Hillcrest Students Find Community in Hiking Ottertail County

There is nature in China, but according to Tracy Ding, a Chinese student attending Hillcrest this year, few enjoy it. So when Principal Isaac gave his pitch for his hiking club, one of six clubs added to Hillcrest's list of five from last year, Ding jumped at the opportunity and has not been disappointed.

Principal Isaac is an avid walker. He and his wife traverse the sidewalks of Fergus Falls daily after work. After Hillcrest did a student satisfaction survey in September of 2016, the staff opted to form some clubs to better help the students connect and find mentor opportunities. Seeing the success of last year's clubs, Principal Isaac felt called to take his love for hiking around Fergus outside the city of Fergus Falls to introduce students to the beauty of Ottertail County. 

After completing a few hikes as a club, Hillcrest Spanish teacher Lowell Quam joined the group. Lowell is an avid hiker, and knows many tricks to keep hydrated and nourished on longer hikes. He has introduced students to xylology, opening the world of trees, plants, and shrubs to students while they take breaks to enjoy crackers with peanut butter in the shade of Maple trees. 

The group meets almost twice per month, having visited Maplewood State Park, the Central Lakes trail, and Spidahl's Ski Guard by special invitation. The group breaks into packs of three to four students, with an adult walking with them. Conversations carry as they climb hills and descend into valleys, stopping by streams and brooks to enjoy scenery. One student revealed her challenges in deciding on a college, while another unpacked his family history. Other students share about their home country, comparing and appreciating the beauty of home with their school home at Hillcrest. That's where Tracy Ding opened up.

Tracy, and student Alyssa Bui from Vietnam, both said they live in large cities. They noted that outside the cities there are rolling hills and woods, similar to what they're finding in Ottertail county, but they said people rarely go to visit them. The two are finding a unique appreciation for the natural beauty that lay outside of their normal attention, noting that in their home countries people are too busy to enjoy the flowers, trees, and natural settings beyond the stress and busyness of city life. They are finding their time in Fergus Falls to be refreshing, drawing significance from Hillcrest's hiking club, which is helping them to stop and smell the roses with intentional adult relationships.