Tulare County nonprofit Latitude 36 promotes community service, appreciation of the great outdoors offers opportunities for people to explore nearby forests and mountains
VISALIA – The Sierra Nevada Mountains are a hop, skip and a jump from Tulare County’s many cities and towns, yet a large number of Central Valley residents have not even scratched the surface of the natural beauty right in our backyard. Local nonprofit Latitude 36, or Lat 36, is trying to change that.
Lat 36 wants to create opportunities for people to get outdoors and explore the natural wonders around us. Those opportunities begin with their ongoing “3inSix Challenge.”
“The idea is that you can do the three hikes in six weeks at your own pace, or we have it set up where a group of us are going in that six weeks,” Mario Zamora, one of the founding members of Lat 36 and a partner at the law firm of Griswold LaSalle Cobb Dowd & Gin LLP in Hanford said.
The 3inSix Challenge comprises three 12-plus mile hikes. The first hike was on July 24. The group took on the Lakes Trail, which totaled 14 miles there and back. There are two more upcoming outings on Aug. 21 and Sept. 4.
On Aug. 21, they will hike the Alta Peak Trail. This effort will total 14.9 miles. It is located inside the Sequoia Kings Canyon National Park, so participants are responsible for their own park fees. This trail starts near the Wolverton Picnic Area.
The Sept. 4 adventure will take hikers on the Bear Creek Trail. The group will meet at the John M Nelson Conservancy. It is in the Sequoia National Forest but outside the national park boundaries, so attendees do not have to pay to enter.
To participate in all three hikes, Lat 36 requests an entry fee of $100. For those who complete all three hikes, they will receive an embroidered patch for the hikes they complete, a fourth patch if they complete all three, a T-shirt, and food and drinks at a barbecue that will take place on Sept. 4 following the Bear Creek Trail hike. The barbecue will be held at the John M Nelson Conservancy picnic area. Lat 36 will provide everything for the barbecue, but people can bring their own food.
Individuals can also pay $36 and pick and choose the hikes they want to do. The website also states that those interested can join for free if they choose. Zamora said the hiking events are not primarily about raising money—although funds do support the organization and its events—but about encouraging people to get outdoors.
“It’s not a money-maker for us. We generally do them because we’re going hiking anyway. We’d like to raise awareness, especially for people who are around here,” Zamora said.
The Lat 36 group has met people on the trails who have traveled from around the world to explore the Sierras, but people who live a few hours away have never visited, Zamora said.
“There’s just so many people who have never been to the park or they went once when they were a kid, and they’ve never been back.”
They want people in Tulare County and surrounding areas to have that experience because they believe getting outside and into nature is good for the mind and body and builds confidence in people. Zamora said these events are also for those people who want to go hiking but don’t know where to start.
“Once you get people up there…they say, ‘Okay, I get it. It’s not so intimidating.’ There are roads, and there’s pavement if I want to go a little bit easier,” Zamora said. “Yeah, you can go way back in the backcountry and on the highest peak, but you can also go to the market that’s up there and buy a soda. So, it’s just more getting people exposed to that and taking the steps that they decided to go on their own later.”
But if you are a beginning hiker or completing all three hikes seems too challenging, Zamora said the group does shorter hikes, too.
“We call them family hikes, and those are introductory type hikes,” Zamora said. “We just did one maybe three or four weeks ago, and those are very easy. I think it was maybe a mile and a half roundtrip. Something that just gets you out. You get to see some cool stuff. And kids come.”
The group will also be doing Crystal Caves, and anyone is welcome to join them.
As for equipment for the hikes, Zamora said participants do not need much if they go with the Lat 36 group. Zamora recommends a good pair of shoes and a backpack to carry snacks and water. Lat 36 provides the rest, including sunscreen, bug repellent, first aid kits and emergency preparedness equipment.
While Lat 36 exists to promote the enjoyment and conservation of nature, it is not only about the outdoors. The organization also exists to encourage community service, promote personal growth, build camaraderie and foster empathy. They do that by donating food and gift cards to needy families during Thanksgiving. They provide gifts for families at Christmas time. The organization supports other causes in the Tulare County, too. They recently donated money to HOW (Helping One Woman) and the John M Nelson Conservancy.
They also offer scholarships to students in Tulare County. In 2019, Lat 36 awarded its first scholarship to an El Diamante High School student. In 2020, the group was able to increase its scholarship amount and award a Porterville High School student. For 2021, Lat 36 gave scholarships to two students, one from El Diamante and another from Harmony Magnet Academy in Strathmore. The organization’s goal is to increase the number of students they support each year. In addition to an academic component, one of the main criteria for the scholarship is having a link to the outdoors. But that link can be very broad, Zamora said.
“We’ve had some specific ones where they said my goal is to go to college, major in outdoor sciences, and be a park ranger,” Zamora said. “But we’ve also had people say I’m interested in farming. That is close enough to us that we would consider them as eligible for the scholarship.”
When it comes to what Zamora looks forward to about their nature excursions, he said he loves seeing who shows up and watching them experience the natural wonders for the first time.
“Yeah, you can go see General Sherman, and it’s cool. But every tour bus is going to see it. But when you go back into the backcountry, and you see some of these lakes that are clearer than anything you’ve ever seen, it’s just amazing. Pictures don’t do it justice. You can’t drive there. It takes effort to do it. And it’s completely worth it,” Zamora said.
Anyone who would like to participate in an outdoor event with Lat 36 or donate can contact the organization at www.lat3six.org. To register for the 3inSix Challenge, visit www.lat3six.org/challenge.