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How Friends of the Children Seattle Made 'Trail Tuesdays' a Reality, with a Little Help from WTA

Posted by Jessi Loerch at Nov 16, 2022 01:29 PM |

Friends of the Children Seattle spent the summer exploring local trails and introducing youth to the fun of hiking. (And the joy of eating frozen yogurt during a hike.) WTA's Outdoor Leadership Training program helped them have a successful summer of exploration.

By Sophia Moreno, Friends of the Children Seattle

One of my favorite moments from last summer was on the Centennial Trail, near Snohomish. This summer, my dream was to create “Trail Tuesdays,” group outings for the youth at Friends of the Children Seattle. I wanted to introduce our youth to something new and also challenge them to get out of their comfort zone, increase their curiosity about the outdoors and potentially spark a new interest. A partnership with WTA’s Outdoor Leadership Training (OLT) program helped get us there.  

For this particular trip, I chose a 5-mile-roundtrip hike that went into downtown Snohomish. Halfway through our hike, we stopped at Top It Yogurt Shoppe. Our youth were shocked to see kids close to their own age helping run this family business. After the 2.5 miles we had walked to get there, everyone’s frozen yogurt cups were overflowing with a variety of creative flavor combinations and toppings. The effort to keep toppings from rolling off towering mounds of frozen yogurt was almost as challenging as the hike itself. On that 90-degree day, frozen yogurt felt as essential as all the water we were carrying! 

A woman stands in the stream with an older child behind her with her arms around her shoulders.
Sophia Moreno with one of her mentees on a hike to Cherry Falls. Getting to swim at the falls was a highlight of the summer’s Trail Tuesdays. Photo by David Anthony.

I am Friends–Seattle’s program project lead, and one of my goals for the summer was to increase our youth’s engagement in outdoor activities, specifically hiking. Through personal experience and research, I know and understand the physical and mental health benefits of spending time outdoors. I am also familiar with the barriers to accessing these experiences — especially for youth of color. Having used Washington Trails Association as a resource in my own outdoor exploration, I thought of them first when preparing for our youth’s slow and steady introduction to hiking. 

The best way to kick that off was to arrange an Outdoor Leadership Training session for our staff with WTA. The trainings teach people who work with youth how to lead safe and fun trips. It was amazing working with Erin McQuin from WTA to develop our plans for the summer, to hone our goals for the workshop and our partnership. Erin and MJ Sampang used one of our Trail Tuesday plans as the foundation to scout out and set up our training at one of the locations where we planned to take our youth during the summer. 

Four Friends–Seattle staff attended the training and shared their goals and hopes for the workshop and their youth. The overarching theme was that we wanted to introduce our youth to outdoor experiences in such a way that they would want to continue to explore. Erin and MJ gave us integral tools to do that. They walked us through having goals and roles (my favorite role this summer was being the “water fairy” who gives water break reminders to ensure everyone stays hydrated), using maps to track our distance and progress, and having someone keep time so we could have accurate expectations of when we would arrive at our halfway point and how long it would be before we got back to our cars. We got to see and practice ways to engage with youth, like trail games and MJ’s motivational ascending songs. Most importantly, we learned about being prepared with the 10 Essentials, and this summer that meant lots of water. 

Our Trail Tuesdays took place at the Discovery Park Lighthouse Loop, Coal Creek and Centennial Trail, with the last one at Cherry Creek Falls. I chose this progression of trails so that there was variety in distance, elevation change and scenery (something for everybody) and a big reward at the end with Cherry Creek Falls. 

My biggest takeaway from OLT was the importance of scouting these trails before we took our youth out and making sure we had benchmarks or goals in mind (like an frozen-yogurt stop in Snohomish). 

Having shared goals and understanding with the other staff who did the training and joined on Trail Tuesdays was incredibly helpful. We all understood how to keep our youth motivated, plan breaks along the trail, and be prepared with plenty of food, water and sun protection. 

We had two youth who attended Trail Tuesdays consistently, while others’ attendance varied. Getting to swim in Cherry Creek Falls to end our summer with these youth was an amazing reward for all involved. Their perseverance, patience and self-management throughout our summer of exploring was inspiring. 

Outside of Trail Tuesdays, I also began to take one of my youth, who had recently moved out of King County, to find beautiful spots in Pierce County. Wapato and Spanaway Lake are now some of our “peaceful places” in this time of big transitions. 

Thanks to these summer excursions, our youth have found the joy of slowing down for a walk in nature and the great rewards that can come from some of those more challenging hikes. Looking forward, I am excited to continue taking our youth out in nature outside of the summer months, and I’m hoping to get a group of staff together for WTA’s snowshoeing workshop in the winter.

Sophia Moreno was born in the Wallingford neighborhood of Seattle and grew up on a farm on Whidbey Island. A variety of life experiences led to her passion for and profession in youth development work in Seattle. She truly believes in the power of relationship building which has been her greatest gift in the work she currently does with Friends of the Children Seattle. Outside of work she loves to cook, bake, read, write and hike!