Twelve years ago a young naturalist and outdoor educator was murdered in Yosemite National Park. But she is still remembered today.
Her spirit lives among 10 high school girls and their two leaders every summer. The young women take a backpacking trip through the very same woods where the ill-fated woman was discovered. Beauty, respect and honor live among them as they travel in the wilderness, while creating lifelong friendships and memories.
The girls are known as the Joie Armstrong Scholars
, named after the 26-year-old who tragically died in July 1999. Armstrong worked as a youth educator for a non-profit company called NatureBridge. She worked and lived at the Yosemite campus before her life was taken, so early. Today, the company remembers her through a scholarship fund, offering ten young women the opportunity to explore the back country for two weeks. This year's scholars recently returned from their trip, sharing their memories over dinner and a campfire.
Nine high school-aged girls were wearing vintage disco shirts, dirty cargo shorts, with socks under their sandals. They stood in front of family and friends around a bonfire just outside Sausalito, Calif. Smiling, they held hands as they re-told their story of adventure and discovery of two weeks in Yosemite.
I quickly realized why these particular girls were selected among the hundreds of applicants. They were bright, smart, outgoing, fun and mature. These weren't your average teenage girls, they were remarkable women. Each one had her own story of growing up. One was a 16-year-old surfer from L.A. starting her freshman year at USC. Another wore thick frame glasses, talking about her past traveling around the world. Despite their different backgrounds they all shared one thing in common: they became sisters traveling in the depths of nature. They discovered the beauty not just of the outside world, but found the beauty within themselves and each other.
The campfire honored an adventuresome woman whose life was tragically taken. It was a celebration, finding that adventuresome spirit in the wilderness, among young women who never got the chance to meet her.