On August 4, 2023, a 17-year-old boy named Ethan died while participating in the Trails Wilderness Program, a therapeutic wilderness program for troubled youth. Ethan was on a solo backpacking trip when he went missing. His body was found two days later, floating in a river.
The Trails Wilderness Program is a highly respected program with a long history of success. However, Ethan’s death has raised concerns about the safety of these programs and the need for greater regulation.
What is a therapeutic wilderness program?
A therapeutic wilderness program (TWP) is a residential treatment program that uses the wilderness as a therapeutic tool. TEPs are typically designed for troubled youth, such as those who are struggling with substance abuse, mental health issues, or behavioral problems.
TWPs typically involve a combination of individual and group therapy, as well as wilderness activities such as backpacking, camping, and canoeing. The goal of TEPs is to help participants develop self-reliance, coping skills, and a sense of community.
What happened to Ethan?
Ethan was on a solo backpacking trip when he went missing. He was last seen by his group leader on the morning of August 4th. When he did not return to camp that evening, the group leader began a search. Ethan’s body was found two days later, floating in a river.
The cause of Ethan’s death is still under investigation. However, the Trails Wilderness Program has released a statement saying that Ethan’s death was “an accident.” The program also said that Ethan was “properly prepared” for the solo backpacking trip and that all safety protocols were followed.
Concerns about therapeutic wilderness programs
Ethan’s death has raised concerns about the safety of therapeutic wilderness programs. Some critics argue that these programs are too dangerous and that they put participants at risk of serious injury or death.
Others argue that TEPs are not properly regulated and that there is a lack of transparency about how these programs operate. They also argue that TEPs often do not have adequate staff training or safety protocols in place.
The Trails Wilderness Program
The Trails Wilderness Program is a highly respected program with a long history of success. The program has been in operation for over 30 years and has served thousands of youth.
The program has been praised for its effectiveness in helping troubled youth turn their lives around. However, Ethan’s death has raised questions about the safety of the program and the need for greater regulation.
What can be done to prevent future deaths?
There are a number of things that can be done to prevent future deaths in therapeutic wilderness programs:
- Greater regulation: TEPs should be more closely regulated by state and federal agencies. This would help to ensure that these programs have adequate safety protocols in place and that staff are properly trained.
- More transparency: TEPs should be more transparent about how they operate. This includes providing detailed information about their programs, staff training, and safety protocols.
- Better screening: TEPs should better screen participants to ensure that they are physically and mentally capable of participating in the program.
- More staff: TEPs should have more staff on hand to supervise participants and respond to emergencies.
In addition to the above, here are some other specific safety measures that therapeutic wilderness programs can implement:
- Have a qualified medical professional on staff: This is especially important for programs that serve youth with special needs or medical conditions.
- Have a comprehensive risk management plan in place: This plan should identify all potential risks associated with the program and outline steps to mitigate those risks.
- Provide regular safety training to all staff: This training should cover topics such as first aid, CPR, and wilderness safety.
- Have a clear and concise emergency response plan in place: This plan should outline steps to be taken in the event of an accident or injury.
- Maintain regular communication with parents or guardians of participants: This communication should include updates on the participant’s progress and any safety concerns.
By taking these steps, therapeutic wilderness programs can help to create a safer environment for all participants.
Ethan’s death is a tragedy that could have been prevented. By taking the steps outlined above, we can help to ensure that future deaths in therapeutic wilderness programs are avoided.