Young ambassadors share a love for wilderness
By Kelsey Dayton
— September 9, 2014
Even before she could walk, Izzy Dickinson “hiked” by riding in a backpack her parents carried. The outdoors and wilderness areas have always been an important part of her life. The quiet is calming to the now 12-year-old from Sheridan. She likes to hike, fish and wade in creeks.
But while people come from all over the world to see Wyoming’s wilderness areas, many of her close friends hardly venture outside. An avid Girl Scout, she noticed outdoor badges disappearing, replaced by ones in crafts and technology. It worried her more that kids weren’t as passionate as she is about protecting the wild places she loves.
“We are the next generation and we are going to inherit the world someday,” she said.
Izzy’s concerns are shared by conservationists and wilderness advocates. That’s why, in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, the Wyoming Wilderness Association started the Young Ambassadors for Wilderness program.
The program, which started in May 2013, brought students from across Wyoming together by Skype to share experiences, learn about wilderness issues and get out into wild places.
Carolyn Schroth, executive director of the Wyoming Wilderness Association, knew passing on values of conservation and an appreciation of wilderness to young people was important and the best way to do that was to get them out into the places that are protected, or one day might need to be, and teaching them about what makes these places special, she said.
“It’s a way to fill the pipeline with new wilderness leaders,” Schroth said.
Not everyone, even those growing up with wilderness areas in their backyard, get out.
“Many of the people who live in the shadow of the Cloud Peak Wilderness have never been up there,” she said. “It just doesn’t come naturally as technology has taken over their mindset.”
The program aimed to help develop the students as leaders and advocates with a voice in conversations about wilderness. They also participated in outings organized by the association in their area; hiking, backpacking and job-shadowing people who work in wilderness areas.
Izzy shadowed a ranger in the Cloud Peak Wilderness, learning how trails are maintained and what the job entails. The best part of the program was meeting kids that shared her thoughts about wilderness, she said. Those shared values include educating more people about the wonders and importance of wild places, and also the need for more wilderness areas, which she hopes one day she’ll see in Wyoming.
The young ambassadors program culminates at the Wilderness Rendezvous in Jackson Oct. 12 where the students will show final projects — essays, poetry and art, expressing what they love about wild places and what they learned from participating in the group.
Despite months of talking about it, it’s still hard for Elianna Paninos to describe what makes wilderness special.
“You can’t really put that into words,” the 17-year-old from Banner said. “You just have to see it and experience it. It’s a place (where) nature is unscruffled by human touch.”
Paninos has always loved to be outside, especially on horseback. Being part of the ambassadors program helped her to better understand what a wilderness designation means and how a place gets that specific type of protection. The program also introduced her to people — both speakers and other ambassadors — so passionate about wilderness she felt inspired.
While Paninos would like to see more wilderness in Wyoming she also wants to see the areas already protected taken better care of by users. Too many places are getting trashed and its taking away pristine qualities that makes the areas special.
“It’s where you get to experience nature at its finest,” she said. “There’s beauty in getting there.” She’s considering for her final project to present photographs documenting human disturbances in a wilderness area.
Izzy created a badge that scouts, or anyone, can earn for skills like map reading, or picking up trash in a wilderness area, or studying the local flora and fauna. The final piece of the badge is completing “leave no trace” training and then going for a hike in the wilderness.
The association plans to continue the program next year. Kids interested in participating should contact the Wyoming Wilderness Association
The Young Ambassadors for Wilderness
Izzy Dickinson, Sheridan
Lyndon Bare, Big Horn
Whitney Ball, Jackson
Skye Bensel, Ranchester
Dawson Poste, Casper
Narisse Trippel, Worland
Eliza Landale, Jackson,
Chris Tagart, Sundance
Elianna Paninos, Banner
— “Peaks to Plains” is a blog focusing on Wyoming’s outdoors and communities. Kelsey Dayton is a freelancer and the editor of Outdoors Unlimited, the magazine of the Outdoor Writers Association of America. She has worked as a reporter for the Gillette News-Record, Jackson Hole News&Guide and the Casper Star Tribune. Contact Kelsey at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on twitter: @Kelsey_Dayton
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