Bay Nature magazineSpring 2020

Bay Nature Local Heroes

2020 Youth Leader Award Winner Avalon Qian Leads Young People into the Outdoors

March 24, 2020
avalon qian
Avalon Qian. (Photo by Andrea Laue)

When Avalon Qian was 12 years old, she went on a two-week backpacking and kayaking trip to Point Reyes led by the outdoor nonprofit GirlVentures. It was the first time she’d slept outside under the stars. Secure in a campsite in the Bay Area’s iconic wilderness, she watched shooting stars streak across the sky. “I remember having this clarity: ‘Wow, shooting stars aren’t rare. You just don’t look at the sky often enough,’” she says. “That really solidified something for me.”

Twelve years later, Qian now works as an instructor and course director at GirlVentures, leading young people on the same kinds of life-changing trips that cemented her own deep affinity for nature. She’s also leveled up her outdoor skills, pursuing rock climbing and kayaking and completing a monthlong backpacking course at the National Outdoor Leadership School, or NOLS, in Wyoming.

Between summer stints at GirlVentures, Qian excelled at soccer, earned a B.A. in anthropology from Bard College, and moved to Beijing to attend a language immersion school. At GirlVentures, she spent last summer directing the Redwood Adventure course, a weeklong backpacking and kayaking camp for girls and gender-nonconforming youth entering sixth and seventh grade. She’s learned something, too, about how to translate her own passion for the next generation. “I think the biggest thing with kids: they respond to honesty,” she says. “It’s less about making them enjoy it and just more about letting them see how much I enjoy it and see if it speaks to them too.” 

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