This summer, I had the opportunity to work in Northern Alabama for a month on a trail crew with the Student Conservation Association. The SCA is an organization that works with high school students as well as young adults and military veterans to revamp and restore the country’s natural spaces. I was placed on a crew in Bridgeport, Alabama through the SCA’s “National Crews” program. We spent a month at Russell Cave National Monument working on a mile-long nature trail, where we cleared invasive brush, tore up old asphalt, and filled in potholes with new asphalt. In exchange for service to the park, we were allowed to camp on the park grounds, and use one of the ranger houses to take showers in. Additionally, the SCA provided for our food and transportation around Alabama. The crew consisted of 6 other students and two leaders, all of whom came from different areas of the country.
I decided to apply for a crew with the SCA because I wanted a hands-on experience with conservation and sustainability outside of work I’d done previously. At first, I was a bit hesitant to go to Alabama, because I was worried about the heat and bugs down there; however, the experience turned out to be way better than I expected. We met at the Chattanooga Airport, and drove to Russell Cave National Monument, which was about an hour across the Tennessee/Alabama border. We got Russell Cave, which had about 300 acres of land surrounding the different cave openings. The cave itself, however, was more than seven miles long. We were never allowed to go into the cave itself, because there were bats with White-Nose Syndrome, which humans would spread to other bats without Haz-Mat suits. That night, we cooked our first meal, and got started working on the nature trail the next day. Every subsequent weekday we would wake up around 5:30-6 and start working on the trail around 7:30. We’d finish up around 3pm, and go back to the campsite to shower and prepare dinner. Each night, we would do different activities like play cards, or drive to a nearby waterfall. On the weekends, we’d often take trips to go on hikes or visit other bodies of water. My favorite place to visit was Foster Falls, which was a 70 foot waterfall a short drive away. We also got to visit Little River Canyon for a day, which was the bigger sister park to Russell Cave. Some of the other night trips included a drive-in movie, and a concert in Chattanooga. Our biggest trip was for three days to Smoky Mountain National Park, where we camped on a campground and went on a 10-mile hike up the mountains.
While the work on the trail wasn’t the most exciting at times, it was certainly rewarding to finish the trail on the last day of work, and take a last walkthrough and see what we had all accomplished in the past month. Throughout the trip I learned a lot about hard work, as well as staying cohesive with a small group. Overall, I truly enjoyed my time with the SCA, and would definitely recommend the experience to any future students.