University students, AmeriCorps NCC volunteers help the Tongass




At the end of March, dozens of excited and energetic volunteers arrived in Southeast Alaska, ready to get involved in the hands-on work of managing their national forest lands. Most came from a national organization dedicated to community service, and some came from a university in Oregon.

Ten students and one professor from Linfield College came to Sitka for the third annual Alternative Spring Break in Alaska, a week-long, service-focused event. In 2015 and 2016, the previous groups of students volunteered on Prince of Wales Island. This time, the students journeyed to Redoubt to conduct trail work, cut firewood, and clean up the site. They also hiked to Starrigavan Valley to view restoration sites and conduct fry monitoring, then finished up with cleaning at local beach parks and the area around the Forest Service office.

All of the work completed by the students was a great help to the ranger district. Their supervisor for the projects was thrilled with their work.

“They provided much needed and appreciated help,” said Chris Leeseberg, a fisheries and wildlife biologist for Sitka RD. “They had great enthusiasm and energy.” 

Service trips like the Alternative Spring Break create opportunities for young adults to get involved in stewardship of public lands, and provide hands-on experience in land management those interested in conservation or land management fields. 

NCCC doing maintenance on bathroom

“Working with the Forest Service has encouraged me to pursue my passions in wildlife and conservation biology after I graduate,” said Carmen Hoffbeck, one of the students who helped organize the trip with guidance of the Community Engagement and Service office at Linfield College.

This is exactly the type of exchange and inspiration Sitka District Ranger Perry Edwards hoped these volunteer programs would foster.

“It’s a win-win situation,” explained Perry, who began his Forest Service career as a volunteer, coming from suburban Ohio to Prince of Wales Island in 1989. “We give young people an opportunity to see what types of work and careers there are in natural resource management, and the Sitka Ranger District gets a lot of work done.”

At the same time Linfield College students were earning accolades and experience, two AmeriCorps National Community Civilian Corps (NCCC) teams totaling 19 volunteers were on the Tongass, providing much needed work while earning valuable experience. The NCCC program aims to develop leaders through direct, team-based national and community service. The forest appreciates the eagerness and work ethic they bring to projects.

 “On their first day in the Tongass National Forest, the AmeriCorps NCCC teams were ready to head out and experience the rainforest like true Southeast Alaskans,” said Laurie Cooper, partnership coordinator for the Tongass. “Their service here will have a lasting and positive impact on the forest and in our communities.”

The NCCC crews will work on a wide range of land management activities until May, including trail, cabin, and campground maintenance. One of the crews has been completing projects in Sitka and will soon move on to projects in Ketchikan. The other crew has been working in Hoonah and will soon move on to projects in Yakutat. Together, the crews will improve nearly a dozen recreational sites, numerous trails, and contribute to community events and projects all over Southeast Alaska.

During their time on the Tongass, the two NCCC crews will contribute more than 11,500 volunteer hours—a time commitment valued at more than $315,000.

“The numbers are exceptional,” Cooper said. “But from experience, we know their greatest contribution will be the energy, enthusiasm, and commitment to service they’ll share with us and our community partners.”

For more information on volunteering on the Tongass National Forest contact Volunteer Coordinator Travis Mason-Bushman at 907-228-6246 or