It’s time to throw away the old romantic notion that wilderness is a place for mountain men and wild beasts. This summer, wilderness is a place for women and girls to learn and grow.
The Women’s Wilderness Institute is holding summer programs for girls designed to build courage, confidence and leadership skills. The all-inclusive agency has never turned a girl away because of an inability to pay.
“We are focused on empowering girls and women through communication and wilderness adventure,” said Women’s Wilderness Institute director Shari Leach.
“There is no anti-boy attitudes,” she said. “We just want to make sure that everybody gets to play.”
Girls from Summit County took part in a five-night backpacking trip with the Women’s Wilderness Institute. Katie Mason was 13 when she participated in the “Wild Voices” program last summer. Her favorite part was bonding with the six girls on her trip, and making dream catchers out of sticks and dental floss.
“I learned a lot about how it’s important to meet different people and make friends in a small group,” she said. “I also learned a lot about nature.”
Katie’s mom, Karen Mason, said she appreciates the chance for Katie to combine outdoor adventure with creative endeavors.
“It sounded like something she would relate to more than just a backpacking trip,” Mason said. “It helped tear down some of those walls we build up — especially for teenage girls — and feel comfortable and safe to be who she is.”
The director said because the organization is for females only, they can focus on girls’ special development needs. This includes everything from talking about the formation of cliques to feeling confident being out in the wilderness.
“After girls see a woman light the stove and set up a tent, a lot them come back and say, ‘I have a new respect for how strong I can be and what I can do,’” Leach said.
A survey taken in 2012 reported that 84 percent of girls felt their body was more capable after their wilderness course; and 87 percent felt more confident in themselves regardless of what others thought.
Leach said the experience also cultivates a strong environmental ethic in many girls.
“Feeling like you belong in the wilderness, and it’s not somewhere scary, can create a sense of connection,” she said. “Girls know their actions have an impact on the environment, and can take responsibility to care for it.”
The Wilderness Institute, based out of Boulder, is teaming with the Swan Center Outreach in Summit County for a new Wild Horses program. Girls ages 13 to 15 will camp and work closely alongside horses during this six-day course.
Leach said the course will give girls a “deeper, more philosophical level of human/animal relations.”
“It involves using the relationship a person has with a horse to look at how you are being present in the world,” she said.
Ranch director John Longhill said pairing a child with a 1,000 pound animal can bring about important life skills.
“The animal is looking to the child for leadership,” Longhill said. “When the child becomes a leader, the horse feels safe and the child feels empowered.”
“The kids walk away with a sense of self-mastery. They are masters of their own life and their own destiny,” he said.
The Women’s Wilderness Institute will offer two Wild Horses programs on July 8, and Aug. 5. Other programs held in Colorado for girls from age 9 to 18 include wilderness expeditions, arts and the outdoors, Latina girls adventure days, rock climbing camp and more.
Last year the organization gave away more than $30,000 in scholarships. Full scholarships are available for girls from low-income families and additional scholarships are available for middle-income families.