Student Conservation Association and American Eagle Outfitters will engage 120 students from colleges across the country in meaningful hands-on conservation service at two of our most environmentally challenged national parks: Everglades National Park and Joshua Tree National Park. Lauren Freedman Whittlesey participated in the Alternative Spring Break (ASB) program with SCA and AEO in 2010.
By Lauren Freedman Whittlesey
Two years after my Alternative Spring Break trip with SCA, I still can’t shut up about it. I was at the end of my first year of graduate school in Manhattan. I got most of my exercise running down the block for the bus or hastily jogging up nine flights of stairs when the elevator at school was broken. I was afraid I might forget what stars looked like. Wanting to try something different, I applied for SCA’s Alternative Spring Break at the Grand Canyon. I was offered a spot and immediately accepted, and then remembered I didn’t even own a sleeping bag.
Luckily, I was able t0 borrow a sleeping bag. I rounded up the warmest gear I could find and was off to the Grand Canyon. I spent the coldest nights of my life huddled around a campfire with 30 new friends and sleeping in my heaviest coat, hat, and gloves. With snow on the tent and frozen noses, coffee has never tasted so good.
The cold was immediately forgotten when we began work in the mornings. We spent our first days salvaging native plants in areas of the park that were slated for construction projects. These salvaged plants would spend the next year in the park’s nursery, readying for another crew to replant them the following spring. Our crew salvaged, potted, and transported over 1300 native plants in just two days! It was so satisfying to see the fruits of our labor lined up in neat rows filling the nursery knowing we were making a difference at one of the world’s greatest natural wonders.
After a few days of salvaging, we completed the cycle by planting native plants that had been salvaged by the previous year’s ASB crew. Those plants will still be decorating the landscape at the Grand Canyon visitor’s center when my own children are old enough to work on an ASB crew.
When we weren’t busy getting our hands dirty, we spent time learning about the history of the canyon, visiting the National Park Service’s private museum of Grand Canyon artifacts (with a tour from the curator, an SCA alumna!), hiking, and enjoying the breathtaking views. We also took in a few ranger talks and went for a moonlit hike along the South Rim one evening.
Sounds like a lot in just five days? It was! I’m still amazed that we could cram so much work and so much fun into just one week. When I got home, I was completely exhausted, and thrilled to sleep in a warm, soft bed again. But at the same time, I couldn’t stop telling my friends and family about the satisfaction and exhilaration of my spring break.
As this year’s ASB crews head to the Everglades and Joshua Tree National Park in just a couple months, I’m a little envious but mostly excited. They have big boots to fill, and I can’t wait to hear what they come back bragging about.
Looking for a different type of spring break trip this year? Learn more about participating in the 2012 Alternative Spring Break from SCA and American Eagle Outfitters at SCA’s Alternative Spring Break page, deadline to apply is January 27th!