Rafting, Kayaking, Backpacking: A week at the Klamath-Siskiyou Outdoor School
by Carol Earnest
By the morning of June 22, all of the names on applications, the Excel spreadsheets, the meetings, the Costco receipts, were finally coming to life as twenty youth arrived at Dillon Creek Campground, wide-eyed and weighed down with gear. It was time for the annual Klamath-Siskiyou Outdoor School (KSOS, pronounced K-sauce) – a highly anticipated Mid Klamath Watershed Council (MKWC) program.
The Klamath-Siskiyou Outdoor School is a cost free overnight camp for youth in the Mid Klamath area. The camp involves local youth, ages 11-14, in hands-on natural resource restoration and monitoring activities during rafting and backpacking trips. Students learn about the natural history and ecology of the Klamath area from camp counselors and special presenters. In addition, students participate in outdoor recreational activities such as kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding. Junior counselors, who were campers in previous years, are given the opportunity to improve and practice their leadership skills. KSOS aims to inspire the next generation of environmental stewards, while providing a platform for building self-confidence and strong relationships.
I looked to my right and saw one of our junior counselors already loading backpacks into the pick-up truck. At least someone knew what they were doing and was taking charge. Just kidding, but as my first year leading KSOS, I would be lying if I said I was completely calm, cool, and collected that Monday morning. But my worries quickly disappeared, as campers started mingling and discussing which interesting fact belonged to each person, an activity that is sure to break the ice with quirky facts like, “I can make my nose honk like a bicycle horn” and “I have a pet mole”.
Our Monday then took a turn for the spectacular as we started our raft trip down the Klamath River with the squirt-gun toting guides of the Klamath River Outfitters. From Persido River Access to Stuarts Bar, the campers observed bald eagles soaring, Western pond turtles sunning themselves on rocks, ospreys gazing out from their riverside nests, river otters frolicking, Roosevelt elk grazing on the grassy cliffs above, and a multitude of other beautiful wildlife along the way. Our rafting trip ended with a juvenile fish passage project at Rogers Creek, led by Karuk Tribal Fisheries Biologist Toz Soto. Campers learned about fish passage problems during times of low flow, and moved rocks to increase flow and deepen pools that will ease the passage of juvenile fish to cold water holding areas during the hot weeks to come.
Before you could say, “Where’s the aloe vera?”, it was Tuesday and we were staying at the Forks Community Club along the Salmon River. Tuesday brought a whole new set of exciting activities, including stand-up paddle boarding on the Salmon River, kayaking at the Otter Bar Kayak School, and a Wing Chun martial arts class with Salmon River resident and fisheries surveyor, Matt Cavin.
Wednesday we began a new stage of our journey, making our way up the south fork of the Salmon River to Carter Meadows. We were met by the Salmon River Restoration Council’s Melissa Van Soyoc who led the campers through an invasive weed identification and weed pulling activity. Additionally, the US Forest Service Fort Jones Fisheries Biologist Mia Menecks presented on lake amphibians we might find on our backpacking trip.
We then hoisted our packs onto our backs and started hiking up to Long Gulch Lake in the Trinity Alps Wilderness. After several hours of hiking in hot temperatures, we arrived at a deep, 10-acre lake backed by vertical granite cliffs. With ample time to swim and fish, educational activities including wilderness first aid, fire building, backcountry cooking, fire ecology, shelter building, and sensory awareness games, plus creative activities like watercolor painting, journaling, friendship bracelets, and decorating walking sticks, we easily filled our days.
Friday rolled around and it was time to hike out and say good-bye. We played one final round of “rose and thorn”, where the campers share with the group one awesome thing that happened (their rose), and one not so awesome thing that happened (their thorn). Many of them said that leaving Long Gulch Lake was their thorn for the day, and though I was looking forward to a stress-free weekend ahead, I had to agree.
A HUGE thank you to the following people:
KSOS counselors: Rebecca Lawrence, Michael Kein, Stormy Staats, Juniper Somers, Chris Root, Chelsey Preston
Watershed Stewards Program AmeriCorps Members: Monica Tonty, Jason Held, Brianna Walsh, and Chris Attias
Raft guides: Klamath River Outfitters, Kai Myers
Kayak teachers: Otter Bar Kayak School, Peter Sturges, Toz Soto, and Jimmy Peterson
Special presenters: Toz Soto, Ron Reed, Matt Cavin, Rex Richardson, Melissa Van Soyoc, and Mia Menecks
Camp Cook: Cathy Leavens
Facilities: Forks Elementary School and the Forks Community Club
Funders: Ford Family Foundation, University of California Extension Program, Strong Foundation for Environmental Values, Humboldt County RAC
Food and Gear Donators: Wildberries, North Coast Co-op, Los Bagels, Bien Padre, and Picky, Picky, Picky
Carol Earnest is MKWC’s Watershed Education Program Co-Director. She facilitates positive, educational experiences for young people of the Middle Klamath watershed, including field trips with local schools, KSOS, other restoration raft trips and hands on activities at events through MKWC and partner groups. She brings 3 years of experience working with youth, and a boundless, infectious enthusiasm for natural processes that occur in our ecosystems.