"I have never even seen a river."
I am a big fan of getting kids outside, especially kids who otherwise might not have the opportunity to experience the great out-of-doors. Recently, on an outing with some young people, I heard a phrase that struck me to the core, "I have never seen a river."
A couple of weeks ago, I planned a trout fishing trip for some high school students on the upper Toccoa River. An awe-inspiring river tightly winding through one of the most beautiful landscapes in America, the Blue Ridge Mountains, just ten minutes above the town of Blue Ridge, GA, it was the perfect spot to expose them to the infinite beauty of nature while trying to catch the elusive trout.
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However, the focus was to create an experience that would inspire young people to dream and act. Perhaps this trip might even be that one defining experience that says, "Look! There are places, people, and experiences as beautiful as this in the world. Go live life in this big, wide beautiful world, and be a productive member of society."
Early that morning, as I collected five excited students and two other sleepy chaperones, we ventured off toward the mountains. However, it was not long before discouragement marred our trip. Upon arriving at the local store, we were told that fishing licenses for young people sixteen and older must be purchased using a proper form of identification. Only one student had the right ID credentials. We made the lonely purchase and headed out to the river anyway. Our discouragement quickly turned back to the excitement of the day, with or without a fishing license.
Upon arriving at the Blue Ridge area, we ventured off of the main road. If one is familiar with the area, the mountain road winds its way to reveal a river, rippling and roaring its way downstream, emptying into Lake Blue Ridge. When the kids saw the river, the noisy talking silenced. Mouths gaping, they acted as if they had just seen Lil' Wayne on the side of the road.
"Oohs" and "Ahs" filled the cars. "Wow!" one kid said, "I have never seen anything like it."
Another spoke: "Mr. Keck, can we just get out and look at it? We don't have to stay, but I just want to see it."
"Mr. Keck, can we just get out and look at it? We don't have to stay, but I just want to see it."
Similar comments filled the other car in the caravan. One young lady simply stated, "I have never even seen a river. I am happy just to look at it."
Hearing this broke my heart. It wasn't that she had never seen a stream or creek, like the one that we all drive over daily in town, but to see a natural river cascading over rocks and ledges filled with rapids and eddies seemed to be too much. They were elated. They wanted the experience, but didn't know what it was, where it was, or how to get it.
We got out and suited up our only legal fisherwoman. She delicately stumbled in waiters among the slippery rocks. She learned to cast the rod, drift and retrieve. After numerous tries she hooked a nice rainbow trout on a plastic trout worm. Applause and squeals erupted. Smiles abounded. The young lady made multiple claims of, "I caught a fish." Her classmates did not seem to take her comments as bragging rights. They, too, reveled in the joy of catching a fish as if they reeled it in with her.
I know that my goal was for the group of young people to have an experience that would change them for the better, forever. I think that it happened, but not near as much as I think it happened to me.
Listening to the "Oohs" and "Ahs" of seeing the river, and watching the smiles and camaraderie as the one prized fish was waved in the air, gave me a renewed vigor and sense of urgency to provide a network of support that creates opportunities that capture the magic of moments like this. It is my hope moving forward, organization or not, that others will take some time and find young people deserving of outdoor experiences.
Basically, kids want to get outside, but lack the-know-how, resources, and skills of someone who might be willing to take them. Many adults claim that kids do not know how to play anymore. They say that they are overweight and disengaged, blaming video games and electronics.
Perhaps adults need to do their part in providing these outlets for these sedentary children. It is time to get all kids, not just the ones we are vested in, outside and in the woods. Seek them out. It could just change a life.
In fact, I know it will.