SOS Outreach students learn backpacking skills in Eagle County’s backcountry
What is SOS Outreach?
SOS Outreach began in 2003 in Eagle County and has grown to four states — soon to be five, when Michigan is added to the mix — with many locations around Colorado. Through outdoor programs, the organization teaches kids lifelong skills to be better members of the community, while also developing an appreciation for nature.
It takes experience to endure multiple nights in the Colorado backcountry, which is why SOS Outreach is teaching kids the fundamental tools and resources to achieve success.
Six youth from SOS Outreach recently participated in an introduction to backpacking course, where they spent two nights in the White River National Forest learning the basics, from how to pack and hang a bear bag to cooking a backcountry meal and filtering water.
Companies that see the value in giving kids the tools to appreciate the outdoors chipped in most of the gear. Big Agnes tents, Platypus water filers, Mountain Safety Research cookware and Osprey backpacks were all donated to the program.
Three guides accompanied the kids, teaching them how each piece of equipment worked, as well as how to be stewards of their environment. After dispensing basic knowledge, the guides let the kids figure out a lot of it on their own.
Guide Alastair Keith said by the end of the excursion, the kids were leading the guides out of the woods.
“That’s really what we’re aiming for on a three-day trip, is for them to lead themselves out,” she said. “We empower them with the basic skills to hike out on their own.”
During the day, the kids took day hikes to gain more appreciation for the backcountry they called home for two nights and three days. Otoniel Juarez said hiking was the hardest part, but being able to put his feet in the water each day was worth it.
By the end, the kids had noticed a difference in their outdoor skills.
“They get a sense of mastery learning the skills,” said Scott Partan, Eagle County SOS program director.
It’s not only learning the gear that makes the experience valuable. Joselin Morales said it was a really eye-opening experience since she hadn’t spent much time outdoors. The SOS kids also can take the leadership skills and empowerment they gained backpacking and apply them to being role models for other SOS kids.
“We see it as an opportunity to learn leadership skills,” Partan said. “It might be as simple as building a stove, but we can build on that.”
Michelle Cortes said since most kids her age play video games or are on their phones, she said she was able to appreciate the outdoors. She added that being able to spend time with the group was also a fun bonding experience.
“This shows you can enjoy outside,” she said. “It was just really fun.”
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Eagle County Schools has released a draft document detailing how the school district intends to return in-person and hybrid instruction starting Aug. 18.