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Youth hikers reach new heights

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The mountains are calling and the kids must go! The final Town of Carbondale Parks and Recreation (TCPR) Youth Hike of the season is happening on Wednesday, July 27. With over 1,600 feet in elevation gain and nearly eight miles roundtrip, hikers will climb to the breathtaking Thomas Lakes on Mount Sopris.

It’s no easy feat, but Eric Brendlinger, director of TCPR, knows the kids in the Youth Hike program can handle the technical terrain.

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“It’s the most difficult hike in our series, and these kids have been training for it by being on these other hikes,” Brendlinger said. 

Since June, TCPR has brought over 35 Roaring Fork Valley children outdoors — visiting the remote single-track of Avalanche Creek, the highly-popular Hunter Creek and the refreshingly whimsical Grottos in Aspen.

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Operating as an outfitter through the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service, the logistics of the Youth Hike program are extensive. Permits are required and must at least include insurance, staff training and an operational plan. 

“It’s a federal process and it takes some effort to do it, but it’s a very thorough process which is great because it means you’re being safe and everybody is trained that is out there,” Brendlinger said. “I’m happy to do [the paperwork] because the kids are getting out there to do this.”

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More than just a simple day in the backcountry, the hikes are enchanting experiences where the natural world becomes an experiential playground full of wildlife, unique flora and geological wonders.

“There’s so much education available on just a small day hike,” Brendlinger said. “It’s pretty neat to expose kids to that stuff, and it might spark them to be lifetime hikers and lifetime advocates of public lands.”

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To create a culture of land stewardship, wilderness ethics such as Leave No Trace (LNT) are taught. That way, the stunning display of wildflowers discovered on the trail is left alone for future enjoyment and, of course, the pollinators.

“We share that LNT philosophy with the kids. It’s one of the most important things that gets transferred as far as the educational piece,” Brendlinger said. “We’re visitors in this land, and if nobody is teaching these kids then they’re not going to know it.”

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In addition to the significant educational aspect of the program, profound psychological, emotional and social benefits of exposure to the natural world are plentiful and are becoming increasingly necessary for a generation geared toward digital media.

“You need a break from that screen time and the best break you can ever take is to go out into nature,” Brendlinger said. “Whether a rainstorm or a snowstorm, it’s gonna be real and you’re gonna get a full body immersion. I think it’s super important for kids these days to have an outdoor experience — to bring them back to the reality of what’s out there.”

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Recognizing that not every child signs up on their own accord, the TCPR team maps each hike to include “a carrot,” such as a high alpine lake or panoramic view, to reduce reluctance.

“That’s the kid who comes back and says, ‘That was really fun, I want to sign up for the next one!’” Brendlinger emphasized. “That’s when you know you’ve succeeded as a guide and successfully exposed them to what’s outside their backdoor.”

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While gear is not included for the hikes, scholarships are available for the subsidized program so that cost does not stop a child from experiencing the outdoors. Children in need can access gear at a low cost through Ragged Mountain Sports or by borrowing free gear at the Gear Library; both are located in Carbondale.

Looking toward the future, Brendlinger said that he hopes the youth program will be able to include the highly-popular Overnight Backpacking Trip, where hikers 10 years of age and older learn the basics of backpacking, LNT and teamwork while journeying along a two-mile trail to Savage Lakes.

“It’s a good Colorado day, and we’re showing them what Colorado is all about,” Brendlinger beamed.

Registration for the Thomas Lakes hike and additional youth summer programming can be found online at

Tags: #Carbondale Parks and Recreation #hiking #Mount Sopris #outdoors #Thomas Lakes
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