Giving Back To Zion…by Expedition Field Instructor J.L.

Zion…a place to find solace and refuge.

An aerial photo of the infamous Walter’s Wiggles switchbacks, the exposed knife-edge ridges, and the outstanding Angel’s Landing hangs in my family room back in suburban Pennsylvania. Back when I was just sixteen, my Dad and I scrambled our way up to the Zion National Park destination that attracts visitors from around the world. Standing on top, with 360-degree views of Zion Canyon, birds soaring within arm’s reach, and the Virgin River’s steady flow carving ever deeper into the sandstone, I realized that I’d never done anything quite like it – and I wanted more. More adventure, more spectacular views, more enjoyment of nature’s playgrounds, more of that wonderful feeling of being at peace.

Eight years later, I realize just how powerful an experience and how early a step in my appreciation of the outdoors that it was. And now, as an Expedition Therapy Field Instructor, I have the opportunity to give back to Zion, to help preserve its landscapes for future generations in the hope that they too may find what I did on that day long ago among the towering sandstone cliffs.

Expedition Therapy recently collaborated with Zion National Park on a series of service projects involving trail maintenance, the pruning of campsites, and the removal of trash and graffiti. These projects are all essential to the ongoing preservation and protection of Utah’s most visited National Park.

I took pride in leading this Service Project Expedition and working with our Expedition Therapy students and staff. Volunteering becomes a very humbling experience, once you are able to realize that the act of giving back makes you a part of something that is much, much greater than yourself.

The ethics of the Leave No Trace (LNT) philosophy we follow in the outdoors became very clear during this Expedition.

We created trails to help prevent short-cutting and lessen wear.

We pruned campsites to better contain campers in already impacted areas. This follows the LNT principle of “Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces.”

We removed graffiti and trash, according to LNT’s “Leave What You Find” and “Dispose of Waste Properly" guidelines.

We worked hard and we completed our projects with some time left over to enjoy afternoon hikes, swims and ranger talks on a variety of park-related topics.

The Expedition Therapy students became acutely aware of how uneducated most park visitors are about how their actions affect the local environment. Highly visible signs tell tourists “Do Not Feed Animals” and “Don’t Take Shortcuts” on the trails, but it is obvious that many neither understand nor respect the well thought-out reasoning behind these requests. By experiencing the consequences of this behavior and then repairing the damage, I am extremely pleased to report that our Expedition Therapy students not only got it, but also paid it forward.

These events have also deepened and expanded my experience and understanding of Zion, an ever-changing natural wonderland with so much to offer beyond its immediate pleasures. It has also been extremely gratifying to share this experience with our Expedition Therapy students. Through their own individual actions, they can now see how a complete respect for the outdoors includes the willingness to preserve and protect it for the future use of those who follow in their footsteps.