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Linn County Youth Experience True Wilderness Along The Continental Divide

Did you know Iowa has no designated wilderness areas? Our state doesn’t have a single federal park or forest, so there are zero opportunities to experience pristine nature. It’s why SOKO gladly sponsored eight Linn County high schoolers and two chaperones on a two-week trek to the South San Juan Wilderness in Colorado this summer.

What’s even more impressive is that the students weren’t required to have camping or backpacking experience. Everyone had the opportunity to develop fundamentals such as setting up tents, filtering water, cooking, navigating with map and compass, and staying dry.

Organized by Linn County Conservation, the backcountry experience was rooted in conservation rather than thrill seeking. Students assisted with a stewardship project and studied environmental science.

Projects along the Continental Divide Trail included:

  •  Adding erosion mitigation
  •  Blocking false trails
  •  Building retaining walls
  •  Moving hazardous rocks

SOKO helped the students order essentials like food, socks, and fuel. Our team also provided a backpacking 101 lesson and ensured gear fit properly. We even special ordered rain gear and boots for everyone.

Kent Rector, Nature Center Manager with Linn County Conservation, and Tamara Marcus, Director for Linn County Sustainability, share their highlights from the trip.

Tamara – It was reassuring to see the great compassion and kindness students showed one another. Some were from the same town, but most didn’t know each other. They not only formed friendships but navigated physically and emotionally demanding work together.

Kent  As adults, we have to watch for growth moments. While I personally get wrapped up in wanting to make sure the trip is totally positive, you have to sit back and let young people experience the ups and downs for themselves and discover their own takeaways. Just be quiet and let the wilderness share its lessons.

Tamara – I hope that this trek empowered our next generation of environmental leaders. As a woman of color in the sustainability space, it was inspiring to support kids with a similar background. I think about my first experience in the wilderness, not knowing where it would lead me. I want to chat with our trekkers in 10 years!

Kent – I also think about the impact beyond trail hours or number of features built. The real outcome hasn’t happened yet – it’s in the future selves of these students.

The work they do later in life will echo those few days we spent in the wilderness together. They might have thought they couldn’t make it up the mountain or find the joy to dance during a monsoon, but they did. They can draw from that well of confidence later in life.

SOKO was thrilled to support this program and help remove financial barriers. The trip would not have been possible without additional contributions from the Kate Svitek Memorial Foundation and NATOPAKAMA Bittersweet Foundation as well as partnerships with Step Outdoors LLC and the U.S. Forest Service.

All photos provided by Linn County Conservation 

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