Youth Leadership Adventures students hit the trail

Last week, the first cohort of Youth Leadership Adventures (YLA) participants strapped on their boots and shouldered their packs to head into the North Cascades backcountry. One group will canoe-camp on Ross Lake while the other backpacks up Thunder Creek and canoes on Diablo Lake. These brave high schoolers – most of them participating in their very first outdoor program  – hail from Bellingham, Burlington, Bow, Sedro-Woolley, Mount Vernon, Shoreline and other locales.

YLA seeks to empower local youth to envision and build a just and sustainable future. To that end, they will explore several important questions together over the next nine days:

  • How have our identities impacted our relationship with the outdoors? 
  • As we develop our relationships with outdoor spaces, what responsibilities do we have given the history of indigenous peoples and this land? 
  • Imagine a world 50 years in the future where we have solved climate change and created healthy, livable communities for everyone. What do you picture? How do people get around? Where do they live? What do they eat? What does it look like and feel like to live there?

They’ll emerge from the wilderness as different people than who they were when they took those first tentative steps on the trail – a cohesive group of many different backgrounds and identities. Transformed, inspired and empowered.

On their last day, they’ll be greeted by small groups of adults in Newhalem to share perhaps one of the most important questions on young people’s minds these days: “What do I wish adults and leaders in my community would do differently when it comes to climate change?”


In partnership with North Cascades National Park and Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, YLA participants canoe, backpack, camp and complete stewardship projects in the North Cascades while discovering their leadership strengths, building an inclusive community with peers & identifying pathways to a hopeful & sustainable vision of the future.

Looking at last year’s YLA cohort, more than 65% identify as people of color, 45% as prospective first-generation college-bound students, and 77% received scholarships from North Cascades Institute to attend the program. For most, it is their first time in a national park or forest and first time challenging themselves in an outdoor program with hiking, canoeing or and camping under the stars!

This is just the first session of three this summer, with the next group heading out in late July. Learn more at


Photos by Jodi Broughton

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