Story last updated at 7/3/2013 - 2:53 pm
JUNEAU - The Southeast Alaska Conservation Council is continuing its volunteer Wilderness Stewardship Program this year, leading volunteer service trips throughout the Tongass National Forest including the Chilkat Peninsula, Admiralty Island, and the Stikine River. Most recently, SEACC led a week-long volunteer beach cleanup on southern Admiralty Island. The volunteer stewardship program, supported in part by the National Forest Foundation and Patagonia, is an ongoing partnership on the Tongass between the US Forest Service and SEACC. The program's intention is to not only provide meaningful service opportunities to Southeast Alaskans, but to also provide opportunities for local residents to connect with the healthy and productive lands that sustain our communities.
Last week's volunteer beach cleanup focused on the tidelines and forest fringes of Murder Cove near Pt. Gardner on southern Admiralty Island. Ocean debris floating in the Gulf of Alaska is often funneled up southern Chatham Strait into Frederick Sound, and ultimately lands in places like Murder Cove where seemingly isolated beaches become littered with trash. Volunteers spent four days combing more than two miles of beach along Frederick Sound, collecting everything from bottles and cans, to plastic strapping and bags, to fishing gear. In four days of work, the team filled a 24 foot barge to the brim with beach garbage. There were no signs of Japanese tsunami debris.
The crew was composed of one SEACC staff member and six Southeast Alaska volunteers from Juneau, Sitka, and Yakutat, whose ages ranged from sixteen to sixty. Two US Forest Service rangers assisted in the first three days of cleanup. Additionally, the project received generous donations, resources, and local knowledge from numerous residents in Kake, Angoon, and Petersburg, as well as Angoon's Whaler's Cove Lodge.
In addition to the hands-on beach cleanup, a week on the southern shores of Admiralty Island provided the time for volunteers to reflect on the forests and waters of the Tongass National Forest. Volunteer Jennifer Hanlon said, "Coming from Yakutat, I know that here in Southeast Alaska how we live our lives and how we define ourselves is really based on our relationship to our natural surroundings. It's made us fishermen and hunters for generations. That's one of the reasons why it's so important to have healthy lands and a healthy relationship with the land."
The beach cleanup in Murder Cove was only one project in SEACC's volunteer Wilderness Stewardship Program. Earlier this year, SEACC partnered with Wrangell Boy Scout Troop 40 and the US Forest Service on the Stikine River to help manage invasive weeds, maintain the Twin Lakes public use cabin and outhouses, and do minor trail work. That project included nine Wrangell volunteers, five of whom were under the age of sixteen. In addition to Murder Cove and the Stikine River, SEACC has stewardship projects planned for Seymour Canal and Whitewater Bay on Admiralty Island, and the Endicott Gap on the Chilkat Peninsula.
SEACC's volunteer Wilderness Stewardship Program is in its third year and complements its Out in the Rain Programs in Craig, Wrangell, and Juneau. Out in the Rain events are of shorter duration, providing residents who cannot volunteer for an entire week with opportunities to get outside, to learn from experts or provide volunteer service, and to meet fellow Southeast Alaskans.