“A few years ago, I had been toying with the idea of starting a hiking club for my refugee friends in Clarkston. I wanted to get the kids away from their everyday routine and share my love of hiking with a new audience that may not have an opportunity for this experience. Then suddenly, my former boss, an avid outdoorsman, was killed by an avalanche doing what he loved. He was a champion of trying to get young kids into our national parks. He believed that if we could get kids into the outdoors, their lives would be forever changed. I could no longer postpone my idea and almost immediately, I, and a couple other fabulous volunteers, gathered a bunch of kids from Clarkston and the ‘Clarkston Climbers’ hiking club was born.
Our first hike was to Sweetwater Creek in 28 degrees. The kids didn’t care how cold it was. They practically sprinted the entire 6 miles while I brought up the rear. They loved it! They thoroughly enjoyed running in the woods with no one telling them to stop or slow down. I could see the joy on their faces, it was so much fun! And frankly, the fresh air cleared everyone’s minds.
That was almost three years ago and we are still going strong. Membership is fluid – families move away, but more connections are made and we continue to have exciting adventures.
A few small incidents have occurred which validate my belief that the club was a good idea: on one of the hikes I heard ‘this reminds me of my country….it looked like this and we would walk to get our water from the river……’ another time, two kids who never would have met, a boy from The Congo and a girl from Afghanistan walking along discussed similarities between what they saw and what they remembered from their country, and another time, an American friend on the hike observed, ‘Should I be worried about that boy running with a stick?’ I replied ‘He grew up in an area just like this and probably ran barefoot before, so no, I’m not worried.’
Studies now show that hiking in nature has many psychological benefits including: helping to reduce anxiety and stress, increasing attention capacity, creativity and ability to connect with other people. I imagine how it can help young victims of trauma who were forced to leave their homes and were dropped into an entirely new world.”