By Kathy Chouteau
Big City Mountaineers (BCM), a nonprofit that works with partners to provide high school students with outdoor trips that culminate in a summer backpacking adventure, made the leap into its new headquarters at Richmond’s Terminal 4 Recreation Area this past weekend.
The move — from a humble storage facility to a more fitting home near San Pablo Bay with resident owls, ospreys, seals, red tail hawks, pelicans and other wildlife — has the BCM crew excited for many reasons. Breathtaking natural wonders aside, the new digs offer increased space for their ample outdoor gear, more amenities, camping opportunities for instructors/students and other benefits toward expanding its horizons.
According to Jenna Topper, CA Regional Program Manager for the Colorado-based nonprofit with several regions, what excites her the most about the move is “the opportunity for this new location to showcase the beauty of Richmond.”
Topper added that, with this location change, Richmond’s beauty will be the backdrop to every trip send-off and return, serving as a reminder that “while there is a lot to see outside the city, there will always be an opportunity for nature connection awaiting [the students] at home.”
During her conversation with the Standard, she also gave a tip-of-the-hat to the Terminal 4 Recreation Area management team, which offered the nonprofit heavily discounted rental and leasing so that they could afford the new space.
BCM partners with youth development agencies in Richmond, San Rafael and Sacramento—including YES Nature to Neighborhoods, Groundwork Richmond and Earth Team locally—to bring high school aged students on what Topper refers to as “repetitive, fully-outfitted, professional led outdoor trips.” The experiences aim to provide students with an opportunity to strengthen their relationships with nature, themselves and their communities, she said.
Student trips, usually a consistent group of 10-12 youths, start local in regional and state parks like Wildcat Canyon, Tilden and Point Pinole Regional Parks, and are built upon throughout the series as comfort and excitement grows. From there, students progress to taking overnight trips to places like China Camp, Mount Tamalpais, Samuel P. Taylor and Tomales Bay State Parks, eventually moving up the ladder to backpacking trips. Topper said that plans are underway for two of BCM’s Richmond partners to visit Point Reyes National Seashore on a five-day backpacking experience.
BCM has historically been more of a student backpacking program, said Topper, who added that they’ve recently “expanded programming to be a little bit more student-centered” by also offering day trips and overnights “to help meet the students where they’re at.” The nonprofit’s programs look, in part, to not only build students’ skillsets and comfort level in the great outdoors, but also nurture their connection with it, so as to see them return to these spaces someday on their own.
Topper said that, “while backpacking in remote locations is a wonderful experience to have” BCM is continuing to evolve its programs to support the idea that “nature connection close to home is just as important and special.”
The organization is currently seeking volunteers to support the students, particularly on its overnight and backpacking trips. Volunteers must be 21 or over and go through a short interview process and background check. Of special interest are volunteers who “share lived experiences” and “know where the students are coming from,” per Topper. Those wanting to volunteer can fill out this form.
Students interested in participating in BCM’s programs can do so by connecting with one of the nonprofit’s aforementioned youth development partners.