Wendel Withrow, shown with Memnosyne Institute cofounder Joshua Frenk, is hosting a fundraising hike March 28, benefiting GreenSource DFW, Cedar Ridge Preserve and Withrow's new nonprofit, The Explorers Academy USA. Photo courtesy of the Memnosyne Institute.
March 25, 2015
By Julie Thibodeaux
Wendel Withrow is a well-known leader in the local green community as chair of the Dallas Sierra Club, author of a popular camping guide and Green Source DFW board member.
Now the Carrollton attorney is taking on a new role as co-founder of a nonprofit that aims to introduce young adults to the treasures of our natural heritage and the joys of outdoor exploration.
The Explorers Academy USA, targeting youths ages 18-22, kicks off with a fundraising hike March 28, at 10 a.m. at Cedar Ridge Preserve in Dallas. Proceeds from the hike will be split between the nonprofit, Cedar Ridge Preserve and Green Source DFW.
Above, Cedar Ridge Preserve, Courtesy of DallasTrinityTrails.blogspot.com.
The idea for The Explorers Academy has been been simmering on Withrow’s back burner for many years.
A lifelong outdoor enthusiast, the Dallas native grew up taking camping trips with his family. His father was a history teacher who would load up a school bus of students and head to Colorado. “These kids would be getting out of Dallas for the first time,” he said.
Over the years, Withrow noticed the lack of diversity in his travels.
“When you go to major national parks and even state parks, the number of minorities is about one percent.”
He speculates the cost of travel has kept many from lower economic backgrounds from seeing these iconic natural sites, however he said there’s also a cultural divide.
“I believe it’s also a lack of awareness that those places exist and a lack of tradition,” he said.
Due to segregation in the 1940s, '50s and '60s, cross country travel was still risky for minorities. They might be refused a meal or service at a gas station – especially in the South.
“[Travel] was simply was not an option.”
As a result, there is a segment of the population who has been left behind in the back to nature movement.
Withrow said while there are many organizations dedicated to getting young children and teens outside, there’s a shortage of agencies helping older youth.
With co-founders Dallas area attorneys Anne Rowe and Michael Clay, he plans to reach out to local community colleges to enlist members of that age group in the coming weeks. Withrow expects to grow the program “organically” in Dallas-Fort Worth, with ambitions to expand internationally. Immediate plans include hosting a series of day hikes and launching the organization's website.
He also hopes to enlist sponsors, to not only help with funding but ride along on the trips to state and national parks, serving as mentors.
He said there’s no better bonding experience than group travel.
“What better way for people to get to know each than being outdoors together?” said Withrow. “It’s the great equalizer.”
He said the Explorers Academy is all about inclusion and bringing different age groups and parts of society together while cultivating environmental awareness.
“I want to do my tiny part.”
The Explorers Academy & Green Source DFW Benefit Hike
When: March 28, 10 a.m.
Where: Cedar Ridge Preserve, 7171 Mountain Creek Pkwy, Dallas
More info on the hike.
Watch the Explorers Academy video: