Ben’s Student Conservation Association Crew

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.

www.thesca.org

River Restoration and Student Climate and Conservation Congress (Sc3)

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This June, I attended the Student Climate and Conservation Congress (Sc3) for a second year in a row. Sc3 is a six day conference at the National Conservation Training Center in Sheperdstown, West Virginia. It focuses on teaching high school students about different environmental issues that we may not have been aware of, and helping us think of ways that we can be active in our communities. Even more students showed up this year compared to last year (there were about 140!) The students were again from all over the country, and a few were international. Sc3 is run by the Green Schools Alliance (GSA), a worldwide network of schools that try to be environmentally friendly and active. Friends NYC is part of the GSA, and we participate in some of their environmental challenges each year.
There were again many conservationist speakers this year, and we got to listen to a few people each day. Among the speakers was Pete Dominick, a comedian and talk show host on Sirus XM radio returned for the week, and broadcasted his show each morning from the National Conservation Training Center. We also got to listen to the author of “Energy,” Tom Butler, Historian Doug Brinkley, author of “Environmental Debt” Amy Larkin, and creator of the NYC truck farm, Ian Cheney. Each of these speakers had a unique interest in conservation, and their presentations were interactive and kept us involved throughout. Ian Cheney showed a short movie about how he took a pickup truck and grew a garden in the back, while he drove around NYC selling his produce to local restaurants. I thought this movie showed how localized food products can be distributed in a city as big as New York, which was very powerful.
We also took a kayaking trip down the Potomac River, which was a great community building experience, and we even had a moment of silence while on the river, and I thought that was a really great reflection of the Quaker value that I am so used to at Friends. I had the opportunity to be a part of a TV broadcast/workshop with Pete Dominick and a NASA Scientist, who studies plant photosynthesis from satellites looking down on Earth.
Throughout the conference, we toured around different discussion groups, where we spent time talking about an issue before presenting on it in front of the conference. I chose the Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle group. We watched some of the movie “Bag It” and talked about ways to educate people on how to recycle different number plastics. On the last day, we did a recycling skit for our presentation, which was really fun.
For the second year in a row, one of my favorite parts about going to Sc3 was the extensive network of people whom I met. There were plenty of new students and the conference, and some old friends that returned. While there were kids from Miami to San Francisco, I was able to connect with some peers from schools around NYC, and we are hoping we can meet this year to talk about environmental issues at our schools. I became a GSA intern while at the conference, so I will be blogging at greenschoolsalliance.wordpress.com throughout the year, with around 30 other interns. I also got to talk more to Peg Watson, the President of the Green Schools Alliance, and I hope she will be able to speak at Friends sometime this year. I had another great week at Sc3, and I am excited at the possibility of returning next year.

Sc3 Summer 2013

KayakThis past June, I attended the Student Climate and Conservation Congress (Sc3), which is a weeklong congress for kids in Junior High and High School. The congress is located near Shepherdstown, West Virginia at the National Conservation Training Center (NCTC). Sc3 is run by the Green Schools Alliance, a global network of schools working together to educate the world about environmental issues. The goal of Sc3 is to “empower outstanding student environmental leaders with the skills, knowledge, and tools, necessary to address natural resource conservation challenges and better serve their schools and communities.” Nearly one hundred and fifty teachers and students from around the country attended this conference, and I’m sure that every one of them left with the ability to change their community.

When I first learned about this conference, my one reservation was that I thought “what if it’s just a bunch of tree-huggers wanting to protest for climate change?” However, the conference was far from that. The amount of diversity found at Sc3 was amazing. Kids from both urban and rural societies in dozens of different states participated. Just walking around the NCTC campus was inspiring on its’ own.
About half of the conference was focused on lectures by various speakers. These weren’t ordinary boring classroom lectures, but engaging speakers who interacted with  us throughout. I consider myself to be more focused on the science aspect of the environment than anything else, but every talk that was given sparked a whole new interest in me — whether it was Comedian Pete Dominick talking about how the media portrays news, or PBS host Carl Safina reading excerpts from one of his many books written about parts of the ocean. When we weren’t listening to talks, most of our time was spent in project groups. At the beginning of the week, we roamed around to different rooms in the NCTC, and in each room there would be a discussion about a topic related to the environment. Each topic was led by teachers who came from schools equally as diverse as the kids. Some of the 10 groups I participated in were transportation, food, and government/media. Eventually, we decided which discussion we liked to participate in the most, and “Locked-In” to it. For the rest of the week, we worked with our project group to create a presentation for the last day. I chose to lock-in to the government/media group. We decided to put together a video that promotes action on environmental issues, and we interviewed many of the Sc3 speakers. In addition, we made a toolkit that each student could take home after we presented, and use as guidelines for taking action in their own community, and talking to local government representatives.

Many of the students I met at Sc3 I am still in contact with, and talk to about various sustainability issues.  I also participated in campfires each night, a beautiful kayaking trip down the Potomac river, and a service project in Sheperdstown where we cleaned out invasive plant species from a stream. There were even workshops varying from learning about bats to watching bees under a microscope. Going into this congress, I never thought that I would come out with such a plethora of knowledge about a topic that seemed fairly simple to me before. The environment isn’t about everything that’s green — there is much more to it than that. During the congress, I had the opportunity to talk to Margaret Watson, President and Founder of the Green Schools Alliance. One of the main questions she had for anyone was “how can you make a positive conservation change in your community?” Thanks to my attendance at Sc3, I feel empowered to make that change.

I hope that I will be able to share the video my project group created with our Friends community, and figure out how we can take our own action through initiatives like writing to a representative about NYC sustainability, or protesting laws that aren’t helpful to the environment. I would also like to note that my participation at the Sc3 was made possible through the Friends Student Summer Scholarship, and I want to give a huge thanks to the donors.

A link to many photos I took while at Sc3 can be found here.