Stories from the Field

Strengthening Students and Communities: WildLink Trail Stories

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A partnership between NatureBridge and the National Park Service (NPS), WildLink connects high school students from California to our public lands, empowering them to strengthen themselves and their communities. This spring, WildLink hosted 39 participants, spent nine nights in the wilderness, removed and cleaned up countless fire rings, met three NPS Wilderness Rangers and worked with six NatureBridge educators.

Read the stories from our spring 2019 trail groups: 

New Village Girls Academy

March 31—April 5, 2019: The group headed out on trail on a rainy but beautiful morning at Hetch Hetchy. After passing through a tunnel on the other side of the reservoir, they were officially in the wilderness, where they would hike the next six miles to their campsite. The hike was long and challenging, but the group pushed on and made it before sundown. The exhausted bunch set up camp, ate dinner and had a well-deserved night's sleep.

As wet clothes dried in the sun around camp, the next day was dedicated to stewardship and self-care. Wilderness ranger PJ facilitated a campfire ring removal project in which the group removed fire rings that were in unsuitable areas, and tidied up the fire rings that were okay to keep. After the hard work in the morning, the group spent the rest of the day relaxing by the river, stretching and spending time with each other. The rest day prepared them for their challenge hike, which was to come the following day.

Waking up in the morning, the group knew they were in for a challenge. After breakfast, day packs were packed and everyone headed out on an uphill trail towards Le Conte Point, an off-trail peak high above their camp site. The off-trail section of the hike was covered in snow, but the girls pushed on through and made it to the peak. Overcome with a feeling of accomplishment, the group descended to long trail and made their way back for their last night at camp.

The next morning, the group re-packed their big bags with the supplies that had created their temporary wilderness home and headed back on the trail they came from. Six miles later, the exhausted and accomplished students were happy to be greeted with lunch and actual toilets before their journey back to Los Angeles. It was a long way home, but luckily the time was filled with stories, recollections and much needed naps.

New Village Girls Academy
New Village Girls Academy

Generation Green Southern

April 14—April 19, 2019: Students and their mentors from Generation Green Southern traveled all the way from Los Angeles to return to Yosemite for another WildLink expedition. On Monday morning, students met their educators, Elizabeth and Nanci. The day consisted of packing backpacks, distributing gear, addressing hopes and fears and getting to know one another. After doing all of the preparation necessary for the trip the next day, the students were able to relax for the evening and spend a little time thinking more about the meaning of the word ‘wilderness’ during their evening program.

Tuesday began with a beautiful drive to the trailhead. Upon arrival, the group left their cars and continued on by foot toward the wilderness where they would create a temporary home for the week. The six mile trek was challenging mentally, emotionally and physically, but luckily the group fully supported each other, which allowed them to make it to camp before sunset. After cooking dinner and setting up camp, everyone enjoyed a well deserved sleep. The next day was dedicated to stewardship and team building. Ranger Dan helped the students remove campfire rings that did not follow regulations, and clean up others that were in good spots. After Dan left, the group participated in a team building activity that strengthened dynamics of trust, support and friendship in the students.

At the evening campfire, the group made s’mores and learned a lesson from their graham crackers that would inspire a night of authentic and vulnerable sharing. When a student chose not to take a broken graham cracker from the stack, a chaperone responded: Just because it’s broken doesn’t mean that it has any less value. This quote became important for the group throughout the trip. Later, a student led a pre-bedtime meeting in which he recited a reading that struck a chord with the group. Shortly afterwards, the night filled with stories and tears that formed unbreakable bonds between everyone in the group. The conversation provided valuable insight to the students; they realized that everyone is facing comparable challenges, they are not alone and that it is healing to share. With a newfound strength from their previous night's campfire, the group completed the challenge hike with excitement and ease. They all felt accomplished to summit “Generation Green Mountain” and add their names to the summit registry, along with many previous WildLink groups. The last night was spent sleeping under the stars, with an early wake up and departure to follow.

The group moved efficiently and made it to the trailhead earlier than expected. They were grateful for real bathrooms and a fresh change of clothes. It was incredible to see how the students changed from the beginning to end of the trip. There was dirt on their face, but also a glowing wisdom. It was clear that they now know that the wilderness is a place for growth, they are capable of more than they previously thought and they have a new community of love and support.

Generation Green Southern
Generation Green Southern

Porterville High School

April 28—May 3, 2019: This April, Porterville High School got the opportunity to attend WildLink for the first time! Despite diving into the unknown, everyone was able to learn, grow and push themselves to achieve more than they expected. The first few days in Yosemite were exciting, yet overwhelming as students adapted to a new environment. Waking up in Yosemite on Monday, our group got to meet their educators, Sarah and Jose, and got started with gathering gear and packing their bags. The whole day was dedicated to learning the basics of backpacking preparation and safety so that they would be ready to hit the trail early on Tuesday.

On Tuesday morning, our group packed the final items into their packs and headed out on the John Muir Trail. We passed Vernal and Nevada Fall on our way up, both waterfalls were raging from the snowmelt that was feeding the Merced River. All senses were activated on the hike: Feeling our bodies carrying more weight than they’ve ever carried while hiking up a steep slope, seeing the patterns the clouds made on Half Dome as they danced around the sky, smelling the fresh spring growth and misty air and hearing the sound of migratory birds just arriving in the park.

When our group finally made it to camp, we were exhausted. After dinner and a group meeting, we enjoyed a well deserved sleep. Wednesday morning was dedicated to cleaning up fire rings around Little Yosemite Valley—a stewardship project led by Andres, a wilderness ranger in Yosemite. We spent all morning cleaning up fire rings and speaking in Spanish while we worked. Andres made sure to spend time with each student, and made sure they understood how helpful and important their work was for the park. After Andres left, we decided to scramble part way up Liberty Cap, where we were rewarded with a stellar view of Mt. Clark and Mt. Starr King framed by the valleys of the rolling hills in the distance.

In the evening, the group was challenged with a game of “Isla de Tiburon” where they were pushed to work effectively as a team. Thursday was the day of our challenge hike, we were unsure what to expect with so much visible snow surrounding our trail towards Half Dome, but we headed out anyway, and the only expectation was to try our best. By putting one foot in front of the other, we made it to an incredible vista below Half Dome. From our lunch spot, we could see Half Dome, Clouds Rest, Tenaya Peak, Mt. Hoffman, the Clark Range, Mt. Lyell and Cathedral Peak, among more notable places in the park! We headed down with some beautiful photos and feelings of accomplishment, but we made sure to slide in some snowfields on the way down and have river time upon returning to camp.

An early wake up on Friday was followed by a hike back down the John Muir Trail and out of the wilderness. After changing clothes, unpacking and reflecting, we said goodbye to Porterville. We’re excited that their first WildLink experience went well, and we’re looking forward to seeing them back in the park next year!

Porterville High School
Porterville High School
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