This piece is the third in a 2023 summer series, “Trip Leader Tuesday,” that highlights the Trip Leaders who make Explore Austin’s programming possible.
When Liya Scott began as a Trip Leader with Explore Austin in 2021, she saw lots of rock walls in her future.
“I imagined I would be climbing all the time. I’ve since discovered that I quite enjoy canoe challenges. For Trip Leaders, there is quite a bit of planning and technical knowledge required in the preparation stage, which I enjoy. Once we arrive at the challenge site, it’s a joy to teach Explorers and Mentors and watch for those ‘lightbulb’ moments. The best part is finally getting on the water and feeling one with the river and nature.”
Coming up on her second anniversary with Explore Austin, Liya has grown accustomed to expecting the unexpected. Another of those moments? Translating her rock-climbing skills underground to cave exploration, one of her favorite memories to date.
Said Liya, “I got to join Trip Leader Kori for my first caving trip – it was such a unique experience! As a climber, it was so cool to use my climbing technique scrambling in the underground. I learned that life is different underground; animals breathe differently, and even rocks and things you might find underground change in appearance if exposed to outside air. The trip was definitely an unforgettable challenge.”
Liya has been an “outdoorsy, adventurous gal” for as long as she can remember and feels it’s especially important for her to be involved with Explore Austin because, as a woman of color, she’s a direct role model for the program’s youth, 97% of whom identify as youth of color and 50% of whom are female.
“The best part is sharing this love of outdoor spaces with youth. Experiential education is powerful, especially in the context of outdoor recreation. As a woman of color, it’s important for me to be a presence in outdoor spaces to help reverse the stigma and historical trauma of my people,” Liya said.
At family gatherings, Liya’s work with Explore Austin is a conversation starter that continues to stoke her love of nature and her desire to preserve its beauty for future generations. She points out how Explore Austin’s programming differs from most outdoor adventure programs, including its emphasis on mentorship and social-emotional learning through time set aside for group discussion and for “solos,” periods of time alone in nature for self reflection:
“I like how social justice is tied into the mentorship and empowerment piece, and how Explore Austin puts value on debrief and discussion time. The concept behind the ‘solo’ on the Summer Wilderness Trips is really unique, too. These things are all important because we live in a society that does not understand the importance of taking time to slow down, process and practice moments of stillness. As you get older, these moments become more scarce if you don’t purposefully incorporate them into your life, and you won’t unless you are taught how to do it. I’m glad we get to teach this practice to youth.”
While Liya has led school-year Saturday Challenges for nearly two years, last month marked her first Summer Wilderness Trip. After working with the ‘26 Funky Cacti team all year, she co-led them (along with Trip Leader Karley Henson) on a weeklong canoe trip 45 miles down the Buffalo River in northern Arkansas. Said Liya:
“I’ve really enjoyed working with the high school girls this year. It’s neat to be able to relate to their experience in high school, and share insights I’ve gained in the life I’ve lived between high school and now. So many things have changed about middle school and high school since I was there, so hats off to students navigating sixth through twelfth grade – it’s not easy being a kid these days!”
Liya also connected with Funky Cacti’s Mentors over the last year – Annalise, Holly, Kate, Kelly and Patty – seeing how deeply they care for their Explorers, and that the sentiment is reciprocated. Getting to work with this team on Saturday Challenges made Liya confident that their Summer Wilderness Trip would be “a good combination of fun, adventure and challenge.”
Karley, Liya’s co-Trip Leader on the Buffalo River, said:
“Leading with Liya is such a treat! She’s cool, collected and loads of fun. She’s also always on her game; she knows when to let things roll and when to step in to make things happen. I’d lead another trip with her in a heartbeat! Though we had lots of great moments in the field, my favorite was singing with her to Ray Charles’ ‘That’s How I Know’ on the drive home.”
Liya echoed Karley’s sentiments of co-leading, calling her first Summer Wilderness Trip a “10 out of 10 experience”:
“Our group had an absolute blast! The weather was incredibly reasonable, we avoided the severe storms that hit other areas of Arkansas, and the river was breathtakingly beautiful. Of all the wildlife sightings, my favorites were the blue heron (which we named Sharon), the alligator gar (seen from the bottom of the clear river) and a young bald eagle. I got to hear the song of the whip-poor-will bird for the first time, which was really special for me; they only sing at dawn or dusk. One misty morning, we even thought we saw a nutria gliding through the water! I especially valued the time we spent as a team sharing rose/bud/thorn moments, and encouraging one another after a long day. The Explorers and Mentors were really fun to be around.”
Though Funky Cacti’s Summer Wilderness Trip saw its share of technically challenging days on the water, Liya concludes: “We had a lot of fun together too. I like that Explore Austin cultivates moments where we learn together and have fun at the same time.”