Click to listen to the full audio story:
Noa Otto is part of a group of 17-20 year olds that have enlisted with the Student Conservation Association for a summer internship. Right now they’re working on the University Lake trail, an Anchorage dog park that is surrounded by outlying bike trails.
“Today we are retreading trail, and then we’re focusing on putting gravel down on spots that are kind of hazardous with water,” says Otto. “And preventing people from walking on certain parts to help prevent erosion of the bank.”
“It’s a 10 week program. The first two weeks we camped out at APU and worked on trails at the Campbell tract. And now we have three weeks here working with the muni, and then we have a four week section of work where we’re in Spencer Glacier and we’ll actually be camping out there.”
Sara Boario works for the Chugach National Forest and helps run the Youth Employment Program responsible for assembling Noa’s summer crew.
“Every year we have a range of opportunities for young people. Some of them are purely educational based, some of them are volunteer projects and then there’s these internships or crew career experiences like the conservations corps crews,” says Boario.
The program’s main focus is to get these young people connected to the outdoors. Boario says those kinds of connections are becoming harder for Anchorage youth to make as the city grows and develops.
“Once you’re in an urban environment there is so much going on that you really have to create those opportunities, and I think that’s what we’re attempting to do here is create those opportunities for young people to get out beyond Anchorage and get out beyond their communities,” says Boario.
And Boario says you might be surprised by how many of these Alaskan youths have been sheltered from the outdoors, despite being completely surrounded by it.
“For some of these young people it really is the first time they’ll get south of Potters Marsh or south of the Dimond Center. And we’ve heard young people say ‘I’ve never seen a whale before’ or ‘I’ve never been on a hike, and I’ve learned a lot about myself, my will power and my resiliency.’”
Though some of the youths entering the summer internship haven’t spent much time in the wilderness, Alex Zimmerman was raised in it.
“I grew up in North Pole, my favorite thing was insects. My dad even built me my own bug net and my own little bug jar so I’d go and catch butterflies and grasshoppers,” says Zimmerman.
Zimmerman has been on her career path for a long time, and hopes to become a naturalist some day. She can’t wait to complete the Spencer Glacier trail with her crew next month.
“I’m actually super excited about it; it’s like a land mark in my life. So even when I’m 50 years old I can go back and see that it’s still there, because it will be there forever.”
Working outdoors was an easy sell for Zimmerman, but she says being a part of the Student Conservation Association has pushed her to do more, like being a leader and taking on responsibility.
“I kind of feel like I’ve gone from being a younger girl to being a lady,” says Zimmerman. “It’s amazing what I’m learning from these people and it makes me think, ‘Man, when I’m their age I want to be able to have done the things they’ve done.’ So I’m super excited to see where my career is going to go within the next few years.”