Outdoorsman: Glen Milam

For Glen Milam, developing young people is much more than just theory. It takes him out of doors—and on the road—for weeks at a time.

Glen’s a man of many hats. He leads his home church’s Pathfinder club, a recreational ministry focused on building kids mentally, spiritually, and physically, with a strong outdoor component. He volunteers as the Pathfinder coordinator for all of North America, overseeing resource development. He directs the Mt. Aetna Camp retreat center in Maryland, where he helps lead outdoor education for hundreds of young people each year. And five times a year, he and his wife, Darlene, volunteer to lead educational road trips to historical sites and natural wonders. 

The trips started when Glen noticed that his church’s local elementary school provided little in the way of academic field trips. “We decided we had lots of experience in this,” Glen says, “so we suggested that if they were interested we would put study tours together for fifth and sixth grade once a year, and seventh and eighth grade once a year. And so we would actually do four trips, so in four years they go four different places.”

The Willow Brook Pathfinder club on its 2013 summer road trip, visiting the Genesee River at Letchworth State Park in western New York.

The Milams’ road trips take kids everywhere from New England sites of the American Revolution to Philadelphia Fort Summer, and Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, site of the Wright Brother’s first successful flight. As they travel, they provide kids with extensive journals with background information and written activities, such as “If you were a 16-year-old soldier at the Battle of New Market writing home”what would you say?” Daily worships explore concepts related to the day’s activities.

“Over the four years they get a pretty good introduction to American history,” Glen says. “It really goes back to our belief with our children in experiential learning. To understand current geopolitics we believe you need to understand our history, and it’s much easier if you actually go to the places and stand on the spot where it happened, sit in their rocking chair or whatever it happened to be.”

Club campout over Harpers Ferry, WV.

As director of the Willow Brook Pioneers Pathfinder club, Glen seeks to involve teens andpreteens in experiential learning, while forging long-lasting connections. The Pioneers enjoy half a dozen weekend campouts a year, as well as their own road trips each summer, exploring national parks and other sites where they can go canoeing, caving, boating, hiking, or otherwise exploring. That may sound like a full schedule, but the Milams would invest even more time if they could. “Ninety minutes in the church sometime during the week is not when you make the connection,” Glen says. “The road trips give us a chance to explore nature and learn history. To go canoeing and caving. You spend ten days together every year, when you’re done you’re family. You see how people look after they haven’t showered for four days and how grumpy they get and picky they are about food. But you build camaraderie and intense relationships. People see the real you. There can’t be any fake part of this. Young people and older people crave genuine, honest open relationships. This gives all of us the chance to experience it. It’s not one-sided.” 

Alongside Joel Springer, director of outdoor education for the Adventist church’s Chesapeake conference, Glen runs 16 weeks of outdoor education a year. They could save time by bringing in larger groups, but they believe that would defeat the purpose. “Wilderness involves solitude,” says Glen, “so we limit our groups to 24 kids.”

Glen believes strongly in the concept of Nature Deficit Disorder. “It’s not a clinical definition, but kids are experiencing long-term debilitating effects from not playing outside,” Glen says. “They’re sitting indoors staring at a screen. The book Last Child in the Woods describes how if you take the average kid with ADHD outside and let them explore in the woods for 3 days, they won’t need medication. We do outdoor education and by the second day there’s a change in those kids. It’s something they crave. On the third day, ninety percent of them will say, ‘Can’t we stay longer?’”