Exploring the Outdoors With Urban Teens

exploring the outdoors with urban teensCamping with a toddler is challenging. Add in eight teenagers, most of whom are not English speakers, and things get even more interesting! As the leader of my school’s Outdoor Adventure Club, I take the kids camping every year. This year we headed to the Appalachian Mountain Club’s (AMC) Noble View Outdoor Center in Russell, MA. Even though I teach in an inner-city high school, we are able to do these trips thanks to the support of the AMC’s Youth Opportunities Program (YOP), which provides everything from hiking boots and fleece layers, to sleeping bags and water bottles. Expensive gear is often the biggest barrier to taking urban kids on overnight excursions, and AMC’s YOP removes that barrier. (Even better, before you can borrow gear, you must complete their Outdoor Leadership Training, which is a great way to learn how to navigate the outdoors with groups of kids that aren’t your own.)

camping AMC Noble View-6-3

This year I had two other chaperones – Brendan, a college student and former Outdoor Adventure Club member and officer, and Chelsi, an alum of the school who rowed for me and Kendra on the crew team. (It is amazing to me how many alums give back to the school as volunteers!) Also along for the trip was our trusty AMC YOP coordinator and all-around awesome guy – Nate! Nate is our local liaison for the YOP program, and often accompanies us on trips.

camping AMC Noble View

Before leaving the high school, we played some name games and team building exercises. It was quite the challenge – only two of the eight kids were fluent English speakers. The others spoke primarily Arabic or Khmer (Cambodian). We have an incredibly diverse school population which includes a large number of immigrant and refugee students. It isn’t uncommon to have fourteen or fifteen different native languages represented in a classroom – everything from Portuguese, Spanish, and French to Twi, Gujarati, Krio and Swahili. I often joke that we are the International Outdoor Adventure Club because of the number of members who speak English as a second language – but I think it speaks volumes about the common ground of nature and the outdoors. You don’t need to speak English to hike, camp, snowshoe, or explore the woods. Our club is a great way for non-English speaking students to be involved in a school activity and make friends outside of the ELL (English language learner) classrooms! (I also LOVE that Addie gets to meet other kids from all over the world.)

camping AMC Noble ViewWhen we arrived at Noble View, our first step was to get the kids dressed in the proper gear. Nate passed out daypacks with hiking boots, wool socks, polypro, fleece, and waterproof layers. The kids used the bathhouse to change, and when they were done we set up a tarp and made lunch. It was drizzling just slightly, with a forecast of heavy rain, so after lunch we got to work setting up our tents before it began pouring.

Once our campsite was prepared, we headed out for a nice, long hike…

hiking AMC Noble ViewLocation: AMC Noble View Outdoor Center, Russell, MA
Date: April 26, 2014
Distance: 3.29 miles roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 554 feet
Our Hiking Time: 2 hours 31 minutes roundtrip
Trail Blaze: Yellow Circles (Laurel Lane Trail) and Red Circles (Pitcher Brook Trail)
Difficulty: Moderate
Trail Map

Addie napping on my back during our hikeThe last time I did this hike, it was with the club on our 2013 winter snowshoeing trip. In some ways, it seemed a bit more treacherous, especially as we climbed along a ledge overlooking Little Pitcher Falls. Of course, I also had Addie on my back this time, snoring loudly as I navigated the slick rocks and leaves.

We started our hike from the campsite, letting kids lead the way to the Laurel Lane trailhead. One volunteered to be the navigator, and another to be the time keeper (every 20 minutes he reminded the group to drink water and eat a snack). The start of the trail was very muddy, and our boots made hilarious squelching sounds as they stuck in the mud. Fortunately, the mud didn’t last long, and we quickly came across one of three cellar holes on the property. Nate explained the history of the land, pointing out the remnants of the Ashley Cellar Hole. The kids were fascinated, asking lots of questions and walking inside the cellar itself.

As we continued on the trail, Nate gently pulled back a buried log and found a red backed salamander. I don’t know who was more excited – me or the kids. I had never seen a salamander before – nor had they. Heck, I wouldn’t have even known where to look! (Having grown up in the same inner-city as my students, I still have a lot to learn about the great outdoors.)

red backed salamander red backed salamanderWhen we reached the Pendelton-Snow Cellar Hole, the trail became the Pitcher Falls Trail. We began our loop back to the campsite, first heading downhill to the base of Big Pitcher Falls. The sun came out as we began our short descent, and the sounds of the falls reached our ears. You could sense the excitement in the kids.

hiking AMC Noble View hiking AMC Noble View hiking AMC Noble View

hiking AMC Noble ViewOnce we arrived at the falls, everyone was smiling. Well, everyone except Addison, who had fallen asleep on my back.

