The Wildest Classroom - Columbia Land Trust
Engaging the Next Generation of Environmental Leaders with Upward Bound

Through a recent partnership with the Upward Bound program at Clatsop Community College in Astoria, Oregon, a remarkable group of students explored two Land Trust properties over six weeks this summer. The Upward Bound program serves ninth to twelfth graders in cooperation with the Astoria, Warrenton-Hammond ,and Seaside school districts, helping students gain the knowledge and skills to succeed in high school, continue on to college, and graduate college.

Together the group explored the Walluski Forest and Chinook River sites, helping with restoration projects, practicing outdoor skills, and discovering the secrets of the wild.

“Forests can be intimidating places,” said Troy Henri, a college and career advisor with TRIO Upward Bound who led the summer program. “There were a lot of nervous questions on the first day, but it didn’t take long for the students to find their confidence and increase their comfort levels.”

Henri knows how tough it’s been for teenagers during the recent disrupted school years. After being cooped up inside learning through a computer screen, spending time outdoors with a group of peers was a great privilege.

Before long, the students could distinguish oak from alder, identify invasive species, and determine where the juiciest red huckleberries were hiding. They also learned how the native people used plants like broad-leaf cattails, which serve as a food, fiber, and medicinal source [the cooked shoots resemble udon noodles]. They also learned useful survival skills like building primitive shelters using materials from the forest floor.

“Spending the summer in this magical forest was a healing experience for my students,” Henri reflected. “But there’s a longer-term value to programs like these. Nature changes people.”

Henri taught the group about conservation and how organizations like the Land Trust work to preserve and restore natural areas. This lesson resonated with the students, some of whom may just grow up to study environmental science or work in conservation. Next year Henri hopes to expand the program and bring nature into the lives of more local students. He knows how lucky we are to have so many habitats and ecosystems all around us—living classrooms preserved for this generation and the next.

Story By Alex Atkinson