In a time where students are spending more and more of their free time attached to one electronic gadget or another, six Alaska Native teens are spending nearly a month outdoors in the Talkeetna area, building a trail near the Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge.
It’s not often a story takes me to a trailside picnic, but that’s exactly where I found myself early Thursday afternoon. Six students and two crew leaders joked and told stories over a lunch of fruit, granola, and dried salmon. They are here as part of a Student Conservation Association program. Part of S-C-A’s mission “is to build the next generation of conservation leaders,” and the organization provides conservation projects for teens between fifteen and nineteen years old across the country, as Field Leader Trillium Swanson explains.
“Nationwide, right now, I would bet that there are crews out in forty-nine of fifty states, so every day that we wake up, somewhere across the country–everywhere across the country–other teenagers are doing the same thing, which I like to think about a lot.”
The S-C-A National Crews are normally formed of students from across the country, but Swanson says this case is different.
“Funding for this project comes through CIRI, and all of the teenagers participating in the project are shareholders in the CIRI Corporation.”
Jared Afcan recently graduated from high school in Wasilla, and plans to attend college for business. He describes what a typical day on the trail is like.
“Pretty much just dig through the ground and make a trail–like a different type of trail– to lead water out. Right now we’re filling up this trench right here with sand, and there’s a lot of cutting of roots. By the end of the day, you just feel really good about yourself–feel like you completed something.”
Trillium Swanson says that this year’s students have made great progress in what has been one of the hottest summers on record
“We are running a thirty day crew, so that means we have about three weeks to finish our project. Our schedule allows for a four day recreation trip for them to go out and see some of the area they’ve been working in. What’s cool is that these kids actually finished the same length of trail as two past years’ projects did in one week, as opposed to three weeks…so we’ve been able to get a lot more done than we ever though we could.”
The crew has six work days before the end of their project to finish one-and-a-half loop trail near the Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge. I spoke with some of the other student participants, and while they weren’t sure if a career in forestry or conservation was for them, they said the work was very rewarding.