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Eagle Rock Wilderness Orientation Group on a training hike

Give Them Access to The Wild

“Uncertain as I was as I pushed forward, I felt right in my pushing, as if the effort itself meant something.  That perhaps being among the undesecrated beauty of the wilderness meant I, too, could be undesecrated, regardless of what I’d lost or what had been taken from me, regardless of the regrettable things I’d done to others or to myself or the regrettable things that had been done to me.  Of all the things I’d been skeptical about, I didn’t feel skeptical about this: the wilderness had a clarity that included me.” Cheryl Strayed

Wilderness Orientation ERS-1

When I was 17 I was emerging from a darkness that I wasn’t sure I would survive.  After treatment and care, I found myself at Eagle Rock School and Professional Development Center, a school I am certain played a huge role in saving my life, a school that has inspired nearly everything I do now.  It has been 25 years since I attended Eagle Rock and not a day passes where I don’t think about that place.  

When you first start at Eagle Rock you go on a three week backpacking trip. It was there in the desert southwest that I stood on top of the slot canyon and realized that maybe I wasn’t broken. Maybe I’m just a human, who like all other humans, has experienced ups and downs, joy and pain. Some of the trauma I experienced, though uncommon was shared by some of my peers, and some of the regrets I had, other teens could relate to as well.  Despite experiencing more pain than I thought I could tolerate, more trauma than I thought I would survive, and despite making mistakes I did not think I would recover from,  the wilderness made one thing clear, I was not un-whole or broken. Hiking through the rugged yet stunning wilderness helped me realize that all of those experiences…good, bad, and ugly…could become a part of a beautiful and amazing life. 

Cheryl Strayed’s quote at the top of this post captures exactly how I feel when I am in the wilderness. It is one of the few places where I feel nothing but gratitude for my body, where my mind quiets and the constant chatter and barrage of anxious thoughts stops, where all that remains after the silence are the thoughts that truly matter…gratitude, humility, and connection to myself and others.  In my job as the Director of The Launch Pad Teen Center I get the honor of witnessing the same effect on our teens who go on our wilderness trips. The wilderness gives them permission to embrace their whole selves and to see everything they have been through as a part of their unique beauty. 

The challenges our teens experience on a hike or paddling a canoe in the Black Canyon remind them they are more resilient than they thought. The camaraderie they feel when setting up camp teaches them they are needed in our community. The solitude they feel during solo experiences reminds them they are enough and they don’t need a phone or social media to know they are worthy.  They are worthy because despite all the challenges they have been through, their heart still beats and their soul still speaks.  They stand at the edge of the canyon and they feel awe, the wind blows through their hair and they feel humble, the campfire warms their face and they feel connected.  

Take yourself outdoors.  Don’t bring your phone or even listen to music…listen to the wind, listen to the birds, feel the sun on your face, and when you feel a strange mix of small and big, when you are so still you can hear your own heart beat, it will become clear why we need to do everything we can to make sure our youth always have access to the wild.  

To support us in getting more teens outdoors make a donation to our annual Trek for Teens at:

If you are unable to make a monetary contribution, please spread the word about what we do.  There is a teen out there who needs this, and you just might help connect them.