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Let us celebrate this wild and precious life together

There has always been something so special about GRP’s opening night evening program - our hallmark Upper Council fire. I have vivid memories throughout my childhood of that reverent walk up to the fire underneath the tree canopy. Trying to keep the tune of “The earth, the air, the fire, the water…” walking uphill can be a challenge; but, once you settle on the ground and a hush falls over the group, you know you are in an extraordinary place. One of my favorite parts of the Upper Council fire has always been Sandy reading Chief Seattle’s Letter. After hearing it so many times growing up, I could practically recite the intro. “How can you buy or sell the sky….”

My connection to this letter, and hearing my father read it is deep. This made it all the harder when it was pointed out by numerous alumni and staff that Chief Seattle did not, in fact, write this letter. More about that here. I resisted and examined ways in which we could read the letter and continue on our path of commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI). But at the end of the day, I could not reconcile the two. Green River Preserve prides itself on being a place where people can truly be themselves and feel a part of the community. We are fully committed to making that true for our Indigenous, Black and Brown members as well. Removing Chief Seattle’s Letter from our program is a step in the right direction.

When one of our board members suggested that my father and our founder Sandy write his own letter, it was like a lightbulb went off. Yes! This was the way to keep Dad’s voice and usher our program into a more authentic version of ourselves. Friends, let me tell you, I think we achieved that this summer. The first time Dad read Sandy’s Letter this summer tears came to my eyes. In fact, there was hardly a dry eye on the hill.

Sitting underneath the pines, closing my eyes, I heard his voice resonate out from the campfire.

“Dear Campers,

Welcome to the upper council fire, a sacred place in the Green River Preserve.

The Preserve is a land of stories. Here, everything has stories to tell; the mountains, the animals, the streams have a voice; even the timeless music from the Native Americans can speak to us. Here, the natural world speaks as a member of our camp family.

Children have lived and played in this valley for over 10,000 years. But, here and now is your special time; your time to be your best self; your time to explore, learn, play and create your own story.

While you are here, please take time to watch the stars. The belt of stars above you, is the Milky Way, your home galaxy. Your tiny blue planet is zooming through this universe of infinite power and size. Yet, here in this valley, you are quiet, peaceful and safe. Here, nature protects and nurtures you. It knows that you are important, for you are the young environmental stewards who can hear and answer the cries of our planet.

While you are here, know that this is a safe and precious time in your life. Not long ago, Mastodons, Woolly Mammoths, elk and buffalo roamed this valley. Cats as big as lions and giant Dire Wolves hunted along the river. Turtles as big as golf carts walked here and probably inspired the drumming stone of Long Rock. Remarkable people also lived here—the Native Americans. You can still find their stone tools, and see their shelters. Know that the earth beneath your feet contains the ashes of many lives, so be respectful.

While you are here, be brave. Here you will discover fun, wonder, and unsurpassed beauty. You will also climb steep mountains, camp in the forest, and walk in the home of bees, snakes and bears. Nature and its challenges reward the brave. It takes bravery to hike and explore, to make new friends, and to create your own story. Embrace fortitude, it will give power to the stories of your life.

While you are here, be kind. There is a legacy of kindness in this valley. Here, nature is kind to us, so let us be kind to nature, to each other, and to ourselves. Let kindness be our Strength.

Finally, while we are here, let us celebrate this wild and precious life together. From Win-Day-A ho to Sisters Brothers , let us “Seek the joy of being alive”.”

Change is often hard, but it can bring about so many unexpected positives. I did not want to let go of Chief Seattle’s Letter, but when I did, Dad’s words came to life and truly captured the GRP experience, paid homage to those who came before us, and encouraged campers to be their best selves and experience the wonder that we know as GRP.

In addition to Sandy’s Letter, we also renamed the 2 youngest cabins. Little Tree was originally named for The Education of Little Tree, a book that no longer aligns with the values of GRP due to its author’s beliefs. With the help of our campers and an online poll, we renamed the cabins Hellbender and Sassafras. A Hellbender is an endangered giant salamander found along the continental divide that borders GRP. And, if you’ve not yet heard about Sassafras, just ask your camper to name a few fun facts about this tree found all over the Preserve.

We are committed to continuing this work, learning and adjusting as we go. As an administrative team, we have participated in multiple DEI workshops and trainings over the past year and plan to continue to educate and inform ourselves in this way. We are reflecting on and updating information based on advice and suggestions from our DEI focus group, made up of 6 alumni and 2 year-round staff members. This dedicated group examined and reflected on GRP’s website, staff manual, applications, and policies. They also highlighted areas for change to help make GRP more accessible and safe for BIPOC, neurodivergent, LGBTQ+, and low-income campers and staff. This group then reported findings to the Education committee and year-round GRP team. There was a lot of ground to cover, and while we still have a ways to go, we are learning, we are reading, we are listening and we are making progress. Ultimately, we are so very grateful that our community is as invested in this commitment as we are. The journey is slow, but we are steadfast in our responsibility

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