Many Boy Scouts troops feature regular whitewater river rafting for good reasons: to teach boating skills, introduce kids to outdoor adventure and instill environmental ethics.

Zach Hepp, now an Eagle Scout and High Point University graduate, remembers rafting when he was 13 years old, a day trip on the Nantahala River in North Carolina.

“We worked together to reach our goal, and I think we were all closer because of it,” he says.

Hepp’s experiences camping, hiking and rafting with his troop have left him an avid outdoorsman. He now gets his river fix in a kayak, but he credits his lifelong appreciation of the environment to some of the outdoor experiences he had as a Scout.

In addition to Boy Scouts, groups like NOLS and Outward Bound teach students about the local wildlife that come to the river, the water dynamics at play and the Leave No Trace ethics required to keep the area pristine—everything from responsible disposal of dishwater to scouring a campsite clean.

“Most people think the whitewater stuff is fun but also find that the river is aesthetically beautiful,” says Evan Horn, a NOLS instructor. “They develop a bigger-picture environmental care ethic.

L.A. high schooler Stephanie Guerrera says, “We’re constantly being told to take care of our environment, but we’re never given the chance to go out and do a hike.”

Clearly, river rafting immerses kids and teens deep in the outdoors.

“I think it’s important to build this relationship with nature,” Guerrera says. “It’s easier to care for things you have a relationship with.”