ROSS LAKE — It didn’t matter that they’d just spent the past six days hiking, canoeing and swinging heavy woodsmen’s tools.
Ignoring physical fatigue, the nine teenagers were full of energy and optimism Thursday as they sat aboard the Ross Mule, a barge-like boat that North Cascades National Park staff use to traverse Ross Lake in the northeastern end of the park. All participants of North Cascades Institutes’ NC Wild outdoor education program for disadvantaged youths, each teen explained how nature had transformed them in a matter of days.
“This is the first time I’ve been in a real wild place,” said 16-year-old Hikmatullah Arif, who immigrated to Seattle from central Pakistan in 2000 with his family. Overlooking the lake’s jade green waters and shorelines plush with tall evergreen trees, he recalled how his Pakistani town was littered with garbage. His home country could be a more beautiful place, he said, if only its residents took better care of it.
“When I came here to this camp, I started thinking about this stuff,” Arif said. “I’ve learned a lot.”
The 36 teens who participate in one of the four NC Wild sessions each summer are mostly immigrants, members of low-income households or minorities. The program offers an opportunity that would normally be out of reach for them — free immersion in the natural beauty of Ross Lake for 10 days. Although all participants this year are from the Seattle area, Skagit Valley teens may be invited…