By Amanda Peterson, Access Fund Conservation Team
For nearly two years, Mike and I have looped around the US, working with passionate and dedicated volunteers on climbing area stewardship projects. The volunteers we get to work with are as diverse as the landscapes we experience each week. But we often find that one rapidly growing segment of our climbing community is underrepresented at Adopt a Crag events—kids. There are definitely some challenges (both real and perceived) to engaging kids in stewardship work. But the value of getting young people involved in caring for outdoor places far outweighs the challenges. They are, after all, the future of climbing area stewardship.
Here are 6 tips for getting more kids involved in your local stewardship efforts.
- Consider kids in your marketing strategy. Work with the land manager to identify a minimum age limit, and then be sure that your marketing mentions that kids above the age limit are welcome. Market broadly to reach younger audiences through gyms and social media. Better yet, engage kids to help with the planning process and spreading the word out about your event.
- Engage Youth Climbing Teams. Talk to coaches at your local climbing gym and try to get their youth teams involved in your stewardship projects. These kids are the future of climbing, and the earlier they are exposed to stewardship efforts, the more appreciation they will have for protecting their climbing areas.
- Make it a family affair. Encourage your regular volunteers to bring their kids, stressing how incredibly important it is to introduce the next generation of climbers to volunteerism. Advise parents to bring plenty of snacks and water. Start with easy jobs and encourage volunteers to work with their kids. Express pride in their work and encourage them to brag about it to their friends.
- Identify kid-friendly work projects. Don’t just relegate young volunteers to litter pick-up. While litter removal is important, with good leadership and the appropriate tools, young volunteers are capable of contributing in many rewarding ways, including: graffiti removal, slashing in social trails, restoring and replanting native plants, removing invasive plants, brushing off tick marks, finding crush rock, and clearing the trail corridors.
- Make it a learning experience. Focus on doing the work well, not on getting a lot done, and be sure to emphasize why the project is being done. To become lifetime stewards, it’s important that young volunteers understand the positive impact of their efforts and the long-term benefit to their climbing area.
- Recognize and reward participation. Be sure to include kids in your event recognition plans. If you plan to offer refreshment, be sure the beer has a non-alcoholic counterpart. For raffles and swag giveaways, include items that appeal to volunteers of all ages, like chalk, brushes, water bottles, hats, youth-sized shirts, and chalk bags. Being recognized will help kids feel psyched, appreciated, and wanting to volunteer again.