“What’s a crow?” he asked me. Twenty-one years old, raised in the Adirondacks and didn’t know what a crow was.

“Have you ever camped? Skied Gore? Rafted the Hudson River? Hiked in the High Peaks?” I asked.

“The High Peaks? What’s that?”

I could see that we had a remedial situation here.

Somehow I was not totally surprised. As an 8thgrade teacher, for thirty years I had listened to questions like this, inwardly groaning at the lack of knowledge about nature and how few young people played out doors. I envisioned a future where no one would know or care for the natural world. I kept asking myself how I could change this—what could I do to make an impact—once I retired.

I thought of why I had been fortunate enough to have spent lots of time in the woods camping, hiking, and paddling rivers. I recognized that my folks had played a big role in educating me and Girl Scouting had given me trips and skills as well. I knew that these experiences as a child had laid the ground work for my adult interest in environmental issues.

But in considering what one might do to help kids today learn to love the outdoors, I decided that Scouting wasn’t the answer as it depends on one or two people to do everything–and frankly, I didn’t want to try to tackle this problem solo. Why not have thirty adults who each lead two trips a year? So I turned to the community—and what luck to live in an Adirondack ski and river town with multiple people who earn their living playing in the outdoors.

In three short years, Adirondack Treks has made a start toward helping kids have fun outdoors. We have seven dedicated directors who slogged through the philosophical questions (what do we really want to do? What is the best way to do it? ) and the practical questions (how do we minimize risk? How do we attract and keep participants? Leaders? How do we get equipment we need and finance adventures?) We worked with the SUNY Adirondack Adventure Sports program director, Boy Scouts of America, and the Lake Placid Outing Club director, Don McMullen, and we called on everyone we knew who was an avid outdoors person to sign up to lead trips.

We started by offering a beginner’s flat water paddling class in the fall of 2009. That first year we taught cross-country skiing, did indoor rock climbing, experienced a ropes course, learned how to survive in the winter, rafted the Hudson, hiked trails in the Siamese Wilderness, and worked with GPS for a geo-cache day. Summer 2011 we added more hiking, canoe camping, and outdoor rock climbing, and we added snowshoeing to the 2012 winter menu.

Treks is continuing to develop—refining the recruitment of youth participants and of adults who step up to lead a trip or two, building a web-site for easier communication ,writing grants for equipment purchase. Our trips are open to kids ages 9-18, or younger if accompanied by a parent. For more information check out the website at www.adktreks.org or contact Kelly Nessle at (518)-251-3739 or knessle@frontiernet.net.

– Kelly Nessle

A resident of Johnsburg, Kelly Nessle is a retired teacher who hikes, camps and canoes in the Park and is using Treks to connect Adirondack kids with the great outdoors. She hopes they will learn to appreciate the natural beauty here and pass that love on to their kids, as her parents did for her. And Kelly’s kids are passing the thread on to their kids.