Getting Tight with Nature: Students bond with the Clearwater National Forest

Saoirse Andrews of Ithaca, NY and Molly Tonsor of Pittsburgh, PA load mule with creek gravel in Idaho. Photo by John McCarthy.

Six high school students huddled around a campfire at dusk surrounded by the Clearwater National Forest; their eyes fixed and their ears intently listened to a thrilling fireside story. However, this story was much different than the usual camp tales that force our minds to wander as something scratches the outside of our tents at night.

This tale was one of significant importance and urgency, told by The Wilderness Society’s John McCarthy — about wilderness, ecology and environmental history and values. It was delivering during a ten-day trip co-sponsored by The Wilderness Society to foster greater love and understanding of wild lands among high school students.

Although it was hardly a ghost story, the talk certainly made an impression on the students who spent the trip repairing and maintaining a trail in the Hoodoo roadless area during the summer of 2008.

“Most of all, it made me acutely aware of the need to protect these remaining wildernesses,” said Molly Tonsor, a 17-year-old from Pennsylvania, who found the outing to be both challenging and empowering.

Her chance to become BFF with the forest was made possible through The Wilderness Society’s funding along with the training and expertise of Student Conservation Association (SCA) leaders.

Although the students’ hard work on the trail is visible to any who meander along it, much more was accomplished in those 10 days. The six students were given the opportunity to connect with the land while learning important life skills, such as how to be a successful member of a group and stay positive in challenging situations.

Will Ponturo, a 16-year-old from Connecticut, said this “life changing” time in the wilderness provided him with greater insight into the protection of nature’s wonders and the importance of friendship — a lesson that all of the students on the trip said they will not soon forget.

This is like the whistling of a mountain bluebird to the ears of leaders at both The Wilderness Society and the SCA.

“It is imperative to our future that the next generation understands what it takes to protect, preserve and manage our wild places,” said John McCarthy, the Idaho forest campaign manager for TWS. He added that he hopes this experience will encourage the students to continue this type of work in the future.

Tonsor plans to do just that.

“I know that conservation will continue to be an important part of my life,” she said.