Molly Smith
Internship Report

Environmental Education in Outdoor Recreation

Goals and Objectives:

My internship was inspired part by my major and an independent study and part by a curiosity to learn more about the area where I grew up and continue to spend my summers. I designed my own internship proposal which I feel is a good thing because it is a topic that I am very excited about and interested in, however, the downside is that I have run into several unforeseen obstacles.

One of my goals for the summers was through research to gain a deeper understanding of the relationship between outdoor recreation and the development of environmental consciousness and the motivation for environmental activism. I spent my summer reading such texts as the Wilderness Act, The Singing Wilderness by Sigurd Olson, an environmental writer from my hometown; Wilderness and the American Mind by Roderick Frazier Nash, a text which explores Americans view and relationship towards wilderness; Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez, a book which through scientific study and intimate sense of the landscape demonstrates a progressively more intimate connection to place and responsibility towards place, The Journey Home by Edward Abbey, a book which, Edward Abbey style shows fierce loyalty and care for place through intimate knowledge and understanding; and I also read various articles to gain a better understanding of the current wilderness debate in my neighborhood posted at Friends of the Boundary Waters’ website, a group dedicated to the preservation of pristine wilderness, and also Conservationists with Common Sense, a group dedicated to preserving the multiple aspect of public land and making the wilderness available to people of all abilities, in other words they want motors in the wilderness areas. This research was very useful in developing my presentation and furthering my interest in the relationship between outdoor recreation and environmental consciousness.

My second goal was to create a presentation and lead a discussion on recreation users and their relationship and connection to place and the development of environmental consciousness for wilderness trip leaders at a canoe and backpack camp for youth. Through this presentation, I want to spark a conversation among trip leaders about their role as wilderness trip leaders beyond teaching campers in basic wilderness tripping skills, but also looking at the potential for igniting environmental awareness. I want to get staff thinking about the role trip leaders can possess by taking kids outside, getting kids excited about camping, and teaching kids about their environment, human relationship to the environment and the role of caring for not only the preserved natural environment, but for our entire earth community. My presentation successfully sparked a summer long discussion among staff about environmental consciousness and many staff approached me to tell me that they had talked to their campers about such issues while out in the field. It was very valuable for me to hear feedback from the staff and to know that I am not the only person to realize the importance of wilderness recreation in the environmental movement. The presentation also gave me the opportunity for public speaking and boosted my confidence about speaking in front of my peers.

Another goal was to create a survey for trip participants and trip leaders to gain insight on others perspective of wilderness, their opinions and understanding of designated wilderness. Through this survey and the compilation of results, I hope to further my own understanding of the relationship between recreation and environmental awareness. Due to limited internet access throughout the summer, it was difficult to check in with Amy about creating this survey, which I wanted to do to make sure I was on the right track. I only sent out the survey to the staff because I had all their email addresses. It was like pulling teeth to get responses, but I will go into the survey in detail in a later section.

My last goal was to continue awareness of the wilderness debate through awareness of current issues. This goal was achieved by my presentation, and individual staff taking the responsibility to create the conversation with their campers. I personally created a setting to discuss wilderness with my campers and then asked them to write a reflection of our trip and their wilderness experience. I only did this with my sixteen year old campers; my twelve year olds weren’t quite ready to sit still for that long and think about that kind of question.

Difficulties I Encountered:

I created my internship position/project with an organization that was not familiar with the Whitman Internship Program and does not typically have interns seeking to fill the role that I was trying to fulfill. It was difficult, almost impossible, to meet with my organization sponsor because she was primarily responsible for supervising around eighty to ninety trail staff, which made checking in my project a low priority for her. Even though I had created my project myself, it still would have been nice to receive more feedback.

I did my internship project while I was also fulfilling my responsibilities as a wilderness trip leader. It was difficult to maintain a flow in my project because I would be gone for a period of time or be called upon to help out in an emergency and have to leave camp suddenly and unexpectedly.

For the most part, though, my project was well received and supported to an extent by the staff. The lack of participation I did encounter came in survey responses; only about a third of the staff replied and it was challenging to get that many. Perhaps this is due to sending out the surveys after camp was over, but personally I believe I would have gotten the same number of responses perhaps even less had I passed out the surveys while people were still at camp.

What I Accomplished:

Over the course of the summer, I researched and prepared a presentation for trip leaders at the camp. This presentation was successful in opening a conversation on the meaning of wilderness, its value and our relationship to wilderness.

Personally, I led discussions on various land management plans, what they are and what they do. I discussed plans such as Wilderness Areas, National Monuments, National Parks, and National Forest Lands. I also talked about various land management agencies such as the United States Forest Service, the National Park Service, and the Bureau of Land Management. These discussions occurred with my campers, so my goal was mainly to make them aware of the different jurisdiction we passed through on our trips and what the differences might be. For example, wilderness areas are part of National Forest Lands or B.L.M Land, no motors in wilderness but you can log National Forest Lands. It was all very basic and not intended to be preachy, but rather to increase awareness and perhaps plant a few seeds in their heads. From the success of my presentation to the staff, many other trip leaders also had similar discussions with their campers

I successfully for staff and examined the results. In the survey I asked questions that would look at the relationship between quality and value of the wilderness experience, what people sought in the wilderness experience, and the importance of various environmentally friendly activities such as supporting wilderness preservation, recycling, buying organic or locally, and also vegetarianism to the individual. It was very difficult getting participation in the surveys; however, the results confirm the progression from outdoor recreational experiences shifting towards enlightened environmental consciousness. I didn’t find a difference in trends between males and females. Because I sent the survey out to the trail staff everyone falls into the 19-26 year old category and almost everyone was in college or held a college degree with only a few exceptions. The demographic that I surveyed was very specific. I didn’t see any trends demonstrating necessary things sought for in the wilderness experience that would, guaranteed, lead to environmental consciousness. Interestingly, the value of wilderness recreational experience does not necessarily correlate to valuing the preservation of wilderness. This only came back in a few responses, and to be honest, I am very confused by it and don’t understand how a person could value their remote canoe trip but not necessarily support the regulations that made that trip possible.

Recommendations for future Internships:

I definitely found it valuable experience to create my own project because it was tailored to be something I am very interested in. in the future, when creating and internship in an organization that did not previously have an internship position or is not familiar with the Whitman Internship Program. I would recommend being more aggressive in establishing a relationship and maintaining contact with the sponsor. It would also have been helpful for me to have been completely alone in working on my project.

For someone who wishes to continue or create their own environmental education in outdoor recreation internship, here are my recommendations. I would definitely suggest researching and creating some sort of presentation and then, instead of the survey, perhaps compile and outline some kind of a lesson on a subject that trip leaders can implement in the field.