There are many ways for locals to get into nature; however, in today’s world it can be hard for youth to find the doorway into the wild in a safe manner.
Being outside, whether it be hiking, camping, fishing, hunting or any other activities the outdoors can provide, can certainly leave a lasting impact on a person’s life.
Being close to nature brings people closer to others, and to themselves. However, when one hasn’t grown up with many opportunities to go out, it can be hard for a young man or woman to start that journey on their own.
These are some ideas shared by a relatively new organization called Project ASCENT. Its mission is to solve this problem with modern generations and to get them back outdoors.
Started about two years ago, Project ASCENT has been a working dream of Rob Christensen’s for years. He has been a school counselor for a long time and has worked to bring outdoor activities into school environments with much success.
One example he gave was how he started a rock-climbing program in several of the schools around Great Falls. He then did something similar, bringing archery to the students as well. These were only stepping stones, as it turned out, to a greater mission: to bring youth into the outdoors.
Project ASCENT stands for Adventure, Science, Community, Environment, Nature and Teamwork, and is geared toward giving youth the opportunity to experience the great outdoors without any cost to them, or to their parents.
The entire camp program is 100% free to all youth who participate. The organization is a non-profit and is funded completely by grants and fundraisers.
Project ASCENT hosts five camps in the summer, two at Blossom Lake, two at Bull River, and a new float trip camp.
The Blossom Lake camps are geared specifically toward local kids from Thompson Falls. The camp entails a weeklong adventure where 10 selected applicants hike out into the mountains, to Blossom Lake, and camp there for the duration of their trip.
They are provided gear, meals and leadership. The kids are not passive observers to their adventure and must cook, clean, set up camp, organize themselves and work together throughout the week, learning valuable skills along the way.
Each day the participants are given a lesson, or two, by trained professionals. These professionals are volunteers who give their own time to hike out and teach.
Monday, campers received bear and leave no trace training, and Wednesday they had rappelling training and to rappel down the face of a cliff, for examples.
The Bull River camp is funded by Gear Up, a Montana program driven to give youth in schools opportunities to learn about the wilderness and to get students out into it.
The camp is also a weeklong excursion, however, is opened up to all schools in Montana who are affiliated with the Gear Up program. Again, Project ASCENT hosts 10 applicants in an adventure where each day they learn a lesson from trained professionals, however they camped at a designated camping location and were able to drive to the sight.
This camp is Known as “glamping” according to Angelo Alderete; glamourous camping. Even though the group is not roughing it as much as the Blossom Lake group does, there are still numerous opportunities for growth and adventure.
Throughout the week, leaders guided kids to locations around the camp, giving them a variety of adventures and lessons. Participants were still required to cook and clean up after themselves as well as to work together throughout the week.
The final of the camps is a new three-day long float camp completely funded by money raised from Project ASCENT and its contributing fundraisers.
Participants will pack all their gear with them as they float down a river, camping along the way. This year will be the first year this trip has been held by Project ASCENT. They plan on many more years of camping, helping youth and are working on expanding the program.