School’s Outdoors Club offers<br>youth connection with nature

Living on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon ends up being a dream for many park visitors. After all, the inspirational views, majestic wildlife and outdoor opportunities make for an attractive environment.

Students from New Start High School in Flagstaff and Grand Canyon High School’s Outdoors Club pose for a photo during last year’s Colorado River trip. Students included in this photo are Andrew Keske and Tomas Alarcon, who went on the first half of the trip. Second from left in the front is sponsor Diane Williams. (Photo by Diane Williams)

Still, many actual residents of Grand Canyon, including young people, fail to take advantage of what Grand Canyon can offer. At the local school, a club now in its fourth year offers opportunities for youth to connect with the outdoors.

"Our focus is to be doing things outside in our wonderful Grand Canyon and Arizona environment," Outdoors Club sponsor Diane Williams said. "We have a wonderful resource here, this is our stage."

More than just getting kids outside, the club also serves a function in the community.

"We’re also a service organization," Williams said. "Our other focus is to serve the environment, particularly Grand Canyon National Park. We’ve done a lot of work with reveg projects."

The Outdoors Club finds itself in a challenging situation in terms of student members as well as raising funds. Currently, there are 10 students in the club, but Williams said membership usually gets off to a slow start because of conflicts with sports.

As for funding, the club has relied on things like community grants, fund-raisers and tax credit donations to survive.

"We’re looking for projects and funding," Williams said. "We’ll be having our auction in March. We get donations (for the auction) and the OM (Odyssey of the Mind) kids perform. We’d like to branch out and do work with the day-care or other organizations. We’re looking for projects within the park."

The Outdoors Club has obviously been a benefit to the local community, as well as the park. For example, the kids have performed several cleanup projects in spots along the rim and in Mather Campground. Williams said they may even adopt a portion of the Greenway trail system to keep clean.

"We need to stay involved with the Canyon," Williams said. "The kids need to realize what an incredible environment we have here."

Williams said National Park Service folks like Sheila Yokers of the Science Center and reveg crew, and Bryan Edwards of resource protection have been huge supporters of Outdoors Club activities. There is also interaction with Jacob Fillion’s environmental education program.

Last year, the club hiked down to Phantom Ranch and cleared out a drainage ditch in preparation for the coming tourism season. After an overnight stay at the Phantom trail bunkhouse, the kids headed back up the trail.

The club took a trip to the Lava Cave north of Flagstaff recently through the Flagstaff Festival of Science group. Teacher Jillian Worrsam led the trip. In October, the club will head to Snowbowl in Flagstaff where they can turn in a bag of trash for a free lift ticket.

The club will also take a Northern Arizona University ropes course, thanks to the college as well as a $450 grant awarded to them by the Grand Canyon Rotary Club.

But the big event comes at the end of the year on the Colorado River.

"We try to wind down our year with a river trip to celebrate their good work," Williams said. "While on the river, we clean beaches, GPS (use Global Positioning Systems) tamarisk ... to see how it’s spreading. We also do ravenna grass removal."

Tamarisk and ravenna grass are non-native plant species at Grand Canyon.

"It’s a working trip, but also a fun trip," Williams said. "Last year, we combined with New Start High School in Flagstaff on the river trip."

Besides being a fun time and contributing to the environment, Williams said the trip gives students a chance to develop leadership skills.

"Take Tomas Alarcon, he had an amazing year, arranging trash pickups," Williams said. "He took a leadership role. The river is such a life-changing experience for the kids. It’s a great opportunity for the kids and is a spiritual awakening."

The river trip last year went from Lee’s Ferry to Diamond Creek over an 18-day period. Along with the Flagstaff students, Grand Canyon’s Andrew Keske, Tomas Alarcon, Alfred Alarcon and Michelle Harvey went on the trip.

But financing river trips and other activities prove to be quite expensive. That’s one reason why Williams is asking the community for opportunities to raise funds.

Anyone with project or fund-raising ideas for the club can contact Williams at 638-2461, ext. 205.

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