Mazama school hosts camp for local students
By Matt Taylor
Capping off a 50-day outdoor education course, students at the Northwest Outward Bound School in Mazama recently hosted a three-day camp for local middle and high schoolers, free of charge.
The camp served as an opportunity for the 10 Outward Bound students to put their weeks of preparation into practice, guiding teenagers through a series of outdoor activities and service projects with the goal of promoting community and personal growth through nature.
“It’s all about bringing people together to collaborate, communicate, and show compassion,” said Cymone Van Marter, camper and sophomore student at Liberty Bell High School. “You bring people together. I think that’s the whole purpose.”
“It’s been amazing to watch [the campers] connect with each other and with nature,” said Outward Bound student Kathleen Rocher, echoing that same sentiment. “That makes me happy.”
Rocher’s interest in outdoor education began years ago, when she abruptly decided to take a break from her job in the tech industry to hike the Pacific Crest Trail.
“I was looking for a drastic change in my life,” Rocher said. As someone who had grown up in the city, she had never gotten much opportunity to experience the outdoors. However, reading the works of famed environmentalist John Muir had piqued her interest, and she “needed something else,” she said.
“Looking back, I probably should have taken it slower,” she continued, “but I’m glad it did it.” After her stint on the trail, she decided on a career change that would allow her to experience the outdoors on a more consistent basis. “I wanted to make it my life,” she said, and “that’s what I want to do with these campers.”
The other students have a wide variety of backgrounds, ranging from business to medicine, and each person has “their own unique connection to nature,” said student Tim Potter. But, all “want to help young people learn and grow through outdoor experiences.”
“It’s the reason we are drawn to outdoor education,” he said.
The 50-day course featured a diverse array of experiences, including sea kayaking, mountaineering, hiking and service projects — designed to both teach necessary outdoors skills and to impart interpersonal skills.
Among the more-popular expeditions were a three-week sea kayaking trip in the San Juan Islands and a 72-hour solo hike, in which students left electronics and books behind to immerse themselves completely in the outdoors.
“That was incredibly impactful,” said Rocher. “I don’t know if I’ve ever been in solitude for 72 hours.”
“We use the outdoors as a vessel for character development,” said Andy Bittner, an instructor and outdoor educator with over a decade of experience in the field. It’s about “experiencing nature, building teamwork, trust and confidence,” he said.
On the final day of both the camp and the course, students, campers and instructors alike worked with Methow Trails for a community service project, clearing rocks and vegetation from the ski trails surrounding the Outward Bound base camp outside of Mazama.
“It’s great to give back to the community,” said camper Julian Rizza, a high school senior who came to the valley from Seattle for the camp.
Since it opened its school in Mazama in 1988, Outward Bound has partnered extensively with local organizations, including Methow Trails, Little Star Montessori School, TwispWorks and others. In addition to its location in Mazama, Outward Bound has schools across the United States and world, and hosts approximately 35,000 students every year. The school in Mazama is part of the larger Pacific Northwest school, which is based in Portland and spans seven locations across Washington, Oregon and Idaho.
Northwest Outward Bound School has named Marc Heisterkamp as its new executive director. The Portland, Oregon-based organization annually serves more than 2,000 regional, national and international students of all ages in Oregon, Washington and Idaho. Heisterkamp, a Washington native and long-time Oregon resident, was most recently vice president of strategic relationships for the U.S. Green Building Council. For more information, visit www.nwobs.org.