Backcountry Recreation as a Learning Tool

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This summer, I had the opportunity to lead a youth trail conservation crew for the Southwest Conservation Corps. We worked on a variety of trails in the Four Corners area and all of our projects were “frontcountry”. The term frontcountry is often used by outdoor professionals when talking about areas of recreation and visitation that are easily accessible by foot, vehicle, and/or emergency services. While I enjoyed the time I spent rebuilding public trails, it did make me miss the solitude and wildness of the Colorado backcountry. Backcountry areas are denoted by their remote nature, lack of services, and limited access (i.e. 4WD vehicles, helicopter, or extended periods of foot travel). I began to think about how CSC’s backcountry programming allows for a number of learning opportunities that are unique to backcountry travel settings

• Leadership and Responsibility

Outdoor education programs usually have a “built-in” leadership aspect to them that is hard to find in normal schooling environments. During our trips, our staff emphasize that the well-being of the entire group is dependent on each camper being responsible for their own well-being. This leads to our trips creating a firm sense of community which results in campers and staff supporting each other. As campers get older and progress through different camps, more responsibility is given to them regarding navigation, campcraft skills, and group decision-making. CSC hopes to facilitate a process where campers are provided a safe space to test their leadership skills during dynamic activities and in risky environments. This is unique to backcountry settings where cell signal and other services are non-existent. So campers have to be present and engaged with their surroundings and in-tune with themselves and their peers in order to solve problems efficiently and effectively.

• Initiative

One thing that has always impressed me about CSC campers is their initiative. There is something about a backcountry trip that catalyzes young people to take charge and get things done. I think one reason for this is the fact that the backcountry is rigid and unforgiving. For example, if you don’t set your tarp up correctly then you will get wet if it rains. If you don’t hang your bear bag right, your food might be gone in the morning. If you don’t ensure your pack is “bombproofed”, your clothes could get soaked in a rainstorm or ripped apart by a hungry squirrel. You need to act in an efficient, driven and logical manner during backcountry trips in order to get from Point A to B safely. This is something our campers understand more and more as they progress through our various age groups.

• Grit

Traveling in the backcountry is hard! Rough trails, inclement weather, blisters and heavy packs create an experience that may not seem fun at first glance. However, our campers do a great job of pushing through tough conditions while having a good time. In outdoor education, we have a saying called “second-degree fun”. Second-degree fun is something that was unpleasant in the moment but you’re more apt to laugh about it after some reflection. A lot of backcountry travel is like this. Not every moment is glorious sunsets, peak views, and wildlife sightings. A good portion of it takes the drive and determination to grit your teeth through the tough times to crunch out the last two miles of a long day or waiting for a four-hour rainstorm to pass through. Our trips expose our campers to these conditions so that they can push through the tough times, laugh at the memories, and relish in the beautiful moments that are always found.

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About Truman McGee
Truman McGee