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Wilderness Act Turns 50: Teaching by Trail-Building

PHOTO: There isn't much time for sitting as a member of this youthful crew working to relocate the Kelly Creek Trail in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. It's one of 50 projects across the country to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. Photo courtesy of Northwest Youth Corps.
PHOTO: There isn't much time for sitting as a member of this youthful crew working to relocate the Kelly Creek Trail in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. It's one of 50 projects across the country to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. Photo courtesy of Northwest Youth Corps.
September 4, 2014

SEATTLE - As part of a campaign to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, and to introduce young people to their public lands heritage, 50 wild places across the country have been chosen for conservation and trail maintenance work this fall.

In Washington, crews are working in the Alpine Lakes and Wild Sky Wilderness areas of the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, and will work about 1,600 hours to reroute the Kelly Creek Trail. Joe Waksmundski, youth corps director with Northwest Youth Corps, advises the teens and young adults on his trail projects to "put away their cell phones."

"They go in there fully equipped to camp, work, eat and recreate for two weeks at a time," says Waksmundski. "Then we're able to switch out crews so that more youth have the opportunity to experience these beautiful places, and put their footprint and handprint on this trail relocation."

The Wilderness Society partnered with the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps to select what they've dubbed Fifty for the 50th projects in 25 states. When they're done, crews will have made improvements to more than 40,000 acres and built almost 900 miles of trails on public land.

These programs include education about why the Wilderness Act was created and what it does. To Jamie Williams, president of The Wilderness Society, that's just as critical as the work on the ground.

"The great work of the public lands service corps really does bring along the next generation of land stewards," says Williams. "It teaches them the value of hard work and teamwork, which are skills they can take with them throughout their lives. And we know that these experiences can be life-changing."

This is also an anniversary year for the Northwest Youth Corps, with 30 years of imparting job skills and life skills to young people. Waksmundski says the Fifty for the 50th project fits right in.

"It's been a challenge to find this funding, but I think this 'Fifty for 50' is really starting to shine a light on some of the most amazing places we have in this country, and what the Act has done over the last 50 years," says Waksmundski. "I think it's a key element for the youth and for the next generation of trail stewards."

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA