If you were to tell me three years ago that in two years, I would be camping a couple feet away from a glacier and kayaking next to icebergs, I would tell you that you are out of your mind,” said Isabel Azpilcueta.
But life takes us in unexpected directions, and that is exactly what Isabel – a Chugach Children’s Forest alumni – found herself doing during a Habitat Restoration Kayaking Expedition on the Chugach National Forest, in Alaska.
With other Alaskan youth, Isabel kayaked through Prince William Sound and camped in remote places, all while participating in habitat restoration and stewardship projects on the Chugach National Forest. The team contributed to the forest’s restoration goals by removing marine debris and invasive species while gaining vital insight into the challenges facing public lands so that they may understand, care about and ultimately help solve these challenges.
Every summer since 2009, teens from communities across the Chugach National Forest have come together to participate in Chugach Children’s Forest Expeditions. The Chugach Children’s Forest is an innovative partnership between the Chugach National Forest and Alaska Geographic, dedicated to introducing diverse Alaskan youth to their wild back yards and empowering them to explore and preserve these special places.
Supported by a growing network of more than 30 community partners, the Chugach Children’s Forest has engaged more than 20,000 youth, educators and volunteers since its inception in 2008.
Recently, Isabel and other Chugach Children’s Forest participants visited Washington, DC, as part of the 2015 U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree Celebration. While participating in the many holiday celebrations, they had an opportunity to speak about their experiences in the wilderness to Forest Service leadership.
Many of these youth had a direct connection to the year-long celebration through the more than 4,000 hand-made Alaskan ornaments that were created by schools, community groups and organizations across Alaska. Through support from the Alaska Humanities Forum, these students were hired to coordinate and lead ornament activities in their local communities as a next-step engagement opportunity following their participation in Chugach Children’s Forest programming.