Kids to the Country

After months of planning and training, on Friday June 23, Wenoca’s Kids to the Country ICO went on its first outing!


Children ranging in age from seven to 15, from Asheville’s Hillcrest neighborhood explored the Blue Ridge Parkway’s Visitors Center and the woods nearby, searching for clues that would earn them Junior Ranger status.

Under the guidance of Wenoca Chair Judy Mattox, and Marta Alcala-Williams of the Asheville City Schools (ACS), the children and the leaders made promises to treat each other with respect and kindness and, by and large, they kept them on a very hot and humid sunny day. The van was driven by the Hillcrest Volunteer Nikita Smart, who along with Sade Mustakem, who could not participate on this trek, have worked tirelessly to make it happen.

The children heard a short talk about the responsibilities of Forest Rangers from retired Forest Ranger JD Diefenbach and took off on their 1.2-mile hike led by Joanne Lazar, a second-grade teacher who, like Judy, JD and ICO Leader Beth Pape, was recently certified as a hike leader for kids.

Beth and Judy worked with National Sierra Club and in May received Wenoca’s certification as an ICO site (one of about 60 in the country). It wasn’t just getting a title for the Chapter, each leader had to be certified first.

The ICO certification process requires passing Sierra Club’s Outings Leadership Training (OLT), OLT for ICOs, First Aid (including Juvenile First Aid, CPR and AED), Child Abuse Recognition and Prevention, and a criminal and sexual offender background check. In addition, JD passed van driver training through the Asheville Housing Authority. Beth also completed US Food Handling and Safety through ACS.

While her colleagues were studying, Eleanor Lane was navigating the city’s systems and rules and building relationships with the Hillcrest Community. She secured a grant from the Unitarian Universalist Church of Asheville and a large private donation. Also on the tour were ICO volunteers Maryanne Rackoff and Susie Bell. Scott (Doc) Varn, ICO’s other volunteer, could not attend.

Thanks to Marta, the Housing Authority loaned us the van for all the outings this summer and ACS provided nutritious and delicious breakfasts, snacks and lunches for the kids.

A special thanks to Wenoca’s Hike Leader David Reid who (in 10 days!) went on provisional outings with Judy, JD, Joanne and Beth to ensure they would be certified and that the children would be in safe hands.