“Snowshoe School” at AMC’s Highland Center

For the fourth year, AMC is holding a free snowshoe program at Crawford Notch for area schoolchildren. Children in four local schools come to the Highland Center once a week for up to six weeks during the winter months, strap on snowshoes, and take to the trails.

Donna McCusker teaches fifth grade at participating Whitefield School. She had partnered with AMC when she started an outdoor club at the school, and so signed up to be one of the first schools in the snowshoe program when it started in 2008. She appreciates that the program is free for students, because it offers an alternative to afternoon ski programs, which charge fees. “The kids get really excited about it,” she says. Many of the students have never been out on snowshoes before, she notes, or even walked on a trail. “It’s amazing,” McCusker says, “because they live right here.”

The program also includes short outdoor seminars on such topics as the geology of the White Mountains and tracking animals in the snow. (That last, fondly called “scat and tracks” at Whitefield, is a perennial favorite among McCusker’s students.)

The students spend their first day on snowshoes walking around Ammonoosuc Lake. The terrain is mostly flat, but the snowshoers also get a little practice crossing streams, says Sara DeLucia, adventure programs manager at the Highland Center. Whitefield teacher McCusker sees the wisdom in that choice: “The kids aren’t overworked,” she says. “They’re excited and ready to come back the next week.”

Their next challenge is likely to be Gibbs Falls, a steeper trail to a waterfall that typically takes about 90 minutes round trip. Longer half-day hikes to Ripley Fall and Arethusa Falls lead to a culminating 3.2-mile trek to the summit of Mt. Willard. Last year, the Whitefield School group attempted the summit of Mt. Avalon. They didn’t make it to the top, but worked hard going uphill and especially enjoyed sliding back downhill.

The snowshoe program has grown each year at Whitefield. This year, McCusker expects 20 to 30 fifth- and sixth-graders to enroll. They’ll strap on their snowshoes later this month.

McCusker sees the value of programs like AMC’s “snowshoe school” for students and teachers alike. “Such fun and adventurous programs,” she says, “can begin a lifelong love for outdoor fun, whole body wellness, and care of the environment right here” in her students’ backyard. As for its impact on teachers, she tells this story: “I came up behind one of our students who was snowshoeing for the first time. She was looking up into the winter sky, singing like an angel and looking just as beautiful. Sometimes it takes getting outside the four walls of a classroom to see our students in such a wonderful light.”

Learn more
Whitefield School
… Programs for students at AMC’s Highland Center

Photos courtesy Donna McCusker; "singing angel" Ivory Blanchette.

Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.

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