Declan’s Experience Clearing Land for the Kent Land Trust

Last week, I volunteered with the Kent Land Trust in Kent, Connecticut.  The Kent Land Trust owns a couple hundred acres they have been working to clear of invasive species for the past six years.  This year they only have 60 more acres to clear and they hope that this project will end before the new year.  Over the winter they had hired a contractor to go in with a brush hog and clear the big open areas, but he was unable to get up around tree trees and the bigger rocks.  It was in these areas that we were working to clear by hand.  I was one of probably 15 volunteers there that day.  We all arrived, heard the back story I relayed above, ate a muffin, and then we headed out into the woods with our tools to work (I brought loppers and a “swedish axe”).  The next few hours of service were weird in that had only one, short conversation the whole time, the rest of the time it was silent (except for the buzzing of chainsaws) work.  I started out going around to a bunch of different trees and ridding them of vines and little weeds around the base.  Eventually I found one area and started to work solely there.  In that area, I was working on a tree when one cut led to a specific type of plant with thorns whipping around and hitting me in the face.  After that I spent my time attacking that specific type of plant.  Luckily it was one of the more invasive species there, so my targeting led to a lot of land getting cleared.

– Declan

Declan’s Summer Service in Alaska

Restoring a Trail in the Tongass N.F., Juneau, Alaska
Declan Smith
I, along with 11 other high schoolers, traveled to Juneau Alaska, where we helped the Juneau Ranger District restore a trail. The trail we were restoring was the trail to the Windfall Lake Cabin. This cabin is the most popular cabin in the Tongass so the trail sees lots of traffic, which leads to the erosion and widening of the trail. Our job was to clear underbrush off of the trail, keep the trail to about 2 feet wide, and to clear muddy areas of the “organic”, muddy soil and fill in those areas with cobble and sand. To fix the muddy areas of the trail we would use McLoeds, which are like rakes combined with garden hoes, to clear the 3-4 inches of thick, muddy “organics”. At the same time people in an area called “the pit” would be collecting sand and stones. “The pit” was an area out of view of the trail where people would use pulaskis and shoves to gather the stones and sand. These materials were then brought to the newly cleared 2-foot wide trench and we would put down cobble, the stones, to help that section drain better, and then cover the stones with sand. To clear the trail of underbrush some of us got to use machete-like weed-whips to clear the edges of the trail of prickers, especially Devil’s Club, and other plants that were spilling onto the trail. We would also use a hand-saw to saw off low hanging tree branches that bikers could run into. By the end of our time working we had cleared the mud for 1/5 of a mile of trail and had “weed-whipped” 2 miles of trail.
Since all of our work was concentrated on a part of the trail that was on a small island created by two rivers we would camp at the tip of the river by night. We had 5 tents, 3 for the girls and 2 for the guys, and we packed in all the food we wanted and cook it all on little camping stoves on the beach. And since Juneau is very far north we would enjoy nights that stayed light until around 2 A.M. hanging out and playing cards. All in all the trip was a great way to earn community service hours.

YPI: The GO Project

Declan Smith

The social issue my group and I researched was the quality of public youth education in New York City. We found that the New York City public schools are not where they need to be. We found that an astounding 354 received a C rating, 79 received a D rating, and 32 received an F rating. We thought that these numbers were too high and the children in these schools need to be helped. We did research on different ways to help, and finally ended up with supplemental classes. Next we did research on different non-profit organizations and decided to try and help the Grace Opportunity Project, or the GO Project.

The GO Project is a small non-profit that started when a Grace Church School partitioner and a Grace parent saw the low quality of the public schools and how nice the private schools were. They decided to make a group that taught or tutored children enrolled a few local public on Saturdays. These were underprivileged students that were doing sub-average in sub-average schools. The GO Project in a donated classroom in Grace and a $3,000 grant. Today the GO Project uses classrooms in four local private schools and serves around 330 students on both Saturdays and for five weeks in the summer.
I think that the most part of the project was the site visit. There I saw a group a normal children who are spending half their Saturdays and 5 weeks of their summer trying to better their education. These kids were no different that any other kids, yet they were dedicated to doing better in their classes. And the fact that they perform better in their normal classes gives me a sense of extreme reward.

Now that YPI is over I still can continue to help these children. On Saturdays I can volunteer and help with the classes. Another way I can keep helping these kids is to intern with GO over the summer and teach the kids for 5 weeks during the summer. Finally yet another way to help out these children is to spread the word about them, the GO Project and try and get people to help.