Encouraging Kids to Explore Outdoors Safely

Tucson Electric Power/UniSource Energy Services Newsletter (February 2021)

As interest in outdoor activities escalated during the pandemic, the Arizona Trail Association stepped up its efforts to educate youth about our surroundings and encourage them to get outside in a safe manner.

Through the Seeds of Stewardship program, the association is giving free, outdoor classes to students; providing online, printable guides for hikes and activities and facilitating trail improvement projects.

UniSource Energy Services and sister company Tucson Electric Power contributed more than $8,000 to support these educational programs in Flagstaff and Tucson, a way to protect the environment and encourage preservation.

“The Arizona Trail is a perfect outdoor classroom and activity center right here in our own backyard,” said Wendy Erica Werden, Manager of Community Investment, who also served as a former Arizona Trail Board Member and current Segment Steward. “The ability of the Arizona Trail Association’s management to reinvent their programs and continue their educational outreach during this pandemic is inspirational.”

Since the pandemic began in spring 2020, public trails and lands have attracted more people seeking a safe, healthy activity. But some hikers had limited experience outdoors, leaving waste, disrupting habitats and harming the environment.

The association altered its youth programs to keep empowering the next generation of stewards of the environment.

“We see that it’s really effective to teach kids at a young age so they can develop sound practices as they grow up, and also share the knowledge with their families. This is a way of educating the community,” said Julie Polovitch, Youth Outreach & Education Coordinator for the Arizona Trail Association’s Seeds of Stewardship in Flagstaff.

In the fall, the association launched outdoor classes for a total of 14 students divided in two groups in fifth through seventh grades, called After School on the AZT, for hikes and lessons about ecology, animals and edible plants, like rosehips. Students in the class, in addition to the Flagstaff Junior Academy’s mountain bike club, worked on trail projects.

The association developed strict protocols to ensure safety at a time when students were isolated remote schooling – providing one of the few safe outlets and interactions for children.

“Most students didn’t get to see other kids outside of the program, so it was really something they looked forward to all week,” Polovitch said. “Kids are so adaptable. No one had trouble wearing masks and social distancing.”

After School on the AZT is wrapping up its winter session, which included snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. Another session is scheduled this spring.

For the general public, the association is providing do-it-yourself guides, sensory and ecology activities, handbooks and virtual sharing. Guides for the Flagstaff and Tucson areas each list five locations with activities geared for fifth through 12th grades.

Download or request copies of Junior Explorer Handbooks.

Polovitch said our companies’ contribution was especially helpful because many other donors were facing financial hardships. Plus, the association wanted to offer the programs at no cost at a time when they were needed most.

“We wanted to show our community that we were still thinking of them and helping them connect with the outdoors. During the lockdown, there was not much that anyone could do that was healthy,” Polovitch said. “The idea was to let people know that trails were there for them and help them learn how to enjoy them responsibly, as well.”

The donation continues our company’s support of the association, a nonprofit organization that aims to protect and sustain the Arizona Trail – an 800-mile non-motorized path from the Utah to the Mexico borders. The mission fits with our company’s philanthropic focus areas on the environment and education.


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