Bay Area Wilderness Training Supports Young People’s Curiosity of the Outdoors
In this marvel of a land called the Bay Area, there is treasures in the environment surrounding our diverse natural landscape. These treasures are the outdoor experiences themselves, found by people everyday in hikes, backpacking and camping in the vast stretches of public lands.
Bay Area Wilderness Training (BAWT) is a nonprofit whose goals include getting disadvantaged youth into the outdoors; a first time experience for many of them.
Andrea Fraume is the Outreach Coordinator for BAWT in the South Bay. With locations in San Francisco and a headquarters in Oakland, she says that BAWT brings the outdoors closer to underserved youth in the Bay Area though trainings and a “gear library” which lends equipment at no cost.
“The resources that we offer are related to running outdoor experiences for these populations. We do trainings where we take youth workers, teachers, anybody who works with young people in any capacity.”
The organization trains participants in being able to lead and develop their own outdoor trips ranging from daytime hikes, local park walks, and five day backpacking trips. The training is referred to as Wilderness Leadership Training, or WLT.
“Once they finish that they get access to all of the resources that we have which include gear rentals, which is our most popular program. People can check out things like backpacks, tents, clothing, whatever they might need to have a good & safe experience with their kids,” adds Fraume.
In addition to the training and equipment rentals, they offer mini grants and scholarships to their courses. Currently the leadership courses are being offered for free, but at some point at the end of the year will be available for a registration fee.
Seung Lee is the Campus Director for Renaissance Academy’s Citizen Schools program. Citizen Schools is a nonprofit which serves as an extended learning program for middle schools across the country. Lee went through the WLT in order to learn more about bringing camping courses to Citizen’s Schools.
“I was able to go on their five-day backpacking course which gave me a variety and skills to really navigate and facilitate a backpacking trip with youth.”
One of the main takeaways for Lee was the ease of going through the program and being able to get the students from the school he works with out into a campsite.
“Through that partnership we were able to take twelve girls backpacking in the East Bay. For 90% of them it was the first time ever sleeping outdoors. So that was a great experience for us to give to their students.”
Fraume and Lee both share similar viewpoints when it comes to the main takeaway of BAWT-the accessibility and opportunity it brings to students and young people who might not have the resources or knowledgebase to get in touch with the outdoors on their own.
Lee says, “Our students that we work with would not be able to go outdoors. Their families can’t afford their equipment, hands down. BAWT definitely allows them and gives them access to go outdoors. For a lot of the families that I directly work with, they would not even think about going outdoors because it’s too expensive.”
Although most of the programs and groups that work with the Oakland based BAWT train and get their equipment locally, there is a wide variety of desitnations for the outdoors groups.
“We’ve had people take their kids to the other side of the country with our equipment. We had two different groups go to the Grand Canyon,” says Fraume.
From Yosemite National Park to Kelley Park in San Jose, these groups are using BAWT’s training and services to get youth into public preserves and open spaces at no cost to the participants.
Santa Clara Open Space Authority is partly to thank for BAWT’s successful expansion in the South Bay. Through the special district’s funding over the last few years BAWT has been able to allocate funds to reach further out into communities and be able to provide training scholarships.
“We want nature to be accessible to everyone and funding projects in the community allows us to do that. It’s also because of the measure passing we know it’s important to our voters and our jurisdiction as well,” says Alisha Maniglia, a Communnications Specialists with Open Space Authority.
Thus far Open Space Authority has awared BAWT two grants stemming from funds secured through Measure Q, an open space protection measure that was overwhelmingly passed by voters in 2014.
“They are our future leaders. These grants are available for schools, nonprofits and community groups. If they want a project in their neighborhood they can sign up for our mailing list and find out how they can bring nature to their neighborhoods,” says Maniglia.
A Natural History of Connectedness
As for the big picture of what organizations like BAWT do to help bridge the gap of minorities and underserved communities coming into natural open spaces, it’s down to the history of these groups and their connections within nature.
“I think in a time where we are so distracted by social media and although we are connected virtually we’re also disconnected in terms of in person communication. A lot of the feedback we get from the students is they really enjoy getting to know their friend a little bit more, on a different level. On a little more intimate of a level,” says Lee.
Individuals on these tripss finding a common ground is something that both Fraume and Lee see in the times they’ve been out with children.
Fraume recalls a local expedition to Almaden Lake Park with eleven students and how theyreacted to being in something as close as a city park.
“Yes there was cell reception but they did not care to be on their phones. They were so excited about being outside and learning about this place they’ve never been to. Seeing them talk to each other on a very different level. I always saw them as very imaginative and creative kids but seeing them outside and hearing them talk to each other, it’s so fun. It’s so much fun.”
Another variable which helps this connection to nature for some of the youth is the recall to their own families’ histories.
“A lot of my kids were children of immigrants or immigrants themselves so they started talking about Mexico and a creek back where their family’s ancestral home is, that was really powerful.
You have to work to get to those kinds of conversations and being outside I feel like the inspiration just kind of came naturally,” says Fraume.
Originally from Colombia, Fraume recalls not feeling like she belonged until she went out on a trip with BAWT in 2016.
“It wasn’t until I went on that course and our facilitators and my co participants invited and encouraged those conversations about belonging in the land that really solidified my sense of belonging, like I deserved to be here, this land is here and I love it and I appreciate it and i’m grateful for it.”
She says that in a time of politcal uncertainty for people of color, especially immigrants, it is a especially healing to be part of outdoors experiences.
“When I started getting into this work and learning about the social justice aspect of this, somebody introduced me to a list of people of color who are leaders of the outdoors. At the the top of that list was Harriet Tubman. We never think of her that way. Harriet Tubman was an outdoors woman. She would hike for very long distances, lead groups of people on these hikes.”
Lee adds, “It’s interesting that people of color have a different perspective of the outdoors and the history says we were the laborers, we were the workers out there. We could change that mindset for minorities, to think of it as appreciating the outdoors more as opposed to reminding them of history, of where they came from.”
For now, Bay Area Wilderness Training is creating new campers who they hope will take their knowledge back to their communities.
Fraume adds, “We need to change the way the outdoors look [and] bring awareness that people have been recreating in the outdoors for a long time and we have a deep relationship with the outdoors.”
More information on Bay Area Wilderness Training can be founnd at http://www.bawt.org/.