Inspiring Connections Outdoors in Connecticut

Melinda Tuhus

Inspiring Connections Outdoors (ICO) is an outreach program of the Sierra Club that began in California in the early 1970s under the name Inner City Outings. The New Haven chapter was founded in 1993 and, I believe, the Hartford chapter the year before. We take young people on outdoor trips they wouldn't otherwise have the chance to participate in. No Child Left Inside was begun by Gina McCarthy, when she was Commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Protection (now Department of Energy and Environmental Protection). It brings out hundreds of families on the first Saturday in February, which isn't always wintry, but this year it was.

Hear from some volunteers at the ICO event:

Jim: The trip started with the kids smiling and waving to me who were on the previous trip. They looked so happy to see a familiar face. The ride up was long but entertaining.  The kids helped me with my Spanish, and I tried to answer their questions the best I could.

Once we got to the Winter fest the kids sounded so amazed at the frozen lake and people on it. The questions really started popping out.

We started out eating lunch with grapes, fruit bars and sandwiches. The kids liked all the food provided. No picky eaters here. The kids were interested in what a s’more was, and we planned that toward the end of the trip.

We met the other New Haven ICO group briefly and exchanged hats and gloves. Becky had on a bright green vest which I thought was a great idea!!

We went to the fish fry booth and had the opportunity to see some perch caught right in Burr Pond being cleaned and fried.

We then warmed ourselves by the fire to get ready for a hike out on the frozen lake.  The kids really enjoyed the open shoveled ice. I think ice skating might be a good next trip. The hike ended up at this huge rock in the middle of the lake. Some people climbed on and took pictures while other slid around on the ice. We hiked back to land to do the S’mores and warm up. One group broke off and shuttled back to the van while the others went and got fishing poles. We fished for a while with no luck, but even so, when we finished the trip with everyone saying what they liked, everyone who tried the ice fishing said it was their favorite part of the day.

We then hiked across the frozen lake to the parking lot and drove home. Trying to learn the Spanish version of BINGO didn't work out so well for me. Not sure what I was saying, but the kids did laugh.  

Tal: I enjoyed getting to talk to a few of the children throughout the day - about their experiences of last trips, about school, etc. I was also really pleasantly surprised at the children’s spirit, grit and resilience – despite the extreme cold, no one really moaned or complained. Many of them were very much up for trying ice fishing despite the temptation of the van and the warmth! It was great to see that the children weren’t afraid to speak up during the day– i.e. to ask to do ice fishing (when we were going to go back to the van the first time) or to get some s’mores (when someone missed out the first time). The adults very much listened and respected the children’s wishes. That was great to see.

On the way back, I think everyone’s delight at the day and activities was clear; they were very chatty and happy. Even one of the children who was very cold and seemed not to be enjoying herself much when we got to the park, transformed into such a happy and playful kid by the way back!

Melinda: I loved that it actually looked and felt like winter for the first time this year. About six inches of beautiful snow covered the frozen lake, except where it was brushed clear for skating, sledding and ice fishing. All these kids have immigrated from warm climates, but they were totally up for a cold, wintry adventure!

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Photo: Group at the Winter Festival event - Photo credit: Jim Miranda

Learn more about No Child Left Inside.

Learn more about Inspiring Connections Outdoors.

Melinda Tuhus is a reporter for WPKN, an activist with various climate groups, a long time member of Sierra Club Connecticut and the leader of New Haven Inspiring Connections Outdoors.