Empowering youth in the woods

The GWCF youth cohort on the banks of the Salmon River

When Mark Bennett, the director of Global Works Community Fund, reached out to Oregon Wild about doing a hike or workshop with this year’s cohort of youth at first I thought “Yes, great! I love leading hikes!” My later thought was “Oh no! Teens!” I shouldn’t have been worried. Not only were these teens eager hikers, they also asked great questions and absorbed information about fire ecology, forests and climate change, and river and salmon health like sponges. 

On our first day together, we met up in Portland and headed out the Columbia Gorge to the Upper McCord Creek Trail - a State Park area that was burned in the Eagle Creek Fire in 2018 and has since been rebuilt and reopened. The kids in my car told ghost stories, and we talked about their recent trip with GWCF to Costa Rica - a mix of fun and service projects in local communities. As we walked through the regrowing forest, past fire weed and bushy big-leaf maples, I showed the kids photos of what the forest looked like just after the fire compared to now. The difference is pretty dramatic, especially thanks to the trail work completed by Trailkeepers of Oregon who rebuilt rock walls and trail tread along the way to the falls. Towering trees - some alive, some burned into snags - shaded our afternoon walk but allowed sweeping views of the Columbia River below. 

From freshly rejuvenating to lush old-growth: on our second day we ambled along the Salmon River Trail outside of Zigzag. We talked about the forest structure and all the benefits these last remaining ancient forests have for wildlife, water, and our climate (and we may have hugged a few trees). When I started talking about the benefits of these forests for water quality and salmon, Mark spoke up to make sure everyone knew about the salmon life cycle. Turned out that was new to most, and one of the key take-aways from the day. The fact that the huge fish we think of start out in small rocky streams, swim out to sea for a few years, then return to their home stream to spawn and die (encountering many obstacles along the way) is, when you think about it, pretty mind blowing. And when you know this story, the role that towering old forests play becomes more clear. 

At a beach on the wild and scenic Salmon River, several of our group waded right in for a swim,  fully clothed. Ah, youth! Later, on the river’s banks, every one of them enthusiastically wrote a postcard to the Department of the Interior in support of the Climate Forest Campaign. I don’t know many who could say it better…

“As I write this, I just took a dip in a river in the Mt. Hood National Forest. And as I reflect over my time here, I can not imagine a time/space without the incredible greenery that surrounds me. That is why we must protect old growth forests.” Jian Tan

“Trees are very important, they provide habitat and store carbon even after a fire. So when you log the forest you add more carbon into the air. We should protect forests, especially the old growth forests. They’ve been here a while and store more carbon. They should be protected before they get logged.” Graciola 

“As a young person the safety of our forests is one of the most important things for me. My future depends on them for oxygen, rivers, and more. As an immigrant I great up in a place that wasn’t my home but I care for it as if it was. Protect our forests.” Genesis

I walked away from this partnership with loads of respect for these motivated young leaders who will inherit Oregon’s special places, and inspired by the work GWCF is doing to support them. 

Interested in supporting Global Works Community Fund, whose mission is to develop diverse young leaders through removing barriers to access to unique leadership opportunities that amplify their agency, impact their community, and shape their future? They have an upcoming fundraising event on September 15 in Portland.