New outdoor leadership program brings together youth and wilderness
By Katie Emerick
This summer brings about a new program full of activities designed for youth-specific outdoor adventure and fun. Affiliated with community schools, HoWL- Homer Wilderness Leadership School- began offering classes this spring, and is an experiential education program designed specifically for pre to late teens (ages 10-18) created by Libby Bushell who leads the courses with Eivin Kilcher who also serves as a guide leader.
The focus of each individual course, broken down by age and skill level, is on building outdoor leadership and survival skills. As to be expected, the environment plays a major role in the curriculum. According to HoWL’s mission statement, “conservation begins with appreciation, and that survival skills and wilderness leadership inspire confidence and build character, laying the foundation for our environmentally conscious leader of tomorrow.”
For Bushell, the creation of HoWL was a way for her to continue her own exploration of the land in which she was raised but also to give back to the community and share her love and knowledge of the outdoors with Homer’s youth. “I want to provide an opportunity for kids to become more enthusiastic about the wilderness,” said Bushell. “There are so many spots around Homer just waiting to be discovered. In being out in nature and learning how to survive there’s a lot of room for growth. It’s about understanding what you can do on your own. We’re not relying on 4-wheelers or warm houses; it’s about relying on yourself and what you can carry. That’s the freedom of the hills.” In building that self-reliance and efficiency, believes Bushell, comes empowerment and assurance as well as a greater appreciation for the natural world.
Bushell was born and raised in Homer. It was her frustration of growing up in a place with limited wilderness programs available to girls (she DID try to be a Boy Scout) that served as a motivating factor in HoWL’s creation. “When I was a kid, I never got to do much outdoor stuff,” commented Bushell. “There were a few programs but it didn’t really know about them. Moving back here, I realized that Homer was missing this niche that happened to be my passion, outdoor fun and leadership. There is so much to explore and the fact that I haven’t seen much of it makes me sad. I want to be able to provide that service.” Even with wilderness programs such as National Outdoor Leadership School, Bushell said many are very expensive and not economically feasible to a lot of people. Bushell also hopes to fill the space left by financial cuts in the school system that saw such programs as Project Adventure disappear.
Bushell, like so many, took to the Lower 48 for university, attending Colorado College, located in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. She quickly joined the Outdoor Recreation Committee, eventually becoming the overall director of the program and a leadership-training director. Having led over three-dozen trips while at college, after graduation her passion for exploring the wilderness ceased to wane. Bushell worked as a raft guide, safety coordinator for experiential college courses and has led glacial expeditions to Mount Iliamna and Mexico’s highest mountain, El Pico de Orizaba. Bushell is also a certified wilderness first responder.
HoWL offers a host of summer courses available to a range of ages and outdoor skills levels. Beginner courses, following a curriculum designed for ages 10-14 focus on basic survival principles of outdoor recreations including wildlife safety, fire building, navigation, hiking and leave no trace behind ideals. Intermediate classes, for ages 13-16 approximately, continue where the beginner courses leave off, expanding on those principles but also dealing more with building shelters, finding food and backpacking. A minimum of 6 students are needed for each course with a maximum of 12 students keeping the ration 6-1, with Bushell and Kilcher leading each class.
In addition to the courses, which mainly involve day wilderness trips or single night camping, HoWL also offers adventure camps for the more advanced students. These trips are 7-day courses, six of which are spent in the wilderness after the initial day of preparation and skills evaluation. “I’m super excited about the going across the bay for 6 days at a time,” said Bushell. “It takes the camp to a whole different level. It’s one thing to camp for a night but as soon as you’re out for multiple nights, you have to be on your game. It forces you to be more responsible. It’s your comfort and well being that’s hindered if you screw up.”
The first adventure camp runs from July 27-Aug. 2 and will take place at Wosnesenski Glacier. The group will be flown in and dropped off, setting up a base camp at the edge of the glacier. Day trips will be taken into the hills and will include basic glacier safety and crevasse training.
The second camp runs from August 3-9th, with participants being dropped off by water taxi at Bradley Lake. Bushell calls this excursion more of a backpacking trip, as the hike to the lake is 6 miles. Once at the lake a base camp will be established and day trips will be taken and will include a larger emphasis on wildlife safety.
The third camp runs from Aug. 10-17 and will take surround Red Mountain. A hike over the pass starting at Jakolof Bay and hopefully ending in Seldovia creates a different course that is more transient, without an established base camp of operation but one that takes students along the Gulf of Alaska.
Ultimately, the camps offer young Alaskans the opportunity to explore and celebrate the natural surroundings that are so commanding to this state. It’s a way for students to gain survival skills training and wilderness training, the process of which establishes greater confidence, self-sufficiency and a respect for the environment.
Already, Bushell and HoWL has had a successful run, with the initial spring courses recently completed. “It makes all the difference in the world,” said Bushell, “to hear the kids feedback. They look at me with this giddy look and say, ‘this is the most fun I’ve ever had’ or ‘this is the coolest place I’ve ever seen.’ That to me, makes it all worth it.”
For more information on the courses visit HoWL’s website at www.howlschool.net or contact Libby Bushell at 399-0504. Advanced booking is necessary for any courses and can be made via telephone to Bushell or through email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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