We’re about half way through our trip, and it’s time to move camp for the second time. By this point, the teens have learned enough to attempt the move without any direction. The leaders step back and let the teens figure out what needs to be done and when. Besides a couple requests for minor assistance and despite the constant rain, the group gets the entire camp packed up into the kayaks in good time. Before we launched, their efforts were rewarded with a gift from Ralph, a Cordova fisherman. With the rain pouring down and the sky gray and misty, Ralph’s boat, “Storm,” approached our pebble beach and the captain handed us four beautiful, freshly caught, wild silver salmon. The rain had been really dragging us down, but this invigorated us. One of the trip leaders, Amanda Roberts of the U.S. Department of the Interior, quickly transitioned into an impromptu gutting and cleaning lesson. The kids were so eager to participate, without a single qualm about getting their hands dirty. With our spirits up, we set out for a paddle in the rain to our next camp on Crafton Island.
Our stay on Crafton Island was short but well spent. After arriving and scoping out the kitchen, bathroom, food storage, and tent sites, we set up camp and started dinner. Before Amanda’s filleting lesson, she told the story of the fabled stone soup as an introduction to a sort of potluck style meal. The teens then took over and filleted and cooked the rest of the fish, and they had a blast. Each cooking group had their own filleting and cooking style. We ended up with a feast–tortellini, broccoli, salmon steaks, fillets, and salmon taco meat. We had so much fun. Everybody went to bed well fed and happy.
Our third and final camp move went even more smoothly than the last. The teens were pros by this point. On our way, we stopped at various beaches, as we had been doing for the past week, to pick up beach trash and marine debris. This, like the slug eradication, was a part of the work projects that are a requirement of the trip. Makena and Ger carried a huge piece of styrofoam that looked like a giant marshmallow on their kayak until we got to our next and final campsite at Lighthouse Reserve. Our focus once at Lighthouse Reserve was to accomplish a goal attainable by the end of the trip. The teens each picked something that seemed fun to them, such as to hike, collect drinking water, make and utilize a spear for spear fishing, pick up as much marine debris and possible, make a fishing pole, collect mussels, see a whale, etc. This was one of the coolest days of the trip. Everybody was focused and worked together to accomplish something constructive.
Over the course of our nine-day trip, the kids became really good friends. This was obvious on our water taxi home. Everyone was excited, chatting, and joking around. Compare this to the water taxi to Eshamy Bay when everybody was quiet and nervous, not knowing what to expect. It was evident by the end of the trip that these kids had grown a lot. Yes, many of them had experienced camping before, but this was different. They learned how to do a lot of things that up to this point had been done for them. They were given room to utilize the tools that the trip leaders, Betsi Oliver, William Melton, and Amanda Roberts, had imparted to them, and pushed them to make decisions on their own. The trip leaders were nothing but encouraging and patient. True role models for budding stewards of the Chugach Forest.
One of our last group conversations with the teens was about goal setting. I feel that this was one of the most valuable discussions we had. These teens are at a point or about to arrive at a point where they are starting to think about their futures. The conversation gave them tools for setting and achieving goals, but it was also an exercise in confidence and a push to pursue their goals even though they’re scary.
This trip would not have been possible without the amalgamation of such big, scary goals. The partnership between the U.S. Forest Service, Alaska Geographic, and Chugach Children’s Forest is a melding of vision and resource. Each entity strives to foster or convey conservancy of the land through different means. Combining these visions and resources connects those goals and makes them more feasible. A goal of this kayaking expedition was to expose teens to the wilderness experience and foster a sense of stewardship. The teens that were chosen for this trip were actually nominated by teachers, coaches, counselors and others who recognized a force in them, waiting to be cultivated. Tim Lydon, Chugach National Forest wilderness ranger, recognized this after spending only a few hours with these exceptional teens. He saw the “fire in their bellies.” Their passion and work ethic is evident, and will hopefully lead them to care for, utilize, and appreciate what is theirs.