Huntington – Efforts by alum Jeff Penn (GRHS ’80) and local businessman Andy Myers have led tothe successful launching of a new Outdoor Club at Gateway Regional High School. Accomplishments this year include finding an adviser, having over 30 students sign up, setting up a wildlife camera on school grounds, winning start-up grant funding from the Wild and Scenic Westfield River Committee and completing several hikes and excursions.
“My experience of growing up in the paradise of Huntington reminds me of Huckleberry Finn, and that’s why I love it here,” noted co-founder Jeff Penn. “When I was at Gateway, “Project Adventure” introduced me to many outdoor activities, which I continue to pursue. So I was eager to help create such an adventurous program again.”
Penn and Myers began meeting with Principal Jason Finnie in the summer of 2016 to look at creating the new club. The many details involved in getting a club going were overcome and staff member Nicole Daviau was appointed the adviser to the group.
The club held their first organizational meeting last fall, with students expressing interest in a range of outdoor, human-powered activities: kayaking, canoeing, swimming, biking, hiking, snowshoeing, skiing/snowboarding. Several local organizations also helped sponsor kick-off activities, with the Wild and Scenic Westfield River Committee loaning the school an outdoor camera to record wildlife activity in the woods behind the school.
“The more eager young advocates we create for the outdoors, the more willpower we gain to protect it,” noted Penn. “The wonderful student energy is matched by their sponsor Nicole.” In addition to support from the Westfield River Committee, other area groups have reached out to the fledgling club. The Highland Trails Collaborative invited club members on one of their planned hikes in November.
But the Gateway club really got going in January, with a snowshoe outing afterschool on January 6, and a hike up Little Moose (the hillside behind Gateway High) the following week.
Over February vacation, the Outdoor Club took part in their first “off grounds” hike at Chesterfield Gorge. Meredyth Babcock led the hike and provided an abundance of information about the geology, history and trail maintenance of the area. “I learned a lot about the area around me. I never thought that our area had that much beauty or environmental history,” reported hiker Mary MacNeil.
Gateway student Kyle Percy agreed. “It was a beautiful day and my first hike off the school grounds this year. It helped me and many others get in touch with the wonderful winter weather and the outdoors.” Classmate Crystal Ruckie agreed. “The views were breathtaking! I wish the hike had lasted even longer, it was a blast!”
Earlier this month, the club had a presentation from co-founder Andy Myers, who completed the Georgia to Maine Appalachian Trail several years ago. Myers brought a slide show of his trip to share with students, which left MacNeil inspired. “It was amazing to see what a long distance hike would be like. Extremely educational!”
Daviau and Penn also co-wrote a grant and received word that the Scenic and Wild Westfield River Committee had awarded $1200 to the group to help with start-up needs. The grant will be used for supplies to make and maintain trails around Gateway; wilderness skills training (orienteering, knot tying, local flora and fauna, etc.).
“Making the outdoors accessible for all students is a founding principal of the group, and funds are also set aside to help students purchase proper clothing and footwear for outdoors if they are unable to afford it,” said Daviau, who added that the group would use a combination of grant funds and fundraising to travel for longer hikes, such as at Mount Greylock or for a white water rafting trip. ###