“We must offer kids something if we expect them to turn off TV, have a connection to nature, and be respectful of the environment when they grow up,” Chris Bachman says. In September, four years after founding Spokane’s Inner City Outings program, Bachman, 44, was honored at the Sierra Club’s national convention with the 2010 Madelyn Pyeatt Award for working with youth.
With five certified leaders plus volunteers, he organizes about 16 outings a year to immerse kids ages 8 to 12 in nature-based education, along with activities such as hiking, paddling and snowshoeing.
Q. What’s your day job?
A. I work for SNAP helping low-income people connect with community resources.
Q. What’s special about taking kids outside?
A. Teachers tell me it’s a mechanism to connect kids into real-world knowledge … a healthy alternative to violence, alcohol, drugs and boredom.
Q. What are your outdoor roots?
A. My dad hunted. He took me along. Between catching quarry, most of the time is spent passively observing nature.
That’s the part that intrigued me about sitting in a tree stand – squirrels running around, birds singing.
Q. Why did ICO start in the West Central neighborhood?
A. It’s one of the state’s poorest neighborhoods. Our first trip took 15 kids on a hike in Riverside State Park, which borders the neighborhood, yet not one kid had been there. Most hadn’t been out of town. That was an eye-opener for me.
Q. How is ICO funded?
A. Community grants, REI grants, individual donors. Gonzaga students and alumni gave us a boost a couple years ago. We’re a tax-deductible charity.
Q. Have you had any “Aha!” moments on the outings?
A. After Dishman Hills burned, we took kids out to see how fire affects a forest. Nine months later we did another outing and one of the returning kids made connections right and left. He could have led the trip.
Q. What’s outside that a kid can’t find on the Internet?
A. You can’t smell or touch anything on the Internet; you don’t hear things the same way. It’s better to get kids away from the city, away from parameters that define their lives. An element of the unknown helps them be more focused, aware and open to learning.
Q. How do you teach?
A. It’s better to let kids just have fun. Learning takes place outside without the kids even knowing it. We tie things together when opportunity arises, even in the car on the way home.
Q. The father of two grade-school children, why are you devoting quality outdoors time to other kids?
A. I can’t help myself. It’s all the smiles. I might miss a ski day with my kids because I’m taking out somebody else’s kids, but that’s contributing to who my kids are: They’re charitable. On her 8th birthday, my daughter gave up gifts and raised $250 for radio collars to put on wolves for research.
Q. How do kids sign up for ICO?
A. Currently, through the West Central Community Center or our website ico.sierraclub.org/spokane/.