“I saw a side of this state that I didn’t know existed and I now have a special view that reminds me of the charm of this land.”

This summer, WildEarth Guardians partnered with Santa Fe Prep’s Teen Action Program (TAP) to maintain a section of the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) in the northern part of the Greater Gila bioregion. Under thunderous summer monsoon rains, 11 high school students joined Greater Gila New Mexico Advocate Leia Barnett for four days of arduous trail work.

The Greater Gila is a profound place. This rich and sacred cultural landscape is birthplace of the wilderness idea. As Leia Barnett writes: “Her wildness subdues as it inspires, belittles as it expands, leaving the visitor quiet, contemplative, and full of something indescribably exclusive to this immense blue planet.” In our goal of preserving the Greater Gila, Guardians is working to protect this stunning place for wildlife, wild rivers, and current and future generations.

What does the Greater Gila mean to the next generation? The following reflections show that you are never too young – or too old, for that matter – to be fundamentally moved by all that is wild.

In their words

“My favorite part of the CDT trip was feeling accomplished at the end of every day despite having to navigate rainstorms, long (and at times steep) hikes, and not knowing exactly where the day would take us. Every member of the group showed up well-prepared and with a positive attitude. The trip was a practice in both self-sustainability and teamwork. While everyone had to bring their own gear, food, and general necessities, they also had to actively practice collaboration and teamwork everyday.” – Cora

“After cutting down, by hand, one of the biggest fallen trees I’d ever seen we began our hike to meet back up with the group. We passed the beautiful Plains of San Agustin and I thought about how if I had never been on this trail and it hadn’t been maintained I may not have ever seen such an amazing expanse of open land that seemed almost alien to the mountain ranges of Santa Fe that I was so used to. Though the trip may have been rainier than I thought New Mexico could produce, I saw a side of this state that I didn’t know existed and I now have a special view that reminds me of the charm of this land. I’ve never been much of an outdoorsy person, growing up in the suburbs of Houston, but this trip showed me views and gave me experiences I would never be able to get inside.” – Oliver

“I think there is a lot of value in learning how to be self-sufficient in the backcountry and gaining new experiences in a challenging and nurturing environment. I’d never been to the Gila and this was certainly the best way to get a little taste of the landscape. It is neat to know our efforts will be enjoyed for many years to come. We also found some cool rocks to climb and that was fun.” – Ben

“Seeing immense rain clouds over the Plains of San Agustin really made me feel like I was on another planet. It put into perspective how comparatively small I was next to the earth, and it gave me a greater appreciation for the planet as a whole. I think doing trail maintenance, and providing others with the opportunity to hike that trail is incredibly important to demonstrate the sheer beauty and scale of nature. I think that if enough people really truly appreciate a good hike, it might cause them to become better stewards of our planet and fight for change on a greater scale.” – Fritz

“I really enjoyed our big hike during the middle of the trip. It was especially beautiful near the end, where it opened up into a meadow overlooking the valley. It felt really special to be able not only experience great places like these but also give back to my community as I was doing so, it really made this trip one of my favorite memories not only of service learning but at Prep in general.” – Ethan J. 

“It was very fun to have time in nature and connect with the land, as well as to work so that more people can enjoy this environment that is so unique in America. I felt incredibly accomplished at the end of each day after cutting through giant trees and creating big dams to stop erosion across this big stretch of such a famous trail. I think by bringing more people out into nature we can spread the ideas of conservation and environmental protection to more people to continue to sustain such a special space.” – Ben H

“While this work is so tangible and rewarding, it is also such a privilege to be out exploring the wild lands that make New Mexico so special. The landscape and also the conditions make for an amazing classroom. The monsoons that hit the Gila during our trip were the first of the summer and the forest saw more rain than it had in months. When hiking to find more downed trees to clear on our last day, it was evident that a storm was fast approaching. Although our group was so motivated to work, it was amazing to work with the students in assessing the risk ahead of us and ultimately, we decided to turn around and head back to the vehicles. Classically in experiential education, the intention was to ‘take kids out of their comfort zones’, but I’d argue that in moments when we are really uncomfortable, taking care of our basic needs takes precedence over learning. It’s really important to ensure students always have the necessary equipment and knowledge to make them feel safe and empowered. For us, having the students involved in the risk assessment process and decision making in this way is essential. Luckily, the storm passed quickly and we had glorious examples of where to place important erosion controls.” – Santa Fe Prep faculty



About the Author

Hannah Smay | Communications Manager, WildEarth Guardians

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