Jul 07

Day Adventure with Central Coast YMCA @ Andrew Molera State Park

Friday, July 1, 2016 - Youth in Wilderness (YiW) hosted the Central Coast YMCA (CCYMCA) at Andrew Molera State Park for a day adventure with a rambunctious group of youngins (age 5-10 years old).  Field Leader, Francisco "Franco" Guzman, was on tap to lead the excursion and impart crucial knowledge.
The trip began at the Andrew Molera State Park campground parking lot, where Franco met the group and initiated a name game.  Each student introduced themselves by saying their favorite animal followed by their name and the sound their animal makes.  It was hilarious.  Some favorite "animals" included a unicorn and a megalodon.
The group then gathered near the trail head, buddied up, and Franco went over some safety tips like identifying poison oak, watching your step and keeping an eye out for rattlesnakes, staying with the group at all times, applying sunscreen for skin protection, and the importance of hydration.  Then the group hit the trail!
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Once on the trail, Franco proved to be an expert.  First of all, he stressed the importance of basic hiking etiquette: always keep your voice down and be considerate of other hikers' experiences, always move to the side of the trail to let other (faster) hikers pass you, and most importantly, respect nature by being quiet and leaving what you find!
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Franco first stopped the group to show the kids some mugwort.  He likes to pick the dead and dry mugwort leaves because they smell nice.  "You can use these dry mugwort leaves as natural deodorant."  Just pick a few leaves, crumple them in your hands, and stick them in your pocket.  The kids loved mugwort!  Some said it smelled like mangoes.  The next few stops also included some native flora and fauna identification: bay leaves (often used in tea), poisonous hemlock (never eat it!), and mustard (can eat it, and, according to the kids, it tastes like broccoli).
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(ID: mugwort)
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(Smelling mugwort)
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(Unique finds: a jay feather and a ball of mugwort)
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(ID: poisonous hemlock)
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(ID: Mustard)

The short mile-long trail ended up at the beach at the Big Sur River mouth, which boasts a spectacular cove and view of the Big Sur coastline to the north.  Here, the group stopped for lunch and learned how to skip rocks at the river mouth.  At the beginning of  lunch, Franco reminded the group of the importance to stay hydrated, and led a toast to Big Sur and everyone took a long gulp of water.
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After lunch, the group explored the nearby cove, shore, and river mouth with the mission of finding unique coastal specimens to bring back to the group for show and tell.  Some unique finds included various colorful kelp, a huge and gnarly holdfast, and tiny mica.
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Once it was time to start packing up and heading back, the kids were able to hike up the coastline for a bit and took a funny-face group picture on a big rock near the shore.  Then it was back up the trail to head home.
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Overall, the day adventure with CCYMCA was a great success.  While most YiW outings are focused on introducing older youth to on multi-day backpacking excursions in the Ventana backcountry, it's also important to take time (especially in the summer when the wilderness is hot and buggy) to get younger kids out on easy and fun frontcountry coastal hikes.  There's always the love and appreciation of nature to be sparked and important lessons to be learned.  For example, one highlight of the trip:

No sooner had Franco imparted the basic "Leave No Trace" ethos with the group - a student spotted a piece a garbage just off the trail.  The group stopped and everyone silenced to make sure no wildlife was being disturbed.  Franco told the group to take a quick scan around to double-check that no disturbance was being made and then had one student volunteer briefly venture off trail to retrieve the plastic bottle.  It was a great teaching moment and one that the group will always remember.
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(Remember: Leave No Trace!)

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