Outdoor Education

WA in a Changing World

By Tom Holland June 30, 2020

Last week would have marked the beginning of the 48th summer of trips at Wilderness Adventures. Usually, this week would be full of the energy and enthusiasm that defines all our trips. The office and our home would be packed with trip leaders coming and going and the office phones would be ringing with flight changes and student pack list questions. 

This year our office is quiet. The seasonal staff are not here, and the kids are not coming. Kayaks sit idle on trailers in our yard and backpacks are hung neatly, ready for the next chance to hit the trail. As we wander through the WA office, seats are empty as many of our full time team members have been furloughed. We think of all the kids not on the trail this summer. We are sad for them and we are sad for the trip leaders who won’t get to have a summer guiding those students. We know the decisions we made were right, however, that does not help the loss we feel right now. 

Still, the quiet is broken with the sound of young children playing at Wilderness Adventures’ day camp, Base Camp. We used to talk about sunscreen at Base Camp so regularly that the kids developed a ‘sunscreen song’ for its application. This year, the emphasis on sunscreen has been joined with that of sanitizer, hand washing and face masks. Social distancing is what we do now. It is a blessing to see them running around and enjoying the company of their counselors and friends. Still the toll of COVID-19 on our youth leaves me unsettled. 

In our household, our fears go beyond COVID-19 and its financial and personal impacts on us and our community. We wonder about the world we are leaving to our children. We find ourselves awakened by the Movement for Black Lives, and heartbroken from the realities of racism in our country. The deaths of Elijah McClain, George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and so many others highlight for us the racial injustice that is a part of the fabric of our country. For us it has sparked a call to action and, admittedly, we stumble through this moment searching for our next steps.

This moment has called for us to reflect on our own privilege, as white Americans, living in the valley of Jackson Hole, which struggles itself to be reflective of equality in America. The world spins so rapidly in this moment that we are left dizzy, and yet we know our own discomfort and recognition of the privilege we have benefited from our entire lives, is necessary for change and to make this world a better place for our children. We recognize that it is a privilege to learn about racism in our country rather than experience it. We also recognize the importance of making a commitment to this movement for ourselves and Wilderness Adventures and that we must take care in our approach in order to make it meaningful and impactful. 

The outdoors pushes us to be uncomfortable – stretching our limits and challenging us. Deep learning, confidence, and self-awareness are often the result of moments of discomfort and challenge, and, in the end, the participant is better for it. We believe that these same principles will help our country. By having hard conversations, being uncomfortable, and addressing difficult parts of our society, our country will be better for it. 

We are on the journey now, and we can’t claim to have the answers. However, as we work to define our role in the world, we discover our own truths about who we have been, who we are in this moment, and who we must be in the future. 

While our company is in flux this summer, we can not miss this opportunity to make commitments to our students, our trip leaders, and the whole WA community about who we will be going forward. 

  • Wilderness Adventures has been around for 48 years. We were built to last and will return to adventure again in 2021. 
  • As leaders in the outdoor industry, we recognize that we have not done enough to promote antiracism. We can and will do better when it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion in our programs and within our organization.  
  • We know we do not have the answers at this moment. However, we know that we must use the months and years ahead to listen, to learn and to reflect on our own accountability, addressing how we can and will be better. 

We stand committed to not being idle. We feel the fierce urgency of now. We will be using the coming months to evaluate who we are and what we stand for, and as we build to the full strength of our team by late fall we will be sharing our commitments to Black, Indigenous and People of Color with you, the community of WA.  

Like so many moments on the trail, the discomfort has awakened us to a need for action and accountability. We will work to make our organization a catalyst for real change. We look forward to your partnership along the way. 

To the BIPOC community, we hear you, we stand with you, and we are committed to doing much more for this movement. We look forward to actively working together towards a better future for Wilderness Adventures, and our world as a whole.

To our greater WA community, you will hear from us soon.


Tom and Catherine Holland