Outdoor Observer

Outdoor Observer

Ryan Lofgren was inspired to share his love of travel and experiencing new cultures when he took his first solo trip to Central America after graduating from college. Now he’s fulfilling his dream by working for an established Ventura-based company that organizes educational trips and retreats for schools and other groups, and has founded his own adventure travel company for teenagers called The Wild Traveler.

He says embarking on a 10-week solo adventure to Central America that led to his life’s calling was daunting at first. “I get down there and start learning that I need to keep myself safe, and making sure I keep my belongings to myself because there’s a lot of theft down there,” says Lofgren. “It would have been nice to have started in a program similar to what I’m offering.”

In 2004 he moved from Washington state to Ventura to work as field staff for the environmental education company Naturalists at Large, which organizes custom trips to numerous locations like Catalina Island, Joshua Tree National Park and the Sierra Nevada Mountains. During 2009 he started The Wild Traveler, leading Hawaii camping trips for groups of up to a dozen 13- to 16-year-olds.

“We take teenagers out to threatened or endangered places, or places where they have threatened or endangered cultures, and take part in adventure activities like scuba diving, surfing, kayaking, hiking, whitewater rafting as well as service projects,” says Lofgren.

The 17-day Hawaii trip he organize includes several days of camping at Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island as well as five days of surfing lessons and scuba diving certification in the Kona Coast area. Travelers later fly to the island of Kauai, where they hike the stunningly beautiful Na Pali coast and work on service projects with native Hawaiians, performing habitat restoration and learning to harvest traditional foods. “The culture’s alive. You have to move out of the tourist zones to find it, but it’s still there if there’s native Hawaiians practicing their traditional ways and eating their traditional foods,” says Lofgren. “We actually help out on harvesting taro, which is what they use to make poi, which is the staple of the ancient Hawaiian diet.”

He’s now also offering a 14-day Wild California trip, including a four-day backpacking excursion along the Lost Coast, whitewater rafting on the American River, surf lessons in Santa Cruz and a service project at Natural Bridges State Beach.

Lofgren says the kids who take the trips have fun and make lasting friendships, but learn more important lessons as well. “The biggest thing these kids get out of it is, they become more confident, they gain leadership skills, problem solving skills, and they do it in a place where they can safely step out of their comfort zones and try new things around people their own age,” says Lofgren.

He also hopes it instills his love of traveling. “A lot of these teens have not traveled much and it just opens their eyes to new cultures and new places,” says Lofgren. “Kids learn how to travel, and they learn outdoor skills as well, so that they can do this on their own in future years for their own personal adventures.”

Kids whose families’ financial situations can’t accommodate travel are offered a chance to apply for scholarships to cover part of the cost.

Lofgren has created a website at www.thewildtraveler.com, and more information about booking custom excursions with the other company where he works is at www.naturalistsatlarge.com.

Outdoor Observer

Outdoor Observer

Herb walks with Ojai resident Lanny Kaufer offer a fun and educational blend of local history and botany during excursions on local trails.

On a recent walk in scenic Horn Canyon near Ojai, we learned about plants taken as medicines by Chumash Indians, like yerba santa, used to treat coughing. We had a nibble of some wild mustard and made natural soap by rubbing ceanothus flowers and water between our hands.

Kaufer is a retired science teacher who’s been leading herb walks since 1976. He says interaction with Native American culture is what got him started. “My first experience with native plants and medicine was on a Pueblo Indian reservation in 1965. I was visiting there and I got a cold. An older man brought me a bag of cedar leaf tea. He said to make tea and drink it, and I did and it cleared up my cold. I was amazed at that, and it piqued my curiosity that has continued ever since,” says Kaufer.

People who join the herb walks gain new appreciation for the variety of plants around us and their myriad of uses. “That’s what I enjoy the most is seeing the sense of wonder and discovery that people have about that, because that’s how I felt when I first started learning,” says Kaufer. “In fact, I’ve never lost that sense of wonder because there’s so much to learn, and I keep studying it and learning new things all the time.”

Kaufer leads herb walks from February through November each year, and the types of plants vary by the trail selected. Spring sees annual flowers while chaparral shrubs are around all year.

The United States Forest Service recently granted Kaufer a special use permit for outfitters and guides, which allows him to take people deeper into the forest than he’s been able to in the past.

He’s also created a website at www.herbwalks.com with a calendar of events and information about registering for the herb walks, which cost $25. The website includes a bookstore and links to more information about topics like ethnobotany and local trails.  “I also have links to so many resources on identifying native plants, on the uses of native plants for food, medicine, crafts and landscaping,” says Kaufer. “I have links about the Chumash and their traditional uses for plants, like building their houses and making their clothes.”

Kaufer hopes the herb walks bring people closer to nature. “That’s my goal. That’s my mission. I like to think of myself as one of the Loraxes who speaks for the trees. The more that people appreciate the value of what’s out here in nature, the more they’re going to want to preserve it, not just see it as bare land that can be mined or built on,” says Kaufer.

He also wants people to understand how plants relate to everything else in nature. “The plants are the foundation of the ecosystem that supports the birds and the mammals and the reptiles. The whole animal world relies on the plants for food and habitat. So you’re really preserving the whole ecosystem when you take care of plants,” says Kaufer. “Understanding the Native American web of life, we have so much that we can use of the plant world, but at the same time plants need us to be mindful of our impact on the environment. So we need them and they need us, in the same way that we need their oxygen and they need our carbon dioxide.”

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