One of the many things I miss during this summer of COVID-19 is our Ice Age Trail chapter’s involvement with the Saunters summer school program. I know from talking to youth and parents that they’re missing the program, too. So, what is Saunters?
Henry David Thoreau wrote: “It is a great art to saunter.” In 2008, two Lodi teachers – Luke Kloberdanz and Chris McNeil – developed a week-long summer school class called Summer Saunters. The class is designed to have youth hike on various segments of the Ice Age Trail each day while also incorporating a number of curriculum elements including writing, reading, math, geography and others. The class often includes a service element during which the students put in some time working on the Trail. Older students accompany the group as mentors to younger hikers; many members of the Summer Saunters classes go on to become mentors themselves. The class was, and continues to be, a popular offering. (Which, unfortunately, could not take place this summer.) The Lodi Valley Chapter of the Ice Age Trail Alliance provides financial support for the class and assembles daily snack bags for the students. It’s inspiring to attend the celebration event on the last day of class and see the enthusiasm of these youth….even after a week of hiking 5-10 miles a day, usually dealing with heat and bugs and often with a little rain thrown in.
Fast-forward to 2020. The Ice Age Trail Alliance has embraced and greatly expanded the original Summer Saunters idea and it’s now called the Saunters program. There are multiple options for schools or community centers to offer youth a Saunters experience throughout the year, from day hikes to backpacking trips to service learning opportunities. Each Saunters experience integrates core educational concepts into a unique outdoor experience. The Alliance provides training and resources to educators to help them plan a program that is the best option for their school or organization. Funding from various organizations enables the Alliance to help pay the costs of transporting youth to/from the Trail. The Saunters program, which has received national recognition, gets more than 2300 youth out in nature on a yearly basis.
Intrigued by this idea? You can learn more about the Saunters program by visiting the Ice Age Trail Alliance website, iceagetrail.org/saunters. Just one more way to get our youth outside….Along the Ice Age Trail.