Jackson Hole, Wyoming
About the business:
Wilderness Adventures (WA) has provided adventure travel programs across the globe for 5th to12th grade students for nearly 50 years. Expanding their reach, WA also offers Base Camp, a day camp in Jackson Hole, and Gap Semester programs for college-age students.
How COVID affected things:
With so much uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 and keeping with the best interest of their students and staff, canceling all traditional trip and travel programs was the only viable option for last Spring. After additional time to prepare and a more controlled day camp setting, WA was able to offer Base Camp for local youth for 10 weeks as scheduled. Staff instituted new precautions for campers while maintaining the emphasis on fun, adventure, friendship, and skills building.
In mid-summer, with a bit more time and experience on their side, WA launched a handful of programs modeled after their traditional trip and travel adventures in the Jackson Hole area. These programs got WA back out on the trail, modeling policies and procedures that they recognized would likely become the new norm in 2021. In small groups, students and leaders were able to experience the magic of a WA trip, confirming their ability to successfully run outings during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Finally, answering the call of their older students and WA alumni, leaders launched the first Wilderness Adventures Leadership Institute (WALI) Gap Semester in the fall of 2020. Twelve college-age students and three trip leaders traveled, adventured, learned, and connected during the semester and they are excited to welcome a Spring Gap Semester cohort in February.
How Wilderness Adventures reacted:
After canceling traditional summer programs, WA pivoted quickly to insure they were best serving the kids in their community. They knew that with enhanced sanitization, masking, hand washing, and small groups they could make Base Camp work for the Jackson Hole community.
“As we met early success at Base Camp, we recognized that we could use many of the same policies to run more traditional WA programs. Keeping both the groups themselves small and the number of groups in the field small, we were able to give individualized attention and acute awareness to detail to every group," WA owner Tom Holland said. "With each step forward, we were able to learn lessons and refine policies, making the next step possible.”
What the future holds:
WA will continue to grow, seeking to provide as many children as possible the opportunity to get outside and ‘Do Something Wild!’ They will continue to listen to their community and respond to meet existing needs. 2020 presented the world with extremely challenging circumstances and WA did not emerge unscathed; but these challenges also provided an opportunity to be creative, take a risk in new program areas, and reconnect with their community.
A silver lining of the pandemic has been the invitation to innovation. 2020 gave owners and leaders a chance to evaluate how they have done things historically and what they should be doing going forward. The summer of 2021 will likely need to adhere to many of the same changes that were made in 2020 (masking, testing, physical distancing, etc.) but WA is in a position to implement these changes on a larger scale, allowing programs to run successfully. The Gap Semester programs have been a great success and they look forward to growing these over time to offer more diverse itinerary options to even more college-age students.
"We have dedicated our lives to the education of children in the outdoors. The pandemic has shown us the necessity and value of outdoor education, and while it has posed its challenges to us, we are proud of the work we have done to get kids back outside."
-Tom and Catherine Holland, Wilderness Adventures
“It made our kids’ summer and restored some hope that life may someday return to normal. They truly smiled again."
-Jackson Hole Mom describing her kids’ experience at Wilderness Adventures.