LITTLE MOUNTAIN — The trails on the south side of Little Mountain were busy with hikers Tuesday, most of whom were Conway School fifth graders.

“This is fun,” 11-year-old Juan Pablo Vera said as he made his way along the trail in a group led by Danny Pickering of the Mount Vernon Parks Foundation.

As the students from Conway School’s three fifth grade classes hiked, some said they’d never done a hike before, while others told their friends to avoid stinging nettles.

When Pickering stopped the group for a water break, he encouraged the students to look and listen for wildlife.

“You’ll hear more birds than you’ll see,” he said. “It’s amazing the song you can hear up here.”

This spring marked the Mount Vernon Parks Foundation’s third year leading hikes on Little Mountain with area fifth graders.

While the first two years included only students in the Mount Vernon School District, this year the program expanded to include Conway School and Mount Vernon Christian School.

“We had a lot of educators on our board and thought it was really important to expose kids to how good it feels to do this kind of thing outside,” Pickering said of the program’s start in 2017. “And we kind of wanted to show off Little Mountain, too, because we’re pretty proud of it.”

An outdoor field trip has long been a tradition for Conway School fifth graders, but this year was the first time students were brought to Little Mountain Park for a hike.

“It’s a way to be outside and show them the opportunities they have right here in their backyard,” fifth grade teacher Lisa LaRocque said. “Some kids hadn’t even been up here ... seen this view and understood they could see the water (in the distance).”

Students got to see the Skagit Valley from the North Viewpoint on Little Mountain, some asking LaRocque and the other educators where La Conner or other area landmarks were.

Physical education teacher Kim Turner said she sees value in exposing students to healthy activities they can do outside of school, whether over the coming summer or later in life.

“I try to teach the kids lifetime fitness, so I love things like this,” she said while hiking with the students. “Fitness isn’t just organized sports ... you’re probably not going to be doing competitive soccer when you’re 45, but you can go on a hike with your family.”

The Mount Vernon Parks Foundation will lead its last fifth grade hike for the year Tuesday, with Mount Vernon’s Washington Elementary School.

Pickering said the organization hopes to continue expanding the program to include additional schools in the years ahead.

“We really feel strongly that doing fun things outside is good for you,” he told the students at the start of their nearly 6-mile trek. “It helps your mind, it helps your body, it helps your mood ... and this is right in your backyard.”

— Reporter Kimberly Cauvel: 360-416-2199, kcauvel@skagitpublishing.com, Twitter: @Kimberly_SVH, Facebook.com/bykimberlycauvel

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