Sharing a Love for Nature Through WTA
WTA member Maggie Oliver passes on the values of conservation to her students.
Maggie Oliver always looks forward to her kindergarten class’s spring curriculum, which focuses on the environment. She teaches in an inclusion classroom, meaning her students range from neurotypical to heavily impacted by autism. Maggie feels the responsibility to connect her students with the world around them and to teach them to use their voices to protect the things they care about — because she knows from her own childhood the value of learning to love and steward the natural world. Step one: Introduce the kids to many different topics to ignite their passion.
“Right now, that thing happens to be volcanoes,” Maggie said about her class earlier this year. “But in the spring, we are going to start a science unit on conservation. It’s never too early to start teaching kids to care about the planet.”
This connection to stewardship comes easily to Maggie. She grew up in an outdoorsy family in the Seattle area, where she still lives today. Her elementary school taught her about the importance of nature, through field trips to nearby parks and lessons about the history of indigenous lands. Supported by the passion of her parents, Maggie learned that conservation is essential to our existence on this planet.
But she didn’t always love hiking.
“When we were younger, my brother and I always needed a little incentive to make it to the top of the hike,” she said. “But we eventually came around. My mom would always tell the story of the day she knew we loved it as much as she did. Our parents had taken us on one of our summer camping trips at Mount Rainier, and our first night we listened to a ranger talk about the first mountaineers to summit the mountain. The next day when we went for a hike, rather than dragging our feet like my mom expected, my brother and I practically raced to the top.”
As Maggie’s passion for hiking developed, she discovered the WTA hiking guide, which introduced her to new trails and experiences. Maggie began to explore her home state more and more — and to introduce her friends to the incredible places that inspired her. She frequently saw WTA volunteer work parties when she was out hiking, and looked for other ways to get involved. Soon, she joined WTA as a member.
“I couldn’t commit to giving much, but I am proud to be a member because I see how much work gets done. And that work makes it possible for me to connect with nature, which is so important to me,” she said.
Two years ago, Maggie and her family returned to Mount Rainier — the park that sparked her passion for hiking – for another life-changing moment. Her mother, Janet, had been diagnosed with gastric cancer in 2014. Years of treatment, with many ups and downs, ultimately could not treat the illness. Even though she was very sick, Janet insisted the family take a trip to Paradise. In a borrowed oversized SUV, Maggie, Janet and the rest of their family packed a picnic and loaded up for the trip.
“It was a perfect day, not a cloud in the sky,” Maggie said. “My parents sat at the lodge, soaking in the sun, and my mom told us ‘kids’ to go off on a hike. We spent a few hours scampering around, knowing this was exactly what she wanted for us. Back at the lodge, we reminisced about the many summers spent at the mountain. We sat in silence, and we cried.”
When Janet passed away a few weeks later, Maggie knew that the outdoors would be an integral part of her grieving and healing process. With her brother and some close friends, Maggie took to the trails, this time at Olympic National Park, where they found an ideal campsite.
“Lying in the camp hammock and wandering the beach, everything was so beautiful,” she said. “I felt so connected to my mom, to my family, to the world and to myself. I was able to let go of everything. I laughed with my friends, I cried with my friends, I cried alone. It was as close to perfect as it is possible to get.”
Back in the classroom, Maggie can see the impact a connection with nature can have in her students’ lives. Watching her students explore nature in the same way her family explored with her, Maggie knows that she’s helping develop the students’ passions. And she is proud to protect the trails and wild spaces they will explore as they grow.
“Access to the outdoors is invaluable,” Maggie said. “If kids can’t get outside and have fun, how can we expect them to take on the inevitable burden of preserving our planet when they grow up?”