LNT on the AZT with Kinsey

Co-authored by Kim Cleary

Over the course of three days in late September and early October, 65 fifth graders from Kinsey Elementary School explored the Arizona Trail with Seeds of Stewardship. Since this was the students’ first outing with us, we focused on fostering proper trail behavior, a sense of place in nature, and enthusiasm for the AZT’s San Francisco Peaks Passage. Some students had never been on a hike before, but by the end of their outing, they gained an appreciation for outdoor adventure and an understanding of the importance of leaving wild places the way we found them.

Departing from Aspen Corner, we hiked the short connector trail until we met the AZT. Here we grouped up to learn the seven principles of Leave No Trace. As students read each principle, they discussed why these ethics were important to practice when adventuring outdoors. Students shared varying perspectives, sparking thoughtful conversations among peers.

Equipped with an understanding of LNT, we played a game that put students’ observational skills to the test. Everyone was given an item of “trash,” and they were split into two groups. Each group went to a different section of trail to hide their items. Then the groups swapped places to search for the items. There was not a single group of students who found every object, despite their confidence that they would be able to retrieve everything! Students realized it’s easier to lose things–including things that will remain in the environment for long periods of time–than they had thought. This realization highlighted the importance of taking home everything they brought out onto the trail, leaving only footprints in the places they visit.

Further along the hike, students spent some time personally reflecting and observing the area, as a means of developing a meaningful sense of place within their local environment. Each student found items along the trail that reminded them of home, someone/thing they loved, and themselves. Many different and creative items were gathered, and their explanations behind the items showcased the connections that students had made between their lives and this landscape.

Free play in nature always proves to be one of our greatest tools for building an appreciation for and a sense of belonging in wild places. Thus, to conclude our outings with these budding stewards, students had time to explore Aspen Corner and play while waiting for the bus to pick them up. It was a fantastic way to celebrate the students’ stellar participation during our outings!