By Rachel Reimer, Open Mountains Project
I grew up in Ontario. Every weekend we’d pack up the tent trailer, canoe, backpacks, and ‘mountain’ bikes, and head out into the woods north of Toronto, driving to Algonquin Provincial Park. Over the years, I learned how to camp, canoe, find my way in the dense bush, and get a campfire going in the coldest, soggiest circumstances.
I became myself out there in the woods. It was a gift from my childhood that I have built on in my adult years, and that continues to give dividends. It wasn’t just the skills themselves. It was learning about my own strength, the edges where the wilderness bit back and taught me my limits, and truly finding a connection with nature and all things wild. The wild spirit in me met something familiar in the rocks, trees, and lakes of my Ontario childhood adventures.
My path over the years wandered from that simple life. I worked in non-profits with refugee youth and women, starting the Exchange Womens Centre in downtown Winnipeg, and eventually working in the Middle East with the United Nations in the mid-2000s. After a couple of years abroad, I realized living in a conflict zone wasn’t for me. I returned to Canada, and began work again with inner-city youth, this time for the Institute for Community Peacebuilding. Eventually, the wilderness called – I left the city and found the mountains.
When I moved to Revelstoke four years ago, the little girl inside me grew wings. Here were real mountains to climb and ski. I’ve spent the last four years exploring. Now, it’s time to give back. I want Revelstokians of all backgrounds to experience what I did growing up. What I envision is a community where youth are able to buff out their rough edges in the company of wilderness.
Right now, the mountains aren’t open for everyone. To go into the mountains requires skill, equipment, fitness, and a vehicle to get you to the trailhead. It requires trip partners and time off.
For some young people, the mountains may seem awfully far away. Without someone to teach, someone to share time with, someone to drive them, and someone to equip them, they simply will not, and cannot, go.
Open Mountains Project is a newly registered non-profit, based in Revelstoke. It exists primarily to support the resilience and leadership of youth, young adult, and other vulnerable people in Revelstoke, and to provide barrier-free access to the mountain environment and to the empowering experiences available in those environments.
It’s based on the belief the mountains should be open to everyone. It’s based on the observation some youth in this community may be growing up in the shadows of giants without ever getting to find their feet on the path to the summit. We’d like to see that change.
We are a group of people who were lucky enough to grow up in families where being in the wild was part of our childhood, or who discovered the mountains later in the life and wish we’d found them earlier. Open Mountains Project board members are myself, Kristina Welch, Kristin Demchuk, Deanne Breithack, Jenny Burrows, Naomi Grattan, and Adele Lay. We are all volunteers.
Our objectives are to lay a strong foundation here in Revelstoke, to dig our roots in. We held an open community meeting on January 5 at the Revelstoke Community Centre where ideas were flying about creating outdoor activities for youth during key times of the year, when the schools are shut and youth should be out in the mountains. We’re considering a summer camp for the 2017 season. For us, barrier-free means that no mountain skills are required and no prohibitive costs exist. We’re fundraising and seeking partnerships to make this vision a reality.
Open Mountains Project is by, and for, the people who call this mountain paradise home. If you have any questions, ideas, or would like to get involved, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. More information is also available on our website, www.openmountains.com.