When I was told I’d be helping lead a Chugach Children’s Forest expedition of high school students into the wilderness, I was more than a little nervous, to be honest. I hadn’t really been around kids that age, since I was a kid that age, and I was going out on this expedition with the goal of getting these kids excited about slugs of all creatures. However, as it turned out, I had nothing to worry about because it was one of the best weeks I’ve had this summer.
Let me backtrack. I traveled to Anchorage two days before the trip. It was short visit in Anchorage, but felt like a whirlwind. Early that morning I jumped on the ferry for the first time and was lucky enough to see a pod of orcas swimming nearby. Once I arrived in Whittier, Betsi Oliver, the Youth Programs Coordinator of the Chugach Children’s Forest, greeted me and right away we were on a shuttle to make the 11:30AM tunnel opening. Once in Anchorage, I explored the Alaska Geographic office for a while and then I got a lift to the Anchorage House where I’d be spending the next two nights. I met with lead instructors Nancy Pfeiffer and Fredrik Norrsell and the trip documentarian Angela Castillo and as soon as I met them, I felt all my anxious concerns dissipate.
Nancy and Fredrik are the most intrepid of explorers I’ve ever met. They’ve traveled all over the world on various kayaking, mountaineering and climbing expeditions. Their knowledge of Prince William Sound is boundless. Last summer they kayaked into the wilderness with only condiments and spices. They had to catch and gather all their food throughout the trip. The full story of their summer adventure is coming out in August on Adventure Kayak Magazine!
Angela was such a joy to be around. She always had her camera ready to capture an epic moment. I asked her so many questions about her photography equipment and background, and she was very gracious and happy to answer them all. She spent part of her growing up in Anchorage and has spent time working at Katmai National Park. She had so many insightful observations about Anchorage as a city and about youth in the outdoors.
Which brings me to the students.
The Chugach Children’s Forest introduces diverse, young Alaskans to their wild backyard. Despite the abundance of wild places in Alaska, many Alaskan youth have never ventured outside their local communities to explore Alaska’s vast expanse of public lands. The Chugach Children’s Forest EMPOWERS and ENABLES Alaskan youth to explore these wild places that are so close, yet so far.
I have tremendous respect and admiration for the Chugach Children’s Forest. During the two days I spent in Anchorage before the trip I got to see a brief glimpse of the amount of planning and organization that goes into a trip. I can’t even begin to describe how much work goes into a trip and all this work goes into the sole purpose of providing students with a unique and life-changing adventure. When I was a child, I was fortunate that my parents valued taking me into the outdoors. I learned to have fun and get comfortable with being uncomfortable. It’s shaped me into the person I am today, which is why I think programs like the Chugach Children’s Forest should continue to thrive.
As much as I know the students were learning, they were teaching me more. They told me stories about eating muktuk, making kayaks and paper birds, eating wild herbs and berries, learning to play the ocarina, living in different parts of Alaska (as far away as Nome!) All of them were coming from such diverse backgrounds and places. Their energy was contagious and they laughed easily. They were so incredibly adventurous as well. During one hike, we had to scramble some rocks on the edge of the water, but they were all fearless! I really enjoyed talking to them. A few students were very action-oriented and are a part of the Student Conservation Association and Alaska Youth for Environmental Action.
The Chugach Children’s Forest strives to get kids curious and excited to be outdoors so that they can become stewards of Alaska’s wilderness. My week on this one trip with these students went by too fast, but in the short amount of time I was there, I saw that these kids were already leaders.
Learn more about the Chugach Children’s Forest.