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Diane Olsen speaks with nothing but pride when she describes what her nonprofit Bitterroot Ecological Awareness Resource does for the kids it serves.

They strive to build kids' resiliency by connecting them to the outdoors, connecting them to mentors, connecting them to the community and connecting them to family, said Olsen, BEAR executive director.

With that mission in mind, BEAR, which served 580 kids last year, is continuing to expand its programs as well as start plans to bring a ropes course to Hamilton to continue to challenge their students.

The city of Hamilton recently signed a memorandum of understanding to dedicate a section of Hieronymus Park to BEAR to build a ropes challenge course.

While it will still take a couple of years to raise money, develop a design and build, Olsen said a ropes course fits well with the program's experiential learning philosophy.

"It's a great and really exciting way to work on teamwork and leadership skills and getting through fears and obstacles kids might be facing," she said.

The course will eventually sit near the entrance of the park, Olsen said, next to the parking lot.

While Olsen has some ideas of how the course will be designed, like featuring a climbing wall for example, she said those plans will be hashed out in the future in conjunction with the city. She estimated the course will cost about $45,000.

Her hope is that BEAR won't be the only group to benefit from the course. Olsen wants to rent it out to other groups such as school, church, youth and corporate groups. And, she added, she wants to make it as affordable as possible.

"It's really important for us to be accessible to people," Olsen said. "We'll really try to work with people on whatever fee we need to charge to cover our expenses."

Those expenses would include yearly training, maintenance and inspection of the ropes course.

A newer program is called Venture OUT: Onward to New Possibilities, Upward to Full Potential, Through Obstacles. Olsen describes it as an intensive mentoring program based in outdoor activities.

The kids in Venture OUT receive an average of five to six hours a week with a mentor, combining one-on-one and small group mentoring. Kids in Venture OUT are referrals from youth court, Olsen said.

"It's for kids who need more support," she said.

KORE, Kids Outdoors Reaching Extremes, is another new program this summer. Participants will be taking part in the Peaks to Peninsula week-long summer trip.

Kids will travel from the Bitterroot Valley to the Olympic Peninsula, studying different environments along the way. Once arriving on the coast, the students will do a service learning project.

Sponsored by GlaxsoSmithKline, Peaks to Peninsula is a new trip for BEAR.

"It's definitely our longest adventure and a lot of the kids have never seen the ocean, haven't traveled very far. So it's very exciting for them," Olsen said.

Olsen said both Venture OUT and KORE were part of Bitterroot Venture, but were separated into two distinct programs.

"With the additional funding we got and just responding to the needs of different kids, we decided to split them out into different groups," Olsen said.

BEAR also amped up its skateboarding group, SK8 Montana, by hiring coordinator Chris Styler to keep the program going throughout the school year.

Starting as a group that did a couple of trips to various skateparks during the summer, the group has expanded to take trips once or twice a month.

"They've been all over western Montana," said Olsen, listing off Dillon, Polson, Great Falls and Kalispell as some of the destinations.

Despite all the recent changes, Olsen said all BEAR's tried and true multi-day summer camps are also slated for this summer, seven in all including backpacking, rock climbing, rafting as well as trips to Glacier National Park and the Big Hole.

"We're still doing those for the general public. You don't have to be part of the year-round groups to do those," she said.

For more information on BEAR's programs and summer camps, visit its website at www.bearoutdooradventures.com.

Reach reporter Whitney Bermes at 363-3300 or whitney.bermes@ravallirepublic.com.

 

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