Bear Adventures leads Waco youth in outdoor activities

Bear Adventures is a program that aims to create an atmosphere where Waco youth can learn about the environment and healthy lifestyles and participate in outdoor activities. Participants enjoy the sights at Dinosaur Valley State Park. Photo credit: Courtesy Photo

By Amanda Hargett-Granato | Reporter

One Baylor organization aims to help students in Waco experience the outdoors by taking advantage of Central Texas’ unique landscape. Bear Adventures, a program started by coordinator Stephanie Davis, seeks to teach Waco youth about the environment and encourage healthy lifestyles by helping them participate in outdoor activities such as camping, kayaking and rock climbing.

“I just thought it would be a fun opportunity to get to have fun with kids and get to introduce them to new activities that they’ve never heard of,” Davis said. “There’s so much they can do in Waco, especially Cameron Park.”

Bear Adventures began last spring when Davis applied for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Community Outdoor Outreach Program (CO-OP) grant. The year-long grant aims to help underserved populations discover outdoor activities and learn about the environment, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department website. After receiving the grant in April, Bear Adventures officially started in August 2016. The program has partnered with students from Indian Spring Middle School, Rapoport Academy, Mission Waco and others, Davis said.

“I know [these kids] feel pretty cool about getting to have these experiences,” Davis said. “I think they’ve also learned to try different things they might have been scared to try at first. To see their confidence being built in an activity they were unsure of at first has been cool to see.”

Bear Adventures works with students between ages 11 and 18 and allows them to try camping, mountain biking, rock climbing and other outdoor activities. Students from Rapoport will be taking a senior camping trip this upcoming weekend with the program. Fort Worth sophomore Jessica Cox said teaching the students about nature and preservation is an important part of the activities.

“Honestly, the coolest part about it and, in my opinion, the most important part about it is that I get to know the kids, and I get to be a bit of a mentor figure,” Cox said. “I get to answer any questions that they have and help them to understand not only how awesome the outdoors are, but also how important the outdoors are.”

In addition to learning how to hold a paddle, cast a line and climb a rock wall, Cox said students are taught the seven “Leave No Trace” principles, which include picking up trash, being conscientious of others and respecting wildlife. Volunteers are always welcome, both Davis and Cox said, and the program is currently looking for a summer intern.

“It’s been really fun because I get to see these kids who wouldn’t necessarily have access to the resources that we’re giving them,” Cox said. “Getting to see the joy that comes from them getting to try those things and coming to enjoy them has honestly been a blessing, and it really has reaffirmed for me with what I want to do with my life.”

Those interested in volunteering can contact Stephanie_Davis2@baylor.edu.

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