by Katie Wolpert
Skout Barger remembers her 4th grade field trip to Spruce Knob for many reasons. She was enthralled by the topographic maps. An introductory lesson on how to use the map and compass excited her so much that she snatched the map from her instructor and made herself the de facto leader on her class bushwack to the top of Spruce Knob.
She loved the off-trail navigating and began to wonder about how routes are chosen — for trails, and for roads and highways. The wild caves filled her with a sense of wonder and the realization that unknown worlds, creatures, and complete ecosystems exist in the damp and chilly dark below our feet.
Her experiences in the woods stayed with her as her class moved on to other field trips like a tour of an exhibition coal mine in Beckley. In that second, somewhat dichotomous, underground world Skout drew parallels between where she was and her experiences in the wild caves.
It was the combination of these things — the natural environment in which she grew up, the opportunities to explore, lead, and experience wild places in West Virginia, and a glimpse into the industry that co-exists in these same treasured ecosystems she had come to love — that helped Skout determine the direction in which she wanted to take her life. She began to understand that private industry and government regulation affected the land and natural resources that she had come to love. She realized, “there has to be a balance.” And, more importantly, that she could be the person to help find that balance.
Skout’s mother Kenna Barger felt that her daughter’s experience on our campus in grade school inspired more than just her interest in Geology and Environmental Sciences. It was, Kenna asserts, “the right age for the leadership component to hit home. That was her moment and on that trip she was placed in many non-traditional roles.”
She graduated with top honors from Elkins High School in 2016 excited to help work towards that balance of responsible industrial and recreational land use. And so, with Spruce Knob and all the other parts of West Virginia where she had gone camping, hiking, and exploring in mind, she headed to Marietta College where she is double majoring in Geology and Environmental Science, plays varsity soccer, and participated in their McDonough Leadership Program. She plans to go on to graduate school in Environmental Geosciences, or a related field.
Last summer Skout held an internship at Antero Resources, one of the largest oil and natural gas developers in northern West Virginia. From their headquarters in Denver, Colorado, the company primarily drills in the Marcellus and Utica shale formations of northern WV and southeast Ohio. Within this context Skout found herself playing the role of West Virginia’s voice. Unlike her co-workers this area is her home; her playground. From the inside out, she is trying to find the knowledge, the understanding, and the opportunity to speak up for these, our communities and wild lands.
When we hand a group of kids a topographic map and compass they almost always find what they are searching for. Some of those kids though find so much more. The compass helps them find their voice. The map helps them find their calling. The whole experience leaves them with the tools to use their voice to achieve their calling.
Every so often a child leaves the yurts with a powerful vibration filling their chest — a feeling of excitement unmeasurable — that their world is real, that wild still exists, and that it is all worth caring about. They are pulsing with the understanding that they themselves have the power to lead the charge.
We don’t know which of the participants will receive that jolt of electric excitement from our programs. It could be the leader, or the one lagging in the back, distracted and enthralled in the world around them. It could be the chaperone, the bus driver, or even our instructor. We are all potential recipients of moments of clarity and sparks of inspiration, especially when we take the time to stay in a wild place, to push outside of our comfort zones, and to reflect with a supportive group about how it all fits together.