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Local Spotlight: Urban Blazers Help Kids Explore Nature
Philly

Local Spotlight: Urban Blazers Help Kids Explore Nature

Urban Blazers
Photo: Linh Kostiuk

Do you know Philly’s hiking trails? How about the native wild plants and their uses?

These kids do.

Urban Blazers: Helping Kids Explore Nature

The Urban Blazers’ summer program encourages middle school kids in Philly’s under-resourced neighborhoods to explore local parks and trails while school is out.

Founded in 2005, Urban Blazers leads adventures through Philly’s great outdoors, connecting local kids with nature in their own backyard. With two sessions over the school year and summer, more than 1,000 young adults experience the areas trails with hands-on learning and outdoor environment.

Last month, I participated in one of the group’s weekly hikes and learned a lot from my three young nature-walk leaders. We explored parts of Boxers’ Trail in East Fairmount Park along the maintained paths as well as along the area’s streams. My tour guides, ages 10 and 11, showed me how to pick wineberries, find mustard seed, use plant sap to ease bug bites, and properly roll down a grassy hill (Check it out on their Instagram!).

Urban Blazers
Photo: Linh Kostiuk

These knowledgeable, confident kids guided me around the trail, providing tips to navigate the slippery stream and avoid poison ivy. Their relationship with the area is strong; they feel a sense of ownership over the trails they’ve explored during their time with Urban Blazers. Their enthusiasm for our little adventure was infectious; they shared stories of their favorite parts of the group’s hikes, from adventures around the creek to finding salamanders and frogs.

They even gave me hiking tips, like being very careful on the stream’s slippery rocks (they’ve seen many wet sneakers, which I’m assured are not fun to hike in) and keeping my eye out for litter to help keep the trails clean.

Urban Blazers aims to open local youths’ eyes to the parks in their backyards, encouraging them to escape and explore the area for themselves. Eric Dolaway, Urban Blazers’ Executive Director, shared stories of going for hikes the kids out on the trails, guiding friends and family around their favorite spots. He spoke to a previous member’s father who was proud to see how much his son had learned and was able to share with him on their own trips on the trails.

The program allows its young members to discover their own interest in Philly’s outdoors, especially parks. One of the few programs trying to engage people, especially kids, with Philadelphia’s beautiful spaces, Urban Blazers wants to bring its members closer to nature while building personal skills such as leadership and respecting themselves and others.

Throughout the year, Urban Blazers leads adventures from park hikes to rock climbing to ropes courses and more, all to engage children with their peers and nature.

Volunteer

Urban Blazers
Photo: Linh Kostiuk

Urban Blazers is a largely volunteer based program, with many volunteers leading hikes and trips. There is a low ratio of kids to adults for a more personalized experience. During the school year, the group works with a number of schools and community centers since many programs occur during school hours. The summer program works with a variety of community based camps.

Part of Urban Blazers’ mission is to show how easy it is to get out of the city and into nature, not only applying to kids but adults too. I was surprised how easy it was to escape the city’s busy streets and immerse myself in the trail. I had been in the area before but had never noticed it was there. We simply walked off the road and onto a trail, surrounding ourselves with Philly’s greenery. No hiking expertise is required to volunteer. Don’t worry about your expertise: the group prepares you as a wonderful resource with basic hiking information.

Can’t donate time? You can volunteer by assisting with fundraising instead of sticking to school hours.

Join Urban Blazers or find out additional information by email: info@urbanblazers.org.

 

 

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Linh studies Architectural Technologies at Philadelphia University and spent a previous semester studying Sustainability in Copenhagen, Denmark. These experiences home and abroad inspired her to take a closer look at her personal impact on the environment and ways to lessen it. Whether she's reminding others to recycle or supporting local farmers markets, she knows those small steps can add up to a greater positive change. View all posts by Linh Kostiuk

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