Every year, Johnson County Conservation staff take local high school students on a 10-day trip to backpack in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness, which contains 1.3 million acres of pristine wilderness. Along the way, students will gain backpacking skills, participate in environmental stewardship projects, and learn about the Wilderness Act and local ecology along the way. 

A high school boy sits on a large boulder surrounded by a lake and mountains.

Core Pillars of the Trek

Outdoor Skills

During the trip, students will gain greater competency with the following skills:

Packing a backpack ergonomically Setting up a tent

 

 

  • Using camping stoves to prepare food
  • Filtering water from natural sources
  • Protecting food from animals using various methods
  • Beginner map-reading

A student with a backpack on stands on the trail facing a mountain vista in the distance.

Stewardship

JCC partners with the U.S. Forest Service and the Selway-Bitterroot Frank Church Foundation to involve the students in environmental stewardship. Students will learn how to use tools safely, and will participate in projects such as trail maintenance, clearing windblown trees from trails, campsite maintenance, and more. This component is a large part of the trip, and it is one of the highlights for most students.

Two people operate a crosscut to cut through a two-foot-diameter log that is blocking a trail.

Wilderness Ethics

A core element of the trip is the study of Wilderness. Before the trip, numerous essays about the Wilderness Act, and wilderness philosophy and ethics are provided as required reading. During the trek, each night is spent around the campfire where students will have a chance to share thoughts and ideas to help them further understand and develop their own relationship with the land. 

A group of people sit around a fire while roasting marshmallows.

Hands-on Ecology

Whenever the opportunity presents itself, trip leaders teach about the ecosystem around them, whether that is a lesson about the wildflowers in bloom, fish seen swimming in the lakes, forestry and fire science classes, and more. 

A trip leader speaks near a lake while a group of high school students is circled around him listening.

Trip Basics:

Who is Eligible? 

Any high school student from Johnson County who has completed their freshman through senior years. No prior backpacking or camping experience is necessary.

How to Apply

Interested students can contact JCC naturalists by emailing [email protected] or calling 319-645-1011. The application process includes a series of essays and a letter of recommendation from a non-family member. Applications are due each year in April on the Friday before Earth Day. 

Cost

There is a $450 trip fee. Included in the fee is all food for time in the backcountry, travel expenses, and most gear items such as backpacks, tents, sleeping bag/pad, etc. Students are responsible for providing their own hiking clothing and footwear, however, JCC also has a small loan library with clothing and miscellaneous items, such as headlamps, bottles, and dishware available on loan. 

Full and partial scholarships are available for students with financial need. Email [email protected] for the scholarship application.