Stories from the Field

WildLink May 2024: New Village Girls Academy

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Editor’s note: WildLink is a partnership between the National Park Service and NatureBridge with the goal of expanding access and opportunity in our public lands. We invite students from communities who have had historic and systemic barriers to accessing the outdoors to explore the Yosemite Wilderness and the career opportunities offered here. Through wilderness expeditions, volunteer stewardship projects, leadership trainings, family weekends, and career development opportunities, WildLink empowers young people to strengthen themselves and their communities. Learn more about WildLink here.

The day after a spring thunderstorm, New Village Girls Academy students and chaperones arrived to a beautifully saturated Yosemite Valley. Their trip from Los Angeles on highways and winding mountain roads left them tired, excited, and a little nervous for the week to come. Students were greeted by NatureBridge staff upon arrival and moved into their cabins, where they enjoyed their first night in the park—complete with burgers and a meadow sunset. The group also spent some time that first night chatting about their hopes, intentions, and fears for the week ahead. 

The 2024 New Village Girls Academy group's first evening in Yosemite Valley.

When day two arrived with birds singing, the group awoke for what would be a long day of getting to know each other in addition to packing and preparing for their four-day backcountry expedition that would begin the following morning. Much of the day was spent distributing equipment and clothing to ensure that the group would be well-prepared and comfortable while camping together in the Yosemite Wilderness. 

Once everyone was packed for their adventure, the group headed over to Lower Yosemite Falls, where both the falls and the river below it roared with springtime abundance and mist rained down on everyone. Glimpsing the grandeur of the falls ignited more excitement for the rest of our week in the Wilderness, where the natural environment would be all that surrounded us. 

New Village Girls Academy WildLink participants packing for their wilderness expedition.

The next morning, it was finally time for the group to depart on their overnight trip. When educators Sarah and Mikayla arrived at the tent cabins, the group was ready to go, and we headed out to the trailhead right away. The uphill hike, which gained about one thousand feet in elevation, was challenging. Everyone pushed themselves out of their comfort zones, embraced the challenges that came up, and supported each other along the way. Eventually the group made it to their campsite, where they were pleasantly surprised to find an iconic view of Yosemite Valley—the perfect place to watch the sunset after setting up camp that night.

As the sun was setting, the group settled in with their first nightly gathering around the campfire, which would become a ritual each evening. During those gatherings, stories, information, and appreciations were shared as the group continued to grow closer with each other.

The New Village group sitting around a campfire.

Day two in the Wilderness was mostly a day to rest, recuperate, learn more about what Wilderness is, and get to know the Wilderness Ranger who joined us on our trip, Ranger Lindsey. Lindsey brought some fun goodies including nail polish, highlighting the fact that relaxation and self care are some of the practices that are made possible by spending time in Wilderness spaces. These students from LA live in a fast-paced world, and the opportunity to spend a full day resting, reflecting, and connecting with each other and the wild place that they were in was a uniquely special opportunity for them.

I want to remember the beautiful scenery, the way the wind sounds, the thunder of the rock falling, the way the ground held me as I slept. I’m glad to have experienced this trip with the people here. I may not talk to them when we go back but they’ll always have a special place in my heart.
Emily Lopez, WildLink participant, New Village Girls Academy

On the final full day of backpacking, the refreshed group went on an all-day hike towards Stanford point up the Pohono trail. They eventually were turned back by snow, which nobody was mad about since that meant that they got the opportunity to play in the snow and make “gatorade snow cones.” For many of the students in the group, it was their first time experiencing snow—one of so many firsts for folks on this expedition! The day ended with a heartfelt reflection on the growth and connection that each student experienced during their time in Yosemite.

New Village WildLink participants hiking on snow.

On the morning of departure, everyone woke from a night of sleeping under the stars as a group to watch the sunrise while packing up camp. As soon as the sun rose, they hit the trail, and a few hours later they were on their way back to LA, many of them changed in a way that they couldn’t quite understand yet. This expedition in particular highlighted how challenging ourselves to step out of our comfort zone can lead to profound personal growth and an ability to better connect with those around us. 

We are so grateful to have had the opportunity to host the wonderful students and chaperones of New Village Girls Academy, which has been sending students to WildLink for many years now! We can’t wait to check in with students in a few weeks to hear what they’ve been reflecting on since the trip and to help plan their WildLink Community Project, where they will be able to share what they learned in the Yosemite Wilderness with their community back home.

No quiero olvidar nada. Quiero recordar la experiencia y recordar lo fuerte que fui dejando todos mis miedos y vivir de la naturaleza. [I don't want to forget anything. I want to remember the experience and remember how strong I was, leaving all my fears and living in nature.]
Leslie Jaqueline Porras, WildLink participant, New Village Girls Academy
Sharing the wonder of wild places
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