We love getting people, young and old, from near and far, out exploring the park—that’s a key reason for creating the future Patagonia National Park. So we’re thrilled to have started a more structured outdoor education program with the Junior High School in Cochrane. Students from ages 13 – 17 will visit the park three times during the school year for various activities, focusing on backpacking and camping. With support from the Butler Conservation Fund, which has established outdoor education programs in upstate New York, Maine, Scotland and South Carolina, we are shooting to teach students skills ranging from backcountry navigation to regional flora and fauna.
In introducing local children to outdoor activities, the program will foster appreciation and understanding of the natural world, helping students see the incredible natural resources that lie in their backyard. Moreover, challenging hikes promote physical fitness, important in a region known as one of the most sedentary in Chile, and teach teamwork and leadership skills. Long term, the program looks forward to the day when graduates will work as guides in the future park.
Running the program is Cristian Restrepo, who’s thrilled to share his love for hiking, biking, and Patagonia’s ecology with participants. He’s set to work on the curriculum, organize equipment and supervise the visits to the park.
Four groups of students visited the park in late March and early April, along with local guides, teachers, and CP staff members. They took on the recently-completed Aviles loop trail, 16km.
1. Students begin the Avilés trail at the historic Casa Piedra (stone house) in Valle Chacabuco. With clear skies it’s a positive start for the junior high students from Cochrane.
2. Led by one of the local Cochrane guides who worked with our volunteer program in the future national park, Celeste Iñiguez and her group of students follow the path through the valley, a short 5 miles to the highly anticipated footbridge crossing.
3. The colors of autumn have cropped up; bursts of caramel, red and orange hues dot the flat plains and rolling hills.
4. An exhilarating footbridge crossing for the students! Bordered on both sides by jagged rocks and with a hefty 110 foot drop to the powerful Aviles River, the Pasarela Pilchero (Pack horse footbridge) was completed in December of 2012 and is a wonderful addition to the Avilés trail.
5. Cool as a pepino (cucumber) this Cochrane student has her camera ready for all those picture worthy moments.
6. Crossing from the other side, the footbridge is an artisanal beauty constructed of cables and planks.
7. As students walk through the Aviles they leave the snow-capped mountains behind, and the valley become greener with leafy ñire and lenga trees.
8. Local guide number two, Jorge Molina (a physical education teacher) and his group wave for the photographer.
9. Massive hills, wide grasslands and a stunning sky accompany the students as they near the end of their adventure in the future Patagonia National Park.
10. The approaching Casa Piedra and the yellow polar trees signal a hike completed and a well-deserved rest.