4-H youth built valuable skills during hike on shores of Lake Superior

Ten Michigan 4-H members conquered six days, 30-pound backpacks, 42 miles of rugged trail and 200-foot cliffs in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

Backpacking participants from Alger and Gratiot counties stop for a break on the cliffs above Lake Superior in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

For many people, the idea of walking 42 miles with a backpack weighing more than 30 pounds in hot and rainy summer weather, swimming at a place called Mosquito Beach and spending six days with a group of strangers doesn’t sound very appealing. For one group of Michigan 4-H youth, doing just that proved to be a positive, life-changing experience.

Ten teenaged Michigan 4-H members completed their backpacking trip in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore this past August 2018, which was led by Michigan State University Extension staff who have been trained as leaders in the Michigan 4-H Outdoor Adventure Challenge program. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, located within Alger County in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, “offers towering multicolored sandstone cliffs, miles of sparkling beach strands, dashing waterfalls, huge sand dunes, inland lakes and streams and deep green forests,” according to the National Park Service.

Chris and Liz
Chris Thompson (left) and Liz Wiener (right).

Liz Wiener and Chris Thompson, 4-H program coordinators in Alger and Gratiot counties, served as the primary adult leaders for the trip, which consisted of youth participants from both counties. Wiener and Chris hatched the plan for the adventure based Wiener’s desire to put some outdoor equipment that was available in Alger County to use, and Chris’s love of the Upper Peninsula and his involvement in the Outdoor Adventure Challenge program. Also serving in leadership roles were David Horne, superintendent of Pictured Rocks National Lakshore, who served as a parent chaperone, and Anne Thompson, a 4-H youth leader from Montcalm County who has started training as an Outdoor Adventure Challenge leader.

The group began their adventure on Aug. 20, setting off from the Grand Sable Visitor Center near Grand Marais, Michigan, and finished their hike 42 miles later near the town of Munising, Michigan. Each member of the group was responsible for carrying their own supplies, which included clothing, food, stoves, cooking gear, tents and sleeping bags.

“Youth were challenged physically and mentally every day,” said Wiener. “A couple miles into the hike on the first day, the kids were feeling exhausted and wondering what they had gotten themselves into! Each person had to encourage themselves, and others, to set up and complete the day.”

Hiking over bridge
Michigan 4-H Outdoor Adventure Challenge participants backpacking in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

Developing perseverance and their ability to work as members of a team were just two of the many skills youth developed during their adventure. According to Wiener and Chris, youth also developed confidence, independence, a sense of personal responsibility, goal-setting skills, decision-making skills, critical thinking skills, life skills and leadership skills.

“Each youth was given the opportunity to be a trail leader, setting the pace for the group and leading the way,” said Wiener. “This task required them to be aware of all members of the group, to set an appropriate walking pace and to make adjustments if they were starting to leave people behind.”

Anne observed that the process of setting up and taking down tents throughout the week helped youth build leadership and teamwork skills. “The very first night, we were all fumbling around trying to remember exactly how the tents went together,” Anne recalled. “As the journey progressed, we all became quicker at setup and teardown. We had to learn not only how to setup and take down our tents individually, but how to do it together. The very last night when we got to camp it was beginning to rain and a storm was coming, but we had the tents up and our gear inside in a couple minutes.”

Hiking up a hill
Michigan 4-H Outdoor Adventure Challenge participants backpacking in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

According to Wiener, Chris and Anne, highlights of the trip included some things you might expect given the location, including the scenery, the weather and the wildlife. Less expected might be some of the other outcomes of the adventure, such as the strong and positive relationships that were formed between participants though conversation and teamwork, and the feeling of confidence and ability that grew with every step along the way.

“This trip was the biggest and most challenging I have been a part of, and it showed me just how far I have come,” said Anne. During her six years participating in the Outdoor Adventure Challenge program, Anne says she has steadily developed her self-confidence and leadership skills, which were put to the test on this hike.

“This trip was long and tiring, nerves were getting frayed for everyone at times, making working together and compromising more difficult than ever,” Anne recalled. “I had to really exercise my patience and broaden my perspective to understand everyone's opinion”

Anne Thompson
Anne Thompson poses on the top of a cliff 200 feet above Lake Superior.

Anne sees the knowledge and skills she’s developed through the Outdoor Adventure Challenge program as assets that she’ll be able to use in the future. “When I first joined Outdoor Adventure Challenge at age 12, I was scared, uncomfortable and shy, but I grew to enjoy the challenges offered by the program,” she said. “I will be able to use these skills wherever I go in life. I can use my leadership, teamwork and problem-solving skills at college and in my future occupation. My time management skills, independence and self-confidence can be applied to any aspect of life, at home, at work or in school.”

Chris also believes that the skills youth developed through this experience will serve as valuable tool in many different situations they may encounter in their lives. “I saw youth develop the confidence to handle the stresses of undertaking the journeys needed to reach these beautiful spaces. They will be able to transfer the amazing skills they learned when they get back to their everyday life,” said Chris. “Additionally, youth come out of these experiences with a newfound appreciation for the natural wonders and beauty that can be found in our state and national parks.”

View of Lake Superior
View of Lake Superior.

The development of perseverance, determination and confidence among participants was observed by Wiener as well. “The youth came out of this experience with a newfound confidence in themselves,” said Wiener. “Not everyone can undertake a 42.4 mile hike. More than just physical strength, it takes a high level of mental fortitude. I hope youth will be able to look back on this experience with a sense of accomplishment when facing another big task either in life or at school.”

Anne agreed that the experience could have a long lasting impact on the participants. “Out in the woods for a week with people you barely knew can make you realize what you are truly capable of when given the opportunity,” said Anne. “ The youth can go back home and maybe the next time they find themselves faced with something they think is beyond their wildest dreams, they might remember that they hiked 42.4 miles in six days, went swimming at Mosquito Beach in the sunset and stood on top of a 200 foot cliff. And if they did all of that, then they are capable of other amazing things.”

Lake Superior view
The view of Lake Superior from the cliffs in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

The Michigan 4-H Outdoor Adventure Challenge program, which has been in existence and coordinated by Michigan State University Extension for more than 40 years, continues to provide youth with the opportunity to explore the outdoors, conquer challenges and build valuable skills. Opportunities for adults and older teens to become Outdoor Adventure Challenge leaders, and for youth to join in future Outdoor Adventure Challenge program, can be found on the Michigan 4-H Outdoor Adventure Challenge website.

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