October 06, 2022
Nature: The Best Classroom
Over the summer, many are taken to exploring new pursuits, and others double down on an existing passion. A nature devotee, Eli Brandt ’23, falls into the later camp as he groomed trails and backpacked in Wyoming for four weeks this summer.
Brandt found his trip through National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), a non-profit organization that teaches wilderness skills. He, with ten other students, backpacked in the Shonsone National Forest, located southeast of the Grand Tetons. Seeking a more service-oriented trip, Brandt was involved in back-breaking work, maintaining the trails and building new sections with the National Forest Service. “We would trim the vegetation away, so it’s easier to navigate the trail and safer to walk on,” he said. “The goal is to have the trail maintained and clear enough so that you don’t need the blaze marking the trail.”
Brandt did a two-week backpacking trip last summer and wanted a more intensive experience since he plans to pursue a career with the park service. “I didn’t know the difference between the Park Service and the Forest Service,” he explained “The park service operates under the U.S. Department of the Interior, and the Forest Department is under the U.S. Department of Agriculture. They have different philosophies and were founded for different reasons, although they both have a mission for preserving wildlife.” Brandt noted that the Park Service is geared more toward preserving nature for tourism and human enjoyment, and the forest service’s mission, which was initially founded to regulate logging, is to preserve the land for conservation.
Brandt and his fellow campers abandoned their electronic devices for the four-week jaunt, but he didn’t experience withdrawal symptoms by connecting with his teammates instead. “I enjoy going into the wilderness because it is a good way to appreciate nature and a good way to refresh yourself,” he said. “There’s not as much pressure to be doing something, and you’re encouraged to slow down and relax. It is very restorative. It’s a bit of a shock coming back to society because there’s a draw to looking at my phone, and I like not having that pressure.”
Although the trip did not involve workshops, the two guides pointed out edible flowers while the group hiked six miles on some days and only two on others when they negotiated a thousand-foot elevation. While working with the forest service, the rangers explained the rationale behind cutting down some trees. “That felt counterintuitive to us at first,” Brandt said. “ Then they explained to us what goes into that decision, which tree to cut down, and what they will use the tree for so as not to waste resources.”
There were several magical moments over the month in the mountains that would take your breath away, Brandt shared. One morning while making breakfast, there was a quick downpour that released a double rainbow. On another day, after walking through a dense forest, the group entered a clearing and stood there for moments, absorbing the view. “It was so untouched, and that’s the beautiful part about it,” he said. “You can appreciate how everything works together.”