By Rob Kean
On early release days, students in the Nashoba Regional School District can be found engaging in any number of leisure activities. Many, for example, grab their Xbox controllers, and shoot for the highest scores they can fathom.
Some grab their kayaks, and head for the whitest water they can find.
At least that’s what they do if they’re members of WILD (Wilderness Instruction, Leadership Development), a program run by the husband-and-wife tandem of David and Karen Cudmore through Still River Outfitters, the Bolton-based outdoor adventure company they founded in 2004. Dedicated to promoting instruction, leadership and development in wild places, WILD does just that, turning the outdoors into a classroom, and kayaks into desks, the sort that can roll and ride rapids and on whose undersides gum doesn’t stick to for long.
David and Karen are the teachers, along with other ACA Certified Kayak Instructor; a helmet-wearing, paddle-wielding faculty of sorts who teach WILD students of all ages.
“Right now, our youngest kid is in fifth grade, while the oldest are juniors in high school,” says David. “We’ve had one girl who ‘graduated’ out of the program, and kids who’ve started as young as 8.”
Equally as varying is the amount of time each kid spends on the water. “We have about 10 kids who regularly participate, as well as a few we see a couple times a year,” says David. He and Karen are the parents of three kayaking kids of their own. “There are so many activities kids are involved in these days. The program is set up so you can participate as your schedule allows.”
It’s also set up to run year-round, and on wet surfaces near and far. “We use a small section of the Nashua River in Lancaster for training, but the closest river for a good run is the Millers in Erving. We consider the Deerfield in Florida, Mass. our ‘home’ river. The White River in West Hartford, Vermont is a favorite fall foliage run, and a new favorite is the Pemi in New Hampshire, from Lincoln Woods to Loon Mountain.”
Of course, to be a year-round program based in New England and dependent on water in its liquid state, WILD needs to point its bows in a southerly direction each winter. “This past February, we paddled the Suwannee River Wilderness trail in Northern Florida,” David recounts. “We did 94 miles in five days, staying at river camps the state has set up. The kids had a great time.”
Their parents are encouraged to come have a great time with them. “Most of the parents rarely get to see their kids paddle. So we try to do one or two weekend trips a year, and make at least one of them a family trip.”
But the highlight of each year, says David, is the Northeast Whitewater Trip each August. “We basically chase whitewater around New England and New York, camping out next to the rivers we paddle. And on this trip, the kids really take the lead. They help choose the rivers, make all the meals, and take care of the gear.”
In short, they become the leaders signified by WILD’s third letter. And for Gareth Carey of Stow, a junior at Nashoba who’s been in WILD since he was 12, this makes logical sense. “I don’t think there’s a better way to get leadership experience than by actually leading,” he says simply.
Nor, he adds, is there a better builder of team players than a sport that requires people to work as a team. “Since it really isn’t possible to kayak alone,” he points out, “teamwork is such an important part of kayaking. It’s amazing how well people work together in this program.”
More than anything, though, the program is about having fun. And for Gareth, the pinnacle of this is the big trip each August, though he holds a special place in his memory bank for a particular day paddle he was part of one October. “We kayaked the Deerfield the day before Hurricane Sandy came through.”
As for fellow WILD member Parker O’Sullivan, a fifth-grader at Sawyer Middle School in Bolton, he counts among his favorite memories his “first time in The Gap on the Deerfield.” But what he’s loved most are the times his dad has come along on trips and, for a change, been the one in need of help and supervision.
“It was fun teaching him things,” Parker grins.
“The program’s been great for Parker,” says his duly-taught father, Steve. “He truly loves his days on the water. The kids are all ages, but they support each other, and no one is left out of any activity – or joke! They just enjoy being together.
“I was a little concerned about safety at first, not knowing much about the sport,” he continues. “But then I saw firsthand what’s expected of the kids prior to heading down a river. And there are always advanced individuals in the group to ensure everyone has a safe, good time.”
To learn more about WILD, please visit stillriveroutfitters.com. Videos of their trips can also be viewed at youtube.com/user/StillRiverOutfitters.com.