Wrangell Scouts ‘Lend a Hand’ to clean up Alaskan island

Corree Delabrue
Tongass National Forest, U.S. Forest Service
January 9th, 2013 at 4:00PM

Pack it in, pack it out.

This Leave No Trace principle is one that Boy Scout Troop 40 of Wrangell, Alaska, has practiced for years.

So when assistant scoutmaster Kim Powell told her scouts about the trash she saw on a trip to nearby Zarembo Island, the boys wanted to do something about the mess. A few weeks and phone calls later, the scouts teamed with the Tongass National Forest to clean up the U.S. Forest Service land on the island.

The Wrangell Ranger District arranged for a local charter boat operator to take seven scouts to the island most had never visited.

“The scouts were excited to enter beautiful Roosevelt Harbor but were shocked to walk up the dock and see the automobile graveyard and the amount of trash left behind by previous recreational users,” Powell said.

After setting up camp for the two-night trip, the boys got to work. They collected items from large boards and old tarps to what seemed like thousands of tiny scraps of plastic. After cleaning the harbor area, the scouts hiked to parts of Zarembo’s road system to continue picking up garbage. Powell estimated that each scout individually harvested more than 100 pounds of garbage. Together they collected 45 gallons of aluminum cans to be recycled.

The island clean-up was just the beginning of their stewardship activities. As word of the scouts’ work spread, they were asked to partner with the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, the Sitka Conservation Society and the Forest Service on a week-long project on the Stikine River.

They focused on managing invasive weeds in the Twins Lakes Recreation Area of the Stikine-LeConte Wilderness Area and learned how to identify different invasive plants and their negative effects on the river’s ecosystem. One of the river’s biggest offenders is reed canary grass (Phalaris arundinacea), an exotic grass that can dominate riparian areas and outcompete the river’s native plants.

Jackie de Montigny, a soils scientist on the district, demonstrated how the Forest Service treats these weeds by covering them with sheets of black plastic to block light and prevent their seed and rhizomes from sprouting. Knowledge in hand, the scouts dug in.

Besides helping the Forest Service and conservation groups clean and manage public lands, the scouts gained the opportunity to explore and experience the forest in their own backyard. Between clean-ups, the scouts fished off the dock, swam and searched for frogs at Twin Lakes.

The scouts have adopted the Twin Lakes Recreation Area as their project and plan return visits to continue controlling the invasive plant population. They will return to Zarembo Island this spring to remove garbage hidden by last summer’s foliage.