Students in Wilderness Initiative


Cottonwood Gulch Expeditions’ Students in Wilderness Initiative (SIWI) is an immersive program that aims to develop critical thinkers in New Mexico’s next generation and share the beauty and value of our public lands. We believe that when students understand and experience wild places, this connection will foster an appreciation for the outdoors, bring alive indoor classroom topics, and provide opportunities to give students investment in and understanding of their local lands. Our SIWI program achieves this through a combination of classroom-based learning sessions, field-based expeditions, and personal reflection. In the 2021- 2022 year, we are committed to adjusting our curriculum to meet COVID 19 procedures as needed.

Ten Days of Field-Based Learning:

Students will experience ten days in the outdoors to foster connections to a variety of public lands. Through day trips, camping and backpacking, students will experience a scaffolded introduction to outdoor living skills and develop their relationships to place as stewards of nature. These field expeditions use art, science, music, writing and movement to enhance classroom sessions and facilitate clear connections between academic understanding and real-world experience.

Anticipated Outcomes

  • Expose New Mexican youth to a variety of federal, state, and regional public lands including, but not limited to, wilderness designated lands, national parks and forests, Bureau Land Management areas, Fish & Wildlife areas and their local parks.
  • Cultivate investment and connection to NM wildlands through exposure, conversations, and transformative experiences in Nature
  • Engage students in a year-long conversation about issues relating to NM public lands, including conservation, preservation and cultural and natural history
  • Connect youth to policymakers and community stakeholders addressing these issues
  • Engage youth in place-based service projects within their own communities
  • Engage students in thinking about their own roles and stories in NM wildlands and in outdoor spaces more generally
  • Create investment and nurture stewardship of NM wildlands and community open spaces
  • Facilitate immersive outdoor experiences for an underserved population of New Mexican students, largely consisting of Latinx, Chicanx, and Indigenous youth

Ten Facilitated Classroom Sessions:

These sessions will support field-based learning with academic understandings of public lands, “Big W” Wilderness, history of land usage in New Mexico, science, conservation, and personal connection to place. These sessions will connect students to stakeholders in current issues, engage students in thinking about their own history and connection to land, and push students to think about their own stories and roles in public lands. We plan to conduct these in person and virtually as needed due to COVID 19.


Many Thanks

We could not run this program without the critical support of our partner, The Wilderness Society. We are grateful for their support as we work to bridge New Mexico students with the public lands and grow the environmental stewards and critical thinkers of the next generation! To figure out how you can get involved, email