Sowing Seeds In Fertile Ground

On the trail with a crew of young men led by Big City Mountaineers ~ 2003


March 11, 2015

Next stop Burlington, Vermont. Now that I’m finishing up the last leg of The Adventure Gap college book tour a few of the students I’ve had the opportunity to connect with are reaching out with letters and comments. It’s very exciting to know that the work I am doing has begun to resonate with young people around the country and I am very eager to engage in a national conservation on how we can get more kids into the outdoors. I believe there are many opportunities to make a big difference in the formative experiences of today’s youth. It’s my hope that we can all encourage them to become lifelong stewards of the environment, advocates for conservation, students of natural science or career employees in professions dedicated to wilderness preservation. I’m psyched to see that there are many conscientious students out there who are willing to help.

Here’s a note I received this week from a student looking for a little advice.

Hi James,
Hope all is well! I work at the Outdoor Education Center and am part of an Outdoor Leadership class where we talk, among many things, about the issue of access and privilege. When I went to your movie screening of An American Ascent, I was very inspired and thrilled by the movie and by your powerful words.

I am an alternative education major and am working on my capstone (similar to a thesis but project based). After graduation, I’m looking to pursue a career in outdoor education/guiding. Over the past four years, I have been involved in several different types of outdoor education/recreation programs and have become particularly interested in working with non-profit outdoor education programs. For my capstone I will be creating a 5 day backpacking trip for 10-12 low-income minority high school students who have little experience in the “outdoors”. A very significant part of my capstone is incorporating a culturally relevant curriculum, which I think is really important if we want to get more minority youth involved in the outdoors. I figure that you would have some ideas and opinions on the best methods/practices and how to implement them! I’d love to hear your ideas and thoughts ~ Johanna Garcia

Dear Johanna,

Thanks for reaching out. I’m very happy to hear that you enjoyed the film and my talk. I’m never completely sure if I actually reach the audiences I address. I really appreciate your interest and I’m happy to do what I can to help.

It sounds like you’ve got a great opportunity here to make a solid impression on kids who can directly benefit from a relationship with the natural world. I think the best piece of advice I can give you is to make this experience as relevant as possible to their daily lives. From my own personal experience leading trips similar to this (Big City Mountaineers) I’ve discovered that without the ability to bring this kind of adventure back home as the basis of a lifelong love of the outdoors young people typically forget much of what they learned and don’t always return to it. It’s not enough to “sow the seeds of adventure” you need to create a fertile environment in which they can grow.

I believe the best thing you can do is incorporate these kids’ parents, teachers, siblings and peers in any way you possibly can. I suggest working with them in advance to learn a bit about the natural history of the place you plan to visit. Try to make a connection between their own family heritage to put themselves into the context for where they are going. Help them to belong. And when they come back try to create ways that they can share their experience with the people in their lives. Encourage them to tell their stories as photographs, drawings, poems or songs. These social cues will help make the experience endure long after your return and hopefully inspire them to want to go again. I believe the most important part of adventure is storytelling. Without the ability to share an experience like the one you aim to create it may as well have never happened.

Yours truly,



I don’t have all the answers. And like the young people I have encountered in my recent travels I’m open to suggestions. What do you think we can do to get more youth into the outdoors? Perhaps you can share some of your experiences and observations in the comments below. If we’re going to create fertile ground upon which the seeds of adventure we sow today might grow I believe we’ll need as many thoughts and ideas on the subject as humanly possible. Please share!

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I'm a freelance journalist that specializes in telling stories about outdoor recreation, environmental conservation, acts of charitable giving and practices of sustainable living.

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