The Loma Prietan - March/April 2009

Inner-City Kids Marvel at Power and Beauty of Lassen

story and photo by Larry Volpe

Kids from San Jose's Seven Trees Elementary School undaunted by Mt. Lassen's "Bumpass Hell."
Kids from San Jose's Seven Trees Elementary School undaunted by Mt. Lassen's "Bumpass Hell."

To a group of inner-city kids with nothing to do all summer, what could be cooler than balancing on wooden planks through a moonscape of bubbling mud lakes, hissing fumaroles, and clouds of sulfuric acid mist? Who knows--a T-rex might just be lurking around the next bend. And this was only one of the wonders in store for a dozen kids from Seven Trees Elementary School who spent a week at Mt. Lassen National Park with the San Jose Inner City Outings.

Many of the kids, having been on camping trips with me, were well versed in camping protocols and etiquette and served as excellent role models for our rookie campers. Four additional adult ICO volunteers ensured our participants' safety as well as teaching them the values of preserving our wild places. Our first day ended with a hike and a game in the night forest that focused on using our other senses when our eyes don't work well.

Swimming is a highlight of most trips involving children, and this group really took to the pristine but chilly waters of Summit Lake and the joys of splashing around in Kings Creek. On the ascent of Lassen Peak, although they loved the views and snowfields (some enjoyed the hike just for the novelty of walking up a mountain), all were easily persuaded to stop just short of the peak in order to indulge in the cooling waters below.

Learning is always more fun when it happens outdoors in a beautiful setting, and there were plenty of opportunities for kids to pick up interesting nuggets. They were excited about the Junior Ranger program and evening presentations on the mysteries of pollination and the workings of volcanoes. In the Devastated Area, they saw for themselves the dramatic destruction caused by the 1910 eruption. Upon seeing how the forest has recovered, they went away with the understanding that with destruction comes a chance for rebirth.

Throughout our adventures we had many stops that allowed time for learning from nature; whether it was a brief discussion, observing an interesting insect, listening to a bird or working in the field journals, the kids just couldn't seem to get enough, and questions came by the dozens.

By far the best part for me was spending time with our college student volunteer, who was in my class about ten years ago, a veteran of dozens of trips, and has been an ICO volunteer for about a year now. Her two younger sisters were also with us. Being able to see my students grow up and return to help others enjoy the great outdoors is very rewarding.

Larry Volpe teaches fifth grade at Seven Trees Elementary School in San Jose and is an ICO volunteer.