The impact of a backpack: How collaboration is impacting youth around the Rim

Submitted to the Tribune

STATELINE, Nev. — The Tahoe Rim Trail Association, known for its expertise in building and maintaining 200 miles of trails, doubles as a leader in facilitating outdoor experiences to youth.

The Youth Backcountry Camp Program, featuring multi-day youth backpacking trips along the Tahoe Rim Trail, reached a new peak in 2022. What started as one three-day camp at Watson Lake campground in 2007 has evolved into 20 four-day backpacking adventures across the Tahoe Rim Trail system. This year, nearly 200 youth experienced the program’s challenging, yet rewarding days of schlepping a heavy backpack from site to site, climbing steep summits, fetching and filtering water, and cooking backcountry feasts.

A kid in the Youth Backcountry Camp Program smiles during an excursion along the Tahoe Rim Trail.

This major growth is the result of a region-wide vision to improve outdoor equity backed by an army of community members, donors, and groups coming together. In just one year, the program nearly doubled its capacity to get more kids outside while sharpening its focus on those facing financial, cultural, language, mental health, and homelife barriers. 

Through community partnerships with 11 groups, including the Washoe Tribe, Latino Leadership Council, and Improve Your Tomorrow, the TRTA connected 106 youth of color, 77 youth from low-income, single-parent, or foster/adopted households, and 89 youth facing mental health challenges with impactful backcountry experiences. 

Thanks to generous financial support from the John W. Altman Charitable Foundation, Lana Vento Charitable Trust, Tahoe Fund, and community members, the fully-outfitted program, complete with equipment, logistics, and instruction, was provided completely free to these youth and their families.

A kid in the Youth Backcountry Camp Program cuddles up in a sleeping bag.

The trail’s lush meadows, reflective lakes, and sparkling night skies provided the perfect backdrop for youth to find belonging and resiliency through the restorative power of nature. This was especially powerful for a group of eight black and Afghan youth from the Sacramento area joining their first-ever backpacking experience with the TRTA. Partner and leader, Charles Bolton, reflected on how their days climbing hills, sleeping under the stars, and living out of their backpacks translates beyond the program, “This incredible weekend with no phones gave our Brothers motivation and passion to get through any test or barrier that comes their way.” These youth were not alone in the transformation. Of all 2022 YBCC participants, 91% learned and practiced independence, 98% improved their social and relationship skills, and 90% felt more connected to nature after participating in the experience. This major impact illustrates the power of community collaboration. 

As we reflect on a successful year of connecting kids with nature, the TRTA extends its thanks to the community for ensuring that more youth could reap the rewards of time immersed in nature. To keep this momentum going in 2023, ring in the new year with the TRTA as a donor, partner, or participant for the Youth Backcountry Camp Program. Visit to learn more and join the community effort.

A participant in the Youth Backcountry Camp Program holds a butterfly.

Source: Tahoe Rim Trail Association

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