BOLD & GOLD: How a YMCA program brings diversity to wilderness tripping

By Alissa Johnson via Quetico Superior Wilderness News

Wilderness tripping and recreation aren’t always known for diversity—a 2016 report from the Outdoor Foundation found that 74 percent of outdoor participants were Caucasian. It’s a familiar narrative, and one that many groups are working to change. One inspiring program, BOLD & GOLD, goes beyond introducing diverse groups to nature. The YMCA of the Greater Twin Cities Boys & Girls Outdoor Leadership Program uses canoe tripping and wilderness settings, including the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, to teach youth to work together, whatever the differences between them.

“More than ever, the youth of today are growing up and going to school with youth from a wide variety of backgrounds,” explained Kurt Simer, BOLD & GOLD program director for the YMCA of the Greater Twin Cities. “We see it as a strength and opportunity for our program to bring together these youth and use the inherent challenges in wilderness tripping to teach them to work together and to support one another as they deal with adverse circumstances, whether that be a hard portage, rain, or some annoying mosquitoes.”

Diversity is, after all, a growing part of life.

“As [these youth] move forward in their lives, furthering their education and into their professional careers, it’s just going to become more and more important for people to learn to work together in a multicultural world,” he continued.

With that in mind, each BOLD & GOLD group includes youth from a variety of income levels and backgrounds. That diversity is in part achieved by making sure those in need—approximately two-thirds of participants—receive financial assistance.

Throughout the summer, these groups head to one of three YMCA camps, including Camp Menogyn and Camp Widjiwagan on the edge of the Boundary Waters, which have long traditions of wilderness canoeing. Campers spend a few days in camp learning the skills to be successful on trail and get used to being in a more remote setting.

A good day on the water. All photos courtesy YMCA Twin Cities.

A good day on the water. All photos courtesy YMCA Twin Cities.

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