2017-07-27 / Life in Leelanau

TAKE A HIKE

Eight students to spend a week in wilderness as part of Lakeshore youth program
By Hannah Lentz
Enterprise intern


MICHIGAN STUDENTS participating in the Sleeping Bear Dunes Wilderness Ambassador Youth Program take a break during their 2016 hike. MICHIGAN STUDENTS participating in the Sleeping Bear Dunes Wilderness Ambassador Youth Program take a break during their 2016 hike. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore will provide eight lucky Michigan students with the trip of a lifetime later this month.

The Sleeping Bear Dunes Wilderness Ambassador Youth Program (WAY) provides students entering high school with a week-long trip in the Lakeshore’s designated wilderness areas. Participants will have chances to interact with park rangers and explore different types of careers with the National Park Service along the way. No experience is necessary except for the ability to carry up to a 40-pound pack and hike eight miles in one day.

“Students will be totally immersed in Sleeping Bear Dunes wilderness, beginning at a front-country campground, and then heading out to both South Manitou Island and North Manitou Island to complete the weeklong experience,” said Kelly Sczomak, park ranger and organizer of the trip.


LAST YEAR’S WAY program participants during their week-long trip throughout Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park. LAST YEAR’S WAY program participants during their week-long trip throughout Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park. The trip, which will be led by two park rangers and one intern, is free with all food, gear and transportation provided by the National Park Service.

Transportation grants are also available for participants requiring additional financial assistance.

“The goal of this trip is to provide an opportunity to learn backpacking and hiking skills to students that would not otherwise have the opportunity,” Sczomak said.

After last year’s inaugural trip, the Lakeshore received 20 applications for the eight open slots in the program. Selected students attended a July 15 orientation for the program, where they learned some of the expectations of the trip.

One of the best parts of the program is the leadership skills kids gain, Sczomak said.

“The Sleeping Bear Dunes Wilderness Ambassador Youth Program provides the opportunity for young people to experience wilderness areas on an extended stay,” she said. “Spending time in wilderness allows us the chance to experience solitude and learn and grow from one another without the distractions of everyday life.”

Students will make a video documenting their experience to share with the public upon their return and, later, carry out a volunteer service project.

“Participants are encouraged to use the experience to come up with a project that helps share the knowledge they learned with their own communities,” Sczomak said. “Public lands, including national parks, belong to all of us. I can’t wait to give our participants the chance to connect with their local national park and discover what it means to them.”

Alumni of the program are eligible to become peer mentors. Student instructors attend additional instructor training and assist in teaching essential skills. Alumni receive all the same benefits as before but more experience for applications and resumes.

Application opportunities for the following year’s trip usually close at the end of May.

For more information about the WAY program, contact Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

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