Some of the kids ventured down the edge of the trail for a closer look at the rushing water. It was a beautiful sight – the bright green moss contrasted the reddish-brown leaves carpeting the ground. Once we began heading along the path to Little Pitcher Falls, the terrain became more difficult to navigate. We followed a steep incline peppered in wet, slippery rocks and moss. I was definitely nervous at points, especially because Addie was merely tucked between my back and backpack, not in a kid carrier. With careful steps, we safely climbed around the falls.

camping_AMC_Noble_View-4 hiking AMC Noble View hiking AMC Noble View hiking AMC Noble ViewThe rest of the trail was easy walking. Naturally once we’d finished the hard climbing, Addison woke up and was excited to run along the trail. We ended back where we began – our campsite.


camping AMC Noble ViewAfter giving the kids 15 minutes to put away their gear, use the bathroom, and grab a snack, we gathered them together to talk about the hike and make the transition to cooking dinner! We taught them how to string up tarps, set-up and use our Coleman camp stoves, and build a fire. They whipped up an awesome meal of pasta, sauce, and meatballs. Just as we sat down to eat, the sky finally opened up. We had escaped the rain during our hike, and even had a bit of sunshine, but it came down hard the rest of the evening. Luckily, we already had a good fire going, so the kids were able to make s’mores before we called it a night and sought refuge in our tents.

camping AMC Noble View camping AMC Noble View

After a chilly night, it was difficult to get the kids to come out of their sleeping bags. We woke them up, and they groggily made their way to the bathhouse to get ready for the day. While we started to break down camp, the kids made a wonderful breakfast of bagels with vegetarian sausage, eggs, and cheese. We spent the next two hours cleaning up and packing our gear. Finally, we were ready to leave for our hike on Mt. Tom!

hiking Mt. Tom state reservation in Holyoke, MALocation: Mt. Tom State Reservation, Holyoke, MA
Date: April 27, 2014
Distance: 2 miles roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 554 feet
Our Hiking Time: 1 hours 32 minutes roundtrip
Trail Blaze: Yellow Rectangles (Dynamite Trail) and White Rectangles (M-M Trail)
Difficulty: Easy
Trail Map

None of us had visited Mt. Tom State Reservation before, so it was fun to explore a new place. We drove to the lookout tower near the reservation headquarters. Before I even had time to get out of the car, most of the kids (including Addie) had climbed to the top of the tower. I followed suit and admired the beautiful view of Holyoke down below.

hiking Mt. Tom state reservation in Holyoke, MAhiking Mt. Tom state reservation in Holyoke, MAAfter getting some advice from a lovely local couple (and taking time to pet their adorable dogs) we headed north on Christopher Clark Road until it intersected with the Dynamite Trail. We followed the trail to the intersection with the M-M Trail, and turned left to climb Goat’s Peak. As we neared the top, we came upon a beautiful lookout with benches. The kids were happy to sit, admire the view, sip water, and snack.

When we reached Goat’s Peak, there was another lookout tower, and once again most of us climbed to the top. A few kids stayed on the ground to enjoy more snacks. One even took a quick nap!

hiking Mt. Tom state reservation in Holyoke, MA hiking Mt. Tom state reservation in Holyoke, MA hiking Mt. Tom state reservation in Holyoke, MA hiking Mt. Tom state reservation in Holyoke, MA

When we climbed back down, Addie discovered a “fairy house.” She cracks me up with her imagination!

hiking Mt. Tom state reservation in Holyoke, MA hiking Mt. Tom state reservation in Holyoke, MA

Because we were running out of time, we followed the M-M Trail back to the paved road and returned to the cars for lunch. Addie insisted we climb the lookout tower one more time.


We had an awesome camping trip – the kids learned a lot, I learned a lot, and I am excited for our next adventure! Once again, I came away with the strong conviction that we need to do everything we can to get urban teens into nature – the benefits are incredible!

About Jen

Outdoor adventurer and traveler. Writer, Photographer & Communications Professor. Wife. Mom of twins plus one. Tubbs Snowshoes Ambassador. Blogger at gayfamilytrips.com.

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6 Responses to Exploring the Outdoors With Urban Teens

  1. Kathy Larocque May 3, 2014 at 10:14 am #

    As I’m reading about Addie snuggled between your back and your backpack, I’m reminded of another post where you wrote about planning ahead……. Oh, Jen……thank goodness she’s a peanut! <3
    I love your ambition and drive with these kids.

    • Jen May 3, 2014 at 11:29 am #

      Ha! It’s true – although these days whenever she comes with me and the big kids, that’s how I carry her. I need the room of a bigger backpack to carry first aid stuff, etc., and I have found that she fits in pretty well as long as the waist belt is tight. :) It’s hard not to want to take these kids outdoors – they love every minute of it!


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