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Program Spotlight: Camp Backcountry Leader-in-Training Program

Local teens grasp real-life skills in the wild at Camp Backcountry.

Here's our real-life training ground objective: Teach high school students to help manage, engage, educate, and experience the outdoors with a dozen-ish eager youngsters who can't wait to dig in the dirt, eat snacks, chase each other through the woods, and learn the curiosities of why our environment is the bedrock of our education. Life post-high school should be a breeze once we teach the future leaders of our world how to wrangle the most adventurous kids in the Front Range!


Enter the Camp Backcountry Leader-in-Training program.

Each summer at Camp Backcountry, 25 high schoolers choose to spend two-to-six weeks of their summer break romping through the woods, shouting camp cheers at the top of their lungs, playing silly games, building giant forts, roasting marshmallows around the campfire, and earning enough community service hours to meet graduation requirements. Many of our Leaders-in-Training have grown up at Camp Backcountry as campers, but there are more than a few who are new to the camp life. These young adults learn real-world skills in the confines of a safe, mentorship-driven program. Here are three ways teens grow into their role as “leader” through Camp Backcountry’s Leader-in-Training Program.

Regular Teenagers become Leaders Many teens come into the program with not much to distinguish them from the campers themselves. The first day--sometimes the entire first week--is hard. The teens must rapidly learn their relationship with the counselors, their role with the campers, how to be both a friend and a leader to campers, and how to remain truly present and engaged for the entire day. Teens are required to complete a minimum of two weeks in the program, for the purpose of self-growth in the program. No matter where a teen “is” when they start the program, they always come back the second week more confident, more professional, and with a better idea of what it means to be a good leader. We often hear from parents that their teens have started helping out more at home, are more patient with younger siblings, and have started acting more mature after completing the LIT program.

It's a Practice Job and More In order to be considered for and accepted into the program, prospective LITs must submit a letter of interest to the Camp Director. Very similar to a professional cover letter, the letter of interest should include why they want to spend their summer as an LIT, how they will contribute to the LIT program, what unique traits they will bring to their peer team, and how the program will be beneficial to them. Letters of interest are only accepted when sent in by the teens themselves, rather than a parent. This process is meant to help teens learn to write a cover letter to help prepare them for job applications in the future. Accepted LITs are expected to show up on time every day, and to communicate directly with the Camp Director if they are going to be late or if they need to leave early. For the duration of the camp day, LITs are expected to be engaged with the campers and maintain a positive attitude, the same expectations any employer would have. LITs are directly mentored by our full-time Camp Backcountry staff as well as other adult Camp Backcountry counselors. Casual touch-base meetings encourage our LITs to bounce ideas off staff, deliver feedback from their days, engage in constructive conversations about planning, behavior, and goals, and more.

Life is Best Lived Off-Screen At Camp Backcountry, we believe summers are best spent soaking up sunshine, covered in mud, and smelling like campfire smoke--not playing video games, on social media, or texting. Camp Backcountry has a no-electronics policy that also applies to our LITs; however, this is not a policy we ever have to enforce. Our LITs stay so busy and engaged in the great outdoors, we rarely find them reaching for their phone. By not being on their phones, face-to-face conversations, laughter, jokes, and ultimately new friendships form naturally between the teens.


Why do teens choose to join the LIT program? Many of our LITs grew up at Camp Backcountry and have since aged into the LIT program, allowing the teens to continue to experience the magic of summer camp in an entirely new way. Growing up as campers, kids look up to the LITs. It’s a badge of honor to be able to don the LIT t-shirt instead of the camper t-shirt. We also love welcoming LITs who did not grow up at Camp Backcountry into the camp family. We sometimes hear from our first-year LITs that “my mom made me do this.” Those are the same LITs who come back for a second or third year. Are you interested in applying for our summer 2020 Leader-in-Training program or know a local teenager who would benefit from spending time growing their leadership skills in the fresh air at Camp Backcountry? Head here for more details about the program and the application.

AnnaKate Hein is the Backcountry Wilderness Area Programs Supervisor. She is a Georgia alum—once a dawg, always a dawg—where she was a member of the marching band and on the crew team. She worked for Save the Bay in Rhode Island before moving to Colorado. She and her husband can be found in the mountains or the desert chasing their next big adventure—mountain biking, skiing, hiking, climbing, camping, and, most notably, living the river rat life on their SUPs all summer.

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