that." So we're always watching out for all those different kinds of potentially risky scenarios to make sure that, one, that nobody gets hurt, two, that everybody realizes and learns, "Oh, this might have been potentially dangerous. I would not want to do this with my youth." ...We want to make sure that the ...youth development professionals that we train are making safe, enriching, fun, youth programs and that they're having a productive and excellent enriching time in the wilderness with their young people.

STEVE: ...If I'm a parent of a child, how do I know that the leaders through your program are actually qualified to take my child out?

ROGER MILLER: One of the things that we certainly require for all of the youth workers that want to take their youth out on extended backpacking trips, is that they have some wilderness first aid experience. ...So we make sure that anyone who is taking youth out on extended backcountry trips has some of those levels of certification -- that wilderness first responder, wilderness first aid, before they can take our gear to go out on extended backcountry trips.

STEVE: So how do you police that?

ROGER MILLER: Well, we keep track of people's certifications. And sometimes they do their wilderness first aid or wilderness first responder certifications through us, so that makes it pretty easy. But if not we make sure that they show us their updated certification before we let them check out the gear.

STEVE: You mentioned the gear libraries... Where does all this stuff come from?

ROGER MILLER: ...We get donations from North Face, Mountain Hardware, Kelty, Big Agnes sleeping bags, Leki for poles for our snowshoeing program, Atlas donated all of the snowshoes for our snowshoe library, Sorrel all of the boots. Patagonia gives us clothing. So we've got great relationships wit the outdoor retail industry, and certainly they don't necessarily provide us with all of the gear that we need, ...and so then we get some private foundation grants or other grants for particular gear or other capital equipment.

[SFX: Breakfast]

STEVE: The next morning, they get off to a slow, and not so early start.

STEVE: Hector, how was your first night backpack camping?

HECTOR NUNO: Ahh, it was great. I mean I had a lot more hours of sleeping. That was great, I feel more energetic.

STEVE: So what would you say now, if you had to do it today, what would you say to your kids now about what's cool about sleeping outdoors, away from civilization?

HECTOR NUNO: One of the things would be, I guess, listening to nature. Even when I just didn't hear anything. But I've heard coyotes, I've heard owls, ...and another thing is just appreciate the sky because back at the city you won't see any stars, so over here, if the sky's clear, you get to see a lot of stars. So that's one cool thing about the outdoors. We don't get influenced by the city lights.

STEVE: Hey Judy.


STEVE: Are you fitting everything in there?

JUDY KUANG: Yeah, I'm fitting everything in here. Today we redistributed the weight so I have a lighter weight weight canister so I think it's better. Better than yesterday.

STEVE: So, you haven't had your chance to be a leader on this trip yet. Are you looking forward to that?

JUDY KUANG: I have mixed feelings. I want to get over it and enjoy the whole trip, but yeah, excited and anxious about it. Worried.

ROGER MILLER: We're about to throw some really interesting scenarios at people. How to deal with a youngster who brings drugs out in the backcountry, and how do you deal with that appropriately. We're also going to deal with a backcountry first-aid situation. So, those are all going to be opportunities for folks to hopefully learn how to deal with their own leadership, in probably some ways that will challenge them...

[SFX: Background "froggie song"]

STEVE: They got to spend three more days in the wilderness, full of fun and games and unexpected challenges.

STEVE: I had to head back to the trailhead.

[Fade out background]

STEVE: Back in town, I talked with Judy and Hector about what they got out of the program.

JUDY KUANG: I would confident enough to buy food and how to pack, and how to adjust your backpack, how to talk, and maybe read a little about the map, but then, I wouldn't be totally confident bringing a big group get out. Maybe after if I go through the wilderness first aid training, or go on a backpacking trip with friends... ...Ideally, a short hike to build up their appreciation of nature. Just being out to bond with other people, to get out of their comfort zone, to learn from each other, that's something different... It's going to make a difference for them, and that's ideally something I want to bring for them, to have this group bonding that let them make lifelong friends.

HECTOR NUNO: ...The teaching in general was very memorable, because that was the main thing, just learning. And so everything that I learned, I won't forget it... that helped me out to prepare for the future trips. We don't have equipment, so I want to be able to get equipment, and also to let the kids know that there are programs that in the future they can use if they want to be leaders also in the community. And just, well the ideas I had was just take the kids out... give them roles as leaders and also learn about the nature, about the geology, about the parks....

ROGER MILLER: Bay Area Wilderness Training is really high-leverage model... The more youth workers that we train, the more youth that we ultimately serve. We served about seven hundred youth in two thousand five, it was about eight hundred and thirty one last year, this year it'll be about thirteen hundred... It's an extraordinarily effective, exponential growth-oriented model, that also takes advantage of the unique relationships that these young people have already with the youth development professionals that they work with... And when they get a youth worker to take them out on a trip that is part of their community, then the wilderness can be truly a powerful experience in a deeper and much more effective way than if someone who is from outside of that community were to take those youth out on a backpacking or camping trip.

STEVE: As a matter of disclosure, I should say that Bay Area Wilderness Training is an independent sister project to the WildeBeat, also under the Earth Island Institute.

STEVE: We'd like to hear your comments about this show, your experiences with BAWT, or similar programs. You can call our toll free comment line at 866-590-7373. You'll find details on how to join a Bay Area Wilderness Training class, how to support their efforts, and download a combined high quality version of both parts of this edition, on our web site.

[Closing Music: 0:10 and under]

Our official website is WWW dot WILDEBEAT (that's W-I-L-D-E-B-E-A-T) dot NET. You can help assure future editions of this free service; please click on our support link and become a member. The WildeBeat is produced by Steve Sergeant, with help from Jean Higham, as a nonprofit educational project of Earth Island Institute.

This has been The WildeBeat, combined program numbers ninety one and ninety two. Thank you for listening.

[Closing Music: ends.]

Next time -- sock tests.

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