By Matt Self, EMG Outings Leader
What is the goal of an outing? It’s easy to pass by this question without much thought. An outing is just getting outdoors, and getting outdoors is always good, right? Right, but sometimes you want to add a little spice to what can easily become “the routine”.
Most outings currently offered by Sierra Club Outings Leaders are straightforward day-hikes: a 2-8 mile walk in the woods with a decent-sized group. Most of the time, these day hikes are just what you need to get your nature fix and even some moderate exercise. Other times, you need a little creativity to engage nature in a new way. A different type of outing, perhaps?
Do you need a deeper immersion into nature with an overnight backpacking trip? Does your mind crave an educational stimulation with a naturalist-led hike, highlighting nature’s subtleties? How about summoning all of your faculties to keep your bearings on an off-trail, wilderness trip (where and when appropriate)? Or maybe you want to see the Meramec River from a kayak rather than Highway 44 on your afternoon commute?
The beauty of the outings program is that all of these options are before you. Each type of outing brings us into nature in a different way and each will leave you feeling different. Whether it’s your first outing or your hundredth, you can choose what you want to experience today: easy-going or challenging, new or tried-and-true.
So often, we can forget that we have a relationship with nature, just like we have with our loved ones. Every time we go out, we find an opportunity to learn something new about it and about ourselves. We can go out to say hello to our old friend or to push ourselves to see a new subtlety. Each outing you go on is a deeply personal decision, even when you just want a nice hike.
For outings leaders, it’s imperative to recognize and respect the variety of relationships that people have with nature. We all have distinct mindsets when we set out on the trail, and some of our relationships need some patient repair. A diverse group of hikers will have had significantly different experiences (if any experience) on the trail, and we need to help each hiker build a positive relationship with nature. That’s the community we should strive for and support.
For the outings program more broadly, it’s essential to attract strong leaders with different backgrounds, interests, and skill sets. Then, we can offer more opportunities for a wider range of members. Then, the leaders are able to match the community and provide a deeper support for building their relationships with nature. Everything doesn’t have to be for everybody, but it sure is nice when everyone has the choice to find out what’s best for themselves.
Ultimately, we want to help people build and strengthen their relationship with nature and with themselves. Each outing participant has a different, personal relationship with nature. So we must offer a variety of outings and leaders. We must remind ourselves that we are different on each outing and that every outing will be a different experience. And that is the true beauty of the outings program. So come on out for a hike!
So far in 2023 Sierra Club, Missouri Chapter Outings Leaders have hosted more than 70 outings statewide. These include dozens of hikes and walks, backpacking trips, trail maintenance and stewardship outings, outings leaders even judged a white water rafting tournament this year! We also attended the open house for the new Eleven Point State Park which we have advocated for and defended for years and held a float trip with National Park Superintendent Jason Lott along the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. Additionally, outings leaders host a book club and Wilderness Navigation courses in the Kansas City area, sell lemonade in the St. Louis region to support our trail maintenance and park stewardship trips, and work on glade restorations in the Springfield area.