4-H youth explore nature and learn a healthy activity in new hiking club

LAKEVIEW, Ore. – The hiking trails that ring around the foothills of the Warner Mountains offer spectacular views of this self-dubbed “Tallest Town in Oregon.”

On five Thursdays this fall, an energetic group of local youths could be seen lining those trails above Lakeview (elevation: 4,802 feet) as part of the inaugural Lake County 4-H Hiking Club.

The club, offered by the Oregon State University Extension Service in the county, gave youths in the fourth through sixth grades a better understanding of how to enjoy hiking safely, and at the same time they experienced a lifelong activity that promotes a healthy and active lifestyle, said Melissa Maxwell, the 4-H educational program assistant in Lake County who came up with the idea for the club.

“I’ve wanted to do a hiking club ever since I started working for Extension,” Maxwell said. “My main goal was to provide something that kids can do to stay active. We have some great hiking trails connected to our town. They’re basically outside our Extension office’s back door.”

The club drew 15 participants, a healthy number considering that it was offered while OSU Extension was operating under COVID-19 related restrictions that limited the number of youth and adults who could attend in-person programs. The hikes are featured on the Lake County 4-H Facebook page.

“We could have had more than 20 kids, maybe 30 kids,” Maxwell said.

Each club meeting started with an activity in the Lake County Extension office. For example, at the first meeting on Oct. 15, the theme was “planning your trek,” so the kids learned what to pack and wear.

The other meetings focused on preparing healthy snacks, making a first aid kit, hiking etiquette and using a compass, and protecting oneself and finding a shelter, respectively.

After a half-hour lesson and team-building activity, the club set out to explore Lakeview’s nearby hiking trails.

Maxwell said she was struck by how much energy the youths brought to the program.

“They were so intense the first time they showed up,” she said. “Just the energy that comes out of the kids has been infectious. We had some true leaders coming out, wanting to be a leader of the pack on the trail. We also had some excellent volunteers that are super passionate about hiking. That helps us tremendously.”

“The kids had so much energy that they just wanted to explode out of the room. They were almost vibrating,” added Breann Vandenberg, the new coordinator for Extension’s 4-H Youth Development and Family Community Health Outreach programs in Lake County.

Maxwell was also impressed by the commitment the kids showed on the trail. Their first hike went for 2½ miles. Another went for four miles, which they completed in 1 hour, 20 minutes.

The hiking club is the latest Lake County Extension program to focus on youth fitness, following iTri, a seven-week program in the summer of 2018 to increase youth physical activity; and Girls Go Run, a running/walking program in 2019 that was converted to the Lake County 4-H Kids Virtual Running Club this year due to the pandemic.

Vandenberg said she’s hearing from folks around the county who are pleased that 4-H has added a fitness focus to traditional program offerings.

“A lack of physical activity and increasing childhood obesity rates are a growing concern for Lake County youth,” said Vandenberg, who started in October. “I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the amount of interest. There’s been a large group of kids begging for more physical activities.”

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