Outdoor Education

Hitting the Curveball – How we arrived at GAP

By Tom Holland July 31, 2020

On our team we frequently talk about the curveball. Following any staff training, you find any
newly minted WA employee fired up to hit the curveballs when they come at them. The work
that we do is filled with curveballs, and we coach and teach our campers, our students and our
leaders on how to adjust their ‘swing’ to make solid contact when a curveball comes their way.
Well, it is an understatement to say that this year has been a massive set of one curveball after

However, the very nature of who we are as an organization, and what we preach to our
students and campers, has led us to keep moving, to continue to think creatively, to be there
for our community and to work towards getting back on the trail.
So, following the cancellation of all our trips, we put all of our energy into our day camp
programs. Base Camp provides learning, growth and fun for kids ages 5-12, and additionally
provides critical peer engagement that kids need now more than ever. It has not been easy, and
our team of staff are superheroes for what they have accomplished this year. Even in the snow
and rain of week one, we opened our doors and kids ran through with open arms (and masks).
But operating Base Camp gave us a chance to keep moving and to keep creatively thinking of
our future. Not only that, it provided us with key insights on how to operate youth programs
during COVID19.

That learning has been so valuable to us, that we decided in July to get out on the trail once
again. Our commitment to our students and families of the future required us to learn about
what the trips would be like in a COVID19 setting. So, we launched 3 very small local programs
to model, test and practice new COVID protocols in the wilderness setting.
Following these programs, we have learned a lot, and one key element of our learning has been
that our programs, with small groups in distant wilderness settings, do wonders to mitigate the
risks of COVID19. To be clear, we at WA have not eliminated this risk in either Base Camp, or
our trips-but we have worked diligently to lower the risk of transmission.
As we contemplated our findings and observations, and made plans for the future of life on the
trail, we heard personal stories of high school seniors we know and love deferring their plans
for colleges and universities this year and looking for other options.
We have always dreamed of running a GAP style program. With our portfolio of trip permits to
exceptional wilderness areas and our recent successes of the Wilderness Adventures
Leadership Institute, we knew we had a winning combination. Couple this with the knowledge
we have gained this summer and the need that exists in the world right now, and our fall
semester was born!

At my core, I am an educator. Designing this course, with course text and exceptional
experiences has been a true highlight of this crazy year. As of the writing of this, we are thrilled
with the response, and space is limited in our fall cohort. We look forward to this fall with the
students and teaching them how to hit the curveball as well!