by Jillian Begin, SCA Crew Member, Borderland State Park, Massachusetts
Trail work hurts. Between the sore muscles, bruises and scrapes, there’s no getting around the fact that this is physical labor. We live in a world of risks: tick bites, poison ivy, chainsaws, and boulders. Working ten days in a row can weather an individual. Mustering the physical and mental strength to push through the rainiest and muddiest of days does tell me one thing, though: this job is anything but passionless.
We see ourselves as both trail worker and “user,” the technical name given to the hikers, bikers, and equestrians who use a trail. As I’m working, I sometimes think back to the trails I loved as a child in northern California and wonder “Who built that trail? Who maintains it? Do they love it like I do?”
Reflections like this not only help me relate to the “user” but remind me that a trail is more than a cleared path through the wilderness. It holds the possibility of exploration, wonder, and connection. Every trail has the propensity to inspire.
The most rewarding moments on the trail come from the “users,” everyday strangers that come across us working. We’ll often see the same locals and their dogs through a stint at a state park, just hiking their favorite trails. When it’s time to leave, it can be genuinely difficult to say goodbye. It feels as though we are leaving a newfound paradise.
Borderland State Park in eastern Massachusetts was this paradise for my four crewmates and me in July. We cleared overgrown and invasive vines from a stone wall that dates back to the 1900s. This striking five foot tall wall runs along the edge of a beautiful pond with a stone bench on its top for users to rest and enjoy the view.
One woman we met exclaimed, “I’ve been coming here for 20 years and I’ve never seen this wall!” A man said, “You folks are doing a really important thing for us.” And perhaps our favorite of all came from a cyclist who stopped and yelled from a distance, “Thank you for all you’re doing here! This is my favorite spot in the whole world!”
Because the wall was crumbling in the middle, we built a rustic timber fence to keep visitors away from this dangerous section. We used material from nearby in the park, felling only cedars that were overcrowded, effectively granting surrounding saplings more room to grow. We also pulled truckloads of black swallowwort, an invasive plant that is poisonous to butterflies and hides itself among milkweed, the Monarch’s favorite food.
We talked to users of all ages and hobbies, engaging them in the conservation and history of their favorite state park. In doing so, it became our favorite state park. Beyond our new visitor and canine friends, we bonded with rangers and the memories of Blanche and Oakes Ames, the historic owners of the park. We were gifted with Borderland doggie bandanas, mine now lives on the dashboard of my truck as a keepsake. The feedback we were given on our positive effects at Borderland, the park, and its community touched us even more. Such a connected to people and place transforms the work we do into something more than physical labor. It’s a labor of love.
Our very own SCA spokeswoman and top female surfer, Lakey Peterson, needs your support! The worlds largest annual surfer poll is open and we want Lakey to win this year - especially after her epic win at this years US Open where SCA had a booth and hosted a beach clean up. It only takes a minute, please vote now and help SCA's Lakey Peterson win! After all, we want the #1 female surfer to also be someone who is at work for the planet!
Click on this link to vote and place Lakey's name in the female surfer box #1.
Two good things in one app: find parks near you and support SCA! What more could you ask for?
American Park Network, creator of Oh, Ranger! ParkFinder™, a free mobile app that helps users finds nearby parks based on the user’s preferred location and activities, announced today that Ford Explorer will donate $1-per-download to SCA and three other non-profit organizations, in proporation to the votes received.
Together we, the four non-profits, will receive a total of $150,000, with funding to be distributed in proportion to the votes received. So, download the app, click on the SCA logo and cast your vote for SCA.
The app is FREE and you can influence how much money SCA receives by downloading today (or updating if you already use the app) and voting for SCA. The campaign ends on Sept. 30th so there are just a few days left.
To download Oh, Ranger! ParkFinder™, visit the iTunes App Store or Google Play, or go to www.OhRanger.com/app/parkfinder.
This month marks SCA’s 55th Anniversary. To date, SCA has engaged nearly 70,000 young people in conservation internships and jobs, resulting in more than 30 million hours of service on federal, state, and local lands. Two-thirds of SCA alumni remain active in conservation. The National Park Service estimates 12% of its workforce started their careers with SCA.
SCA is committed to generating 10,000 conservation apprenticeships per year by the end of the decade, resulting in an even greater positive impact on our land, in our communities and for the planet. As we celebrate 55 years of innovation in the field of youth conservation, we are excited by the future programs, partners and members who will join us in continuing to make a positive impact on our land for future generations.
So, join us online as celebrate 55 years of innovation and join us as part of the SCA community for 55 more years!
Editor's note: The essay below, a tale of triumph and tragedy, was written by SCA Pittsburgh member Siraji Hassan for his graduation from SCA's Leadership in the Environment Advancement Program (LEAP), a conservation program for youth in poverty. Siraji’s presentation won an award that evening and his story may well win your heart.
Being an American means a lot to me because my people, the Somali-Bantu, have experienced many hardships. I once lived in a refugee camp, called Kakuma, and now I live in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I didn’t go to school in Kakuma, Now I attend Allderdice High School. I didn’t have a job in Kakuma, Now I work at the Student Conservation Association (SCA). It was hard for my family to make a living and we struggled for food. Now that my dad and I have jobs, we can support my family. Many of my friends here have gotten their citizenship and very soon, my parents will be taking their test. When I become a citizen, I will be able to get my U.S. passport and have the opportunity to return to Kenya. However, this time it will be different.
Siraji during an SCA Earth Day Pittsburgh event.
I left Kenya a refugee and I am returning as a Somali-American. And I am very proud of that. I will be able to see family members that I was sadly forced to leave behind.
One night in Somalia, I remember all the parents were sitting together. One man came to us and we all had to leave the country. He told us that there was going to be a big war, and that we had to leave as soon as possible. He said there were going to be bombs and shooting and we were going to be in danger.
When the bombs started exploding, my mother took me on her back, grabbed my brother and my sister, and left our house. My other brother was still there, but my mother returned to get him later. When she found him, our house had been destroyed. My mom grabbed all of us, and started running to safety. We later found other Somali Bantu families that were doing the same thing: Somali-Bantu walking, fleeing for their safety. Many people died walking. People starved, died of thirst, or were eaten by animals.
Siraji with fellow SCA LEAP members in Pittsburgh. Siraji is top row, far right.
For three days, we all walked through the jungles and the deserts. By the last night, many people had died. We took as many people as we could along the way. When we started running out of water, we were forced to drink urine for us to survive. That last day, we finally saw a car driving through the desert, which was there to help the Somalis get across the border. They couldn’t drive us, but they told us to keep walking, and that we were close to Kakuma. On the third day, we reached the refugee camp and my mother started crying. The next several days we spent in the hospital. We were given ration cards for food and were given a house that we would live in for the next eight years. Finally, we received notice for an interview to come to the United States and my mother told me the story I just told.
This is why I am proud to be an American. Many of the Somali-Bantu know this story well, and experienced many of the same things my family and I did. But I can proudly say that I am here, and will soon call myself an American.