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Gazette Premium Content A Colorado Springs native travels the nation with free ice cream and a message to love the planet

2 photos photo - National Geographic Young Explorer grant recipient Caleb Kruse talks to children at Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego. Kruse and his team are visiting 17 cities in an ice cream truck, spreading the word of loving and protecting the places you call home. + caption
National Geographic Young Explorer grant recipient Caleb Kruse talks to children at Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego. Kruse and his team are visiting 17 cities in an ice cream truck, spreading the word of loving and protecting the places you call home.
By CELINE WRIGHT celine.wright@gazette.com - Updated: August 1, 2014 at 8:06 pm

Caleb Kruse has always loved to explore. It all started in the woods behind his home in the Black Forest, and has continued into his adult life in many forms - from hiking in the mountains to traveling the world. Now, as a 22-year-old college graduate, he's trying to share that message, and he's doing it in an ice cream truck.

Kruse, his brother Cameron, 24, and friend Jordan Fatke, 25, are on an ice cream truck expedition partially funded by a $5,000 National Geographic Young Explorers Grant, and they are making a stop Saturday near the Kruse's new home in Black Forest. His childhood home was destroyed in the fire in June 2013 .

The team started the trip in San Diego 15 days ago and will end up in New York City on Sept. 23; along the way, they will stop in 16 cities across America.

The team is there to deliver a message: They want children to be environmental stewards: not only exploring what they love, but finding a way to protect it.

"I want you to engage with a spot, and love it," said Caleb Kruse, who graduated from Stanford University with a B.S. in earth systems. He's traveled to four continents and at sea in pursuit of his research. "Kids have tremendous capacity, and we really want to instill that in them."

The team is speaking to children at their various stops, encouraging them to explore the places they love and asking them to sign a pledge to protect those places. They are also giving away ice cream.

It started as a typical college idea - the cross-country road trip - until a friend suggested Kruse sell ice cream along the way to offset the costs.

"The idea stuck with me," Kruse said. "Really, it would be an incredible way to see America."

He continued developing the idea while at Standford. Cameron Kruse and Fatke then got on board, and the three applied for a National Geographic Young Explorers Grant in February. They also raised more than $18,000 through a Kickstarter campaign. Though the team isn't selling ice cream as originally planned, they are giving the conversation starter away (in mango, avocado, guava and a mix of purple yam and coconut), courtesy of sponsor Magnolia Ice Cream, which makes products from tropical fruit purees. Even greener: Their ice cream truck has been retrofitted to run on vegetable oil. (It also is prone to the occasional breakdown.)

The team is documenting the experience and hope to tell their story to a larger audience when the trip is over. And yes, there's been some sightseeing along the way, such as a stop at Glacier National Park in Montana.

Coming home is welcome, although tinged with some sadness. Still, there's hope: a new house that's on the Parade of Homes tour (springsparade.com), which kicked off Friday and runs through Aug. 17. And in December, The Gazette gave the family replicas of Caleb, Cameron and sister Taylor's Best and Brightest plaques, which reward promising high school seniors in the region. The originals were lost in the fire.

"I still feel like Colorado Springs is home," Caleb Kruse said. "I'm excited to be back and see the new house. We'd love if the community can come out."

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