By BILL WINKLEY
Special To The Press
When we think
of the U.S. Forest Service, we often think of a group of men and women dedicated
to the protection and preservation of our forests and the wonderful wildlife
that calls them home.
Certainly, that is their primary role. Recently,
however, a group of 31 youths from two nations and three states saw a totally
new dimension to services offered by the protectors of our wilderness
In early June, these young men and women completed Wilderness
Experience 2001 at Camp Thunderbird in the Mimbres Valley. For the third year in
a row, visually impaired and signed youths, from Chihuahua, Mexico, New Mexico
and Texas, have had an opportunity to get to know one another.
shared one another's cultures and languages, and experience how people with and
without sight view the world.
"Without a doubt, this has been our most
successful Wilderness Experience yet," said Olivia Schonberger, vision
coordinator for the Region 19 Education Service Center in El Paso,
"The youth really got on famously, finding so many common
experiences and yet (coming) from varied backgrounds. The U.S. Forest Service
staff at the Gila cliff dwellings outdid themselves in making the experience
meaningful and fun for the kids."
As they did last year, Douglas Ballou,
Regina Mueller and Trish London, forest rangers stationed at the cliff
dwellings, provided the participants a meaningful understanding and an enriched
experience of the area settled by American Indians some 800 years
Ballou organized the staff and volunteers of the cliff dwellings to
ensure a rich and rewarding event. Lon-don conducted a customized tour of the
facilities that al-lowed for all the youths to explore what was home to the
One young man, who traveled the trail in his wheelchair
with some really muscled help from other participants, was the second person
ever to take the tour in a chair.
Good oral descriptions, the opportunity
to enter areas not available to the general public, and plenty of time to
explore, made the outing very meaningful for all who traveled the one-mile
The sighted peers, all outstanding young volunteers from the Cobre
Consolidated Schools, gave oral descriptions, and directed hands and feet to
ensure the fullest and safest experience for each of the visually impaired
Mueller gave each youth the opportunity to grind corn on a
matate with a mano and to plant corn; doing so in the same manner as the
American Indians in their days in the area.
Joan Day-Martin, a trained
bander of hummingbirds, assisted each youth in listening to the
2,080-beats-per-minute heart rate of the birds she captured, banded and then set
Blind youths were allowed to feel the birds and, thus, come to
appreciate their size and form.
"We are simply amazed at the generosity
and concern the staff of the U.S. Forest Service have given our youth," stated
Hector Ronquillo, staff member of El Centro de Estudios para Invidentes, the
program serving the youths in Mexico. "The wonderful patience, great verbal
descriptions, bilingual presentations, and obvious love for the young men and
women made the tour and presentations really powerful and meaningful. Those of
us from Mexico are really impressed and appre-ciative."
auspices of One Family International, the annual outing is funded by Region 19
ESC, a grant from the El Paso Community Foundation, a grant from the Cobre
Consolidated Schools, a private donor and OFI.
The youths spent four days
hiking, singing and playing musical instruments, enjoying special campfire
presentations, and simply getting to know one another.
Berma Matteson and
Francisca Scrivano of Silver City, along with several of the young participants,
told stories at the campfire one night.
Matthew Meyers of Border Area
Mental Health Services presented a program on tobacco cessation, along with
brochures explaining the hazards of using tobacco products.