Debbie Croft: Adventure group struggles to overcome Rim fire, government shutdown

Lasting Adventures Inc. had just completed its summer camp program in mid-August of last year. Business for the nonprofit organization was doing well. Phone calls and emails came in continually from folks making reservations. Until Aug. 17, that is – the day the Rim fire started.

Scott Gehrman, founder and executive director of the Yosemite guide service, had been hiking in Yosemite that week. While heading back home on Highway 120, he reached a road block. The highway leading into Groveland was closed because of a fire.

He had already been on the road about two hours. Being familiar with some of the firefighters working the area, he asked for clearance.

“Go for it – see how far you can get,” they told him.

Before reaching the Rim of the World overlook, though, he was stopped again. The fire had jumped the highway, and ashes were falling on his car. Only 10-15 minutes away from Groveland, he had no choice but to turn around. By way of Highway 140, it took another four hours to reach home.

The next six weeks were filled with cancellations. Eventually word came for him and his team to evacuate.

Technically the season wasn’t over yet, but with the fire, the organization lost a chunk of its 2013 business (from mid-August through September). He was able to reschedule one large school trip for October.

But then the government shutdown took place, putting an end to the season altogether.

“That’s when we called it quits,” Gehrman said. “We were hit with a double-whammy, and there was nothing left to do.”

The nonprofit took the loss, and the guides left for home.

Through a generous grant from a nutritional food company, Gehrman was able to keep the budget in the black.

Last year did include one unexpected bright spot. The travel website TripAdvisor gave Lasting Adventures the 2013 Certificate of Excellence award.

“You know, standing in lines at Disneyland, where everyone’s tired, cranky, distracted by their cellphones that’s just not my idea of a real family vacation,” Gehrman explained.

Lasting Adventures gives young people, families, individuals and groups the chance to unplug and unwind with no hassles. The company does all the work and provides all the gear needed for camping and hiking.

And for wedding proposals and honeymoons, Lasting Adventures even furnishes the champagne – chilled in the river, naturally.

The Lasting Adventures philosophy is dedicated to positive youth development using the concepts of adventure based programming and counseling.

The Junior Guide program trains interested young people to become knowledgeable, experienced and credentialed guides themselves.

“We use adventure to develop problem solving and leadership skills,” Gehrman said. “We’re not just giving tours – we’re providing experience through adventure.”

Return clients appreciate the model of directing profits into scholarships.

With its weekly summer camp program, youths from Yosemite’s gateway communities qualify for this year’s 50 off percent offer. Lasting Adventures hopes to attract kids who’ve never been camping in Yosemite due to the expense. Camps run from June 15 through Aug. 15, but space is limited.

After sunset on a typical backpacking trip, as the Lasting Adventures group gathers around the campfire, guides share Yosemite’s history and geology. They draw the connections between landmarks and early pioneers whose legendary names remain with us: Clark Range, Taft Point, Mount Watkins and others. It’s not uncommon for nearby campers to wander over and listen to the stories.

No matter what their age, a week in the high country turns a group of strangers into friends. “I hate the last day of the trip, because that means a whole year of waiting until my next trip,” one teen said.

On the back of one camper’s sweat shirt are the words, “Get High on Granite.”

During the off-season, Gehrman runs the business from Tahoe. But when work is done he heads to the slopes or onto the trails with his canine buddy Yogi Bear.

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