Youth Hiking School is our six-week project organized in partnership with Hiking Club Paklenica and aimed at children aged 10 to 14 years. The initiative introduces young people to the benefits of the outdoor environment – healthy habits, outdoor recreation or professional skills, independence, self-confidence, and an appreciation for the natural world. All the activities take place within the Velebit Nature Park, part of UNESCO’s global network of biosphere reserves and the largest single protected area in Croatia. Having particular landscape, vegetation, and relief, some narrower parts of Velebit have been isolated and specified as falling within the relevant categories of needing protection. In the southern part of the mountain chain, Paklenica National Park was founded, while the most important parts of the northern and central Velebit have been given the protection category of strict nature reserves.
What is more, Paklenica, with its unique forests and geomorphological features, diverse flora, and fauna, and intact nature, serves as an excellent example of the sustainable practices and behaviours that we teach. With this project, through learning in the protected environment, we strive to highlight the importance of respecting the surroundings and inhabitants, and as we stand as nature enthusiasts, hikers, or day visitors, in raising the awareness of responsible walking and exploration. It is often said that “leave no trace, only footsteps” is a generally accepted principle or code of conduct when planning an outdoor activity. This guiding principle reminds us and teaches our participants: To prepare and plan ahead for their trip; to use existing, marked trails and campsites; to camp carefully (to maintain small campsites away from running water or streams); to dispose the waste properly (and to take away any litter they find on trails); to leave and only observe plants, rocks or natural objects they encounter, as well as any wildlife; and to be respectful and helpful to other visitors. By raising the awareness among school-age children, we are positively impacting a generation of young nature enthusiasts who will set an example for their friends, family members, and other people enjoying nature. Anyone can forget or overlook some of the principles, but we are responsible for doing our best to transfer the knowledge about protecting our natural spaces and pointing out conscious and sustainable practices. In addition, Hiking Club Paklenica, the largest hiking association in the region, with a session on trail management and maintenance within the National Park and the surrounding area during one of the classes in the Youth Hiking School, emphasizes and teaches young people how to behave when using the trails, especially in the pristine areas. Having recognized a sudden increase in visitors and families choosing their weekend getaway in nature, through this project we strive to pass the knowledge that hiking and enjoying nature can have as little impact on the environment as possible, and be integrated with the surrounding landscapes.