Some friends ask me why someone who has no kids of their own would work so hard to provide opportunities to get someone else’s kids outside and into the backcountry. Well, it started when I was young. My parents liked to camp and visit the mountains and national parks during my childhood in the 60s.  I remember going to Yellowstone and seeing bears, buffalo, deer, and elk from a distance out the car windows. I got scolded for feeding peanuts to the chipmunks from my fingers but it was worth it.  I had just made a new friend and created trust with a wild animal that I hoped saw me as more than just a free peanut. Looking into the eyes of a wild animal made me realize that this living creature sees and feels and has hardships and times of plenty.  This short interaction changed me forever.

On one of those trips we were hiking and got caught in a huge thunder and hailstorm that was a very unpleasant experience for me. I was soaking wet, cold and grumpy and Dad kept smiling and saying, “It could be worse.” When we got back to camp, Dad built a fire in the fire grate and we stood around learning about campfires and steam from wet denim and how good hot chocolate heated up over a campfire can be. I was lucky. My parents and siblings were into this and throughout my youth provided these opportunities.  I have modeled my life and career around these times, and don’t know where I would be if I had not had these experiences.  I feel deeply that no youth in Idaho should be at risk of not having an opportunity to go camping, drink water from a creek that is so cold it makes your teeth hurt, and see the night sky with no artificial light to interfere.  Listening to the stories from the youth and adults after a week in the backcountry makes it all worth while.  I want Idaho’s youth to have a chance to experience that adrenaline rush of, “Is that a grizzly bear or a chipmunk walking around the tent?”     

This Idaho Gives, would you join me in helping to provide this incredible opportunity to youth all over Idaho? We are hoping to expand our Trail Youth Crew program to eight projects over the next two years and we can’t do it alone. Help send Idaho’s youth on an experience they will never forget!

Jeff Halligan
Executive Director