Meet the Wilderness hikers snuff fire |

Meet the Wilderness hikers snuff fire

Matt Zalaznick
Special to the Daily A group of hikers participating in a Meet the Wilderness trip put out a brush fire on the way down from Mount of the Holy Cross earlier this month.

EAGLE COUNTY – For the last 30 years Meet The Wilderness’ philosophy has been that youth who learn to handle the outdoors learn a lot about themselves and become more responsible, self-confident members of society. The nonprofit organization’s evaluations of the students have consistently shown that most participants’ social skills have improved by the end of each Meet the Wilderness excursion, said Tom McCalden, development director for Meet the Wilderness.

Students on a recent trip, however, got some extra instruction in the backcountry. Seven teenagers – including a Caucasian, three Hispanics, and three blacks – from Denver’s West 26th Avenue area arrived at Meet The Wilderness’ base camp in Minturn Middle School Aug. 11. They gathered equipment and set out with two Meet the Wilderness guides for a six-day camping trip in the Cross Creek drainage.On the third day of the trip, the group ascended the Mount of the Holy Cross. Little did the campers know that, later during the hike, they would be confronted by a forest fire. “It was late afternoon and everyone was on the way down from their peak experience and looking forward to getting back to camp and dinner. About a half mile from camp, the kids smelled smoke and thought it could be someone’s campfire,” said Aidan Fleming, program director for Meet The Wilderness.

It turns out it was a campfire that hadn’t been put out properly. About 100 square feet of brush were on fire, Fleming said.The kids were unfazed by their finding, and while one of the guides rushed back to camp for shovels and water, they used sticks, their feet, and the contents of their water bottles to get the fire out. Fleming said. All seven teenagers worked for several hours to extinguish the burning brush and then stayed around to make sure that it didn’t explode again, Fleming said.

The U.S. Forest Service was notified. “Meet The Wilderness’ mission is to provide adventure education programs to youth groups that empower them to develop self-esteem, trust, responsibility, communication skills, teamwork, and the ability to meet challenges,” McCalden said. “The kids from West 26th Avenue certainly went home last week with a fair share of these attributes.”Matt Zalaznick can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 606, or Colorado

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