Local Treasures with Pia: Peak 7 shows youth the joys of nature

Spokane, Washington – It’s a simple mission: to get young people into the glorious nature of Washington and Oregon states, to challenge them and to help them engage spiritually, physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Peak 7 was founded 15 years ago by Ryan Kerrigan, and the organization grew from his deep love for the outdoors.

“Ryan just loved getting on the river and he’d be floating and seeing all these kids watching,” said Austin Dannen, executive director of Peak 7. “And he wanted to give those kids a better view of nature. He wanted to make sure all youth could go white water rafting or floating or hiking, especially students who otherwise wouldn’t be able to go.”

Peak 7, which recently received a grant from the Avista Foundation, provides first rate outdoor experiences for youth. The organization started in Spokane, but now has branches in Central Oregon and in Seattle.

“We have all the best gear. We have nice rafts and good jackets and pant and backpacks,” Dannen said. “You can literally come in the door with whatever clothes you have in a plastic bag, and we will outfit you for your trip.”

Programs range from rock climbing, to backpacking and hiking, to rafting, paddleboard floats, snowshoeing and mountaineering.

Peak 7 partners with more than 50 non-profit organizations that work with youth and took more than 1,400 participants on guided tours in 2021.

“We especially want to get to the kids who otherwise can’t go,” Dannen said.

Outdoor gear can be very expensive, and many wouldn’t even know where to start looking for gear.

“Youth who are struggling with housing insecurity don’t sit around and dream about snowshoeing,” Dannen said. “That’s not how it works. That’s why we work with organizations that already have a trusted relationship with the youth we are trying to reach.”

The partner organizations are charged on a sliding scale, depending on their budget, and youth participants pay a small fee to be part of the excursion. 

“We find that charging a small fee helps the youth better value the experience,” Dannen said.

Peak 7 also organizes team building tours for for-profit organizations and college sports teams, which are charged industry rates, and therefore help subsidize the youth program.

Dannen said the nature guides are carefully selected to be able to relate to the young participants, especially if they’ve never been out in nature before. Guides are sensitive to how young participants are responding emotionally to, for instance, a challenging hike. And they keep everyone safe.

“Our whitewater rafting through downtown Spokane is a very powerful program,” Dannen said. “Not only is the water very powerful, but many of these kids can’t swim. We simply show them how they can recreate and have fun, without being high.”

At Avista, we recognize our unique position gives us the chance to contribute in an impactful way and make a real difference in people's lives. Since 2002, the Avista Foundation has made grants totaling over $13 million to organizations that support vulnerable and limited income populations, education, and economic and cultural vitality. For more information on grant applications and geographical areas covered, please visit avistafoundation.com.

Visit www.peak7.org for more information about the program.

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