Ridding the Outdoor World of Have-Nots

Technically, the outdoors are free. But not everyone can afford to experience them the way they should. A retail shop in California is trying to change that.

By Kristen Pope June 28, 2016

Gathering in the Forks Campground near Bishop, California, 24 12- to 17-year-old local students found themselves facing a crucial task. It was the start of an outdoor adventure that would take them out of their comfort zones and into the backcountry, and it was time to imagine the kind of community they aspired to build over the coming week.

Grabbing markers, the students—who had applied to and been selected for the Eastern Sierra Youth Outdoors Program—filled a whiteboard with a list of community values ranging from “be helpful” and “have fun” to “smile (no creepy smiles)” and “no bragging.”

Over the next five days and four nights, the students strove to uphold these community values as they explored the Sierras on an outdoor adventure hosted by Eastside Sports and the Rotary Club of Bishop.

Todd Vogel, who serves as program director of the Eastern Sierra Youth Outdoors Program, is co-owner of Eastside Sports, a mountain guide and an outdoor educator with nearly 30 years’ experience. He wanted to provide a free opportunity for local kids who can’t afford to attend pricey outdoor education trips. Thanks to funds raised at last year’s Outsiders Ball and a grant from Columbia Sportswear

“With my work in outdoor education, it always frustrated me that most of my clients were from well-to-do private schools,” says Vogel. He wanted to bring that opportunity to kids in his community.

Biship Rotary Club Membership Chair Mike Gable says his group was excited about the program from the beginning. “We knew this was going to be a great program right away,” says Gable. “We like to focus on community service projects that involve kids because our society and community benefit so greatly from getting our young people off to a great start.” Twenty members of the rotary club volunteered to help lead the students on their wilderness adventure.

When the participants arrived from California’s Inyo and Mono counties, about half of them had never been in the backcountry before. Along with the 20 adult volunteers, they spent the first day learning about camping and team-building before venturing into the world of rock climbing on day two.

After a ground school where they learned the basics of climbing and belaying, participants were able to attempt up to 10 top-roped routes and learned how to rappel. That afternoon they congregated in the campground to learn how to pack their packs and select just what they’d need for the adventure ahead—a three-day backpacking trip.

On day three, the group split into three smaller teams based on age and experience..

During their trip, they learned wilderness skills ranging from foot careon the trail to hydration and fueling while hiking. They learned about botany, leadership, collecting and treating water and taking care of business when nature calls.

A few students complained of homesickness, and Vogel notes that camping near 11,000 feet was a challenge for some who weren’t used to the altitude. However, he heard only one common complaint from participants: “They complained the program wasn’t long enough,” says Vogel.


Q&A With Program Director Todd Vogel

OIA: What do kids attain from the program?
Todd Vogel: “[During their debrief], we had a number of comments like, ‘I learned to appreciate things I took for granted before.’ One was from a sixth grader who said, ‘I climbed for the first time, and I felt like I could do anything.’ One-hundred percent said they would do it again. Overall, they had enthusiastic responses to the challenges that they participated in, and they’re really a great, high-spirited group.”

OIA: Why is this such an important program?
TV: “Author Richard Louv has a theory about ‘nature deficit disorder,’ that we spend less and less time collectively as a culture outdoors. The outdoors [provide] value in so many ways. The stuff we’re hoping they get out of the program are team-building, community and so forth, but from a personal standpoint, the outdoor environment feeds our souls, and that is hard to quantify. After people are exposed to an outdoor experience for even half an hour, their ability to learn goes up. We know there’s stress reduction. It’s perfect to teach them these opportunities exist and build in them the desire to go and to show them first-hand the benefits of being outdoors. Finally, to build future protectors of wild lands and places like we have here.”

OIA: What are some of the skills or experiences the participants learn during the five-day program?
TV: To name just a few:

Rock Climbing (up to 10 top rope climbs and able to try rappelling)

Backpacking (and how to pack a pack)


Map reading

Pacing during a hike


Camping at Forks Campground (above Bishop, at 7,800′)

Water purification

Campsite selection

Backcountry safety

Outdoor leadership (and “followership”)

Natural history

Staying found (and what to do if you get “unfound”)

Foot care

Trail sanitation

Trail etiquette

Trail hydration and nutrition


The Outdoor Foundation’s Outsider’s Ball takes place on August 2nd, 2016, in Salt Lake City, night 0 of the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market. The purpose? To galvanize the industry around the most critical cause of getting youth outside and active. To date, the ball has funded more than 300 projects like this one, helping nearly 40,000 youth connect with the outdoors. To learn more about or get involved with the 2016 Outsiders Ball, contact Ryan Lauer.