Monday, July 8, 2013

Between Recreation and Conservation

The boys' campsite, squeaky clean after Leave No Trace training.
Photo credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
As a child, the love for nature begins with adventure. The chance to go outside and run around in the grass with friends. The chance to walk through the woods and cool off in a lake. Making S’mores around a fire. In the midst of such excitement, it’s easy for kids to forget the value of what surrounds them. Part of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s mission is to pass along this love for nature, but also educate the next generation on its preservation. Last week, on the beautiful San Juan Islands in Washington State, Boy Scout Troop 351 enjoyed a weekend full of both adventure and hard work.

Practicing kayak techniques for their kayaking badge.
Photo credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
The Recreation
The troop’s week in nature was fronted by the ultimate goal of achieving their biking badges. To earn this, the troops had to complete 25-to-50 mile bike rides and learn the mechanics behind the bike itself. Each morning, the boys embarked on a journey around the San Juan Islands, some biking almost 60 miles in one day! The hilly terrain made each day of biking a weighty challenge, but I’m willing to bet the gorgeous, natural views played a role in fueling those pedals. When the boys and their accompanying parents weren’t biking, they were kayaking, swimming, bird-watching, fishing, exploring, or camping. Every outdoor adventure you could name was a part of their week. But we asked the scouts: what would happen if there weren’t any bike trails to travel along, no lakes to paddle across, or no fires to roast marshmallows on? This set of boys already knew the answer to these questions, and were as enthusiastic to preserve the land that provided them their adventures as they were for the adventures themselves.

The whole group after their beach clean-up at Grandma's Cove!
Photo credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
The Conservation
On the third day of the camping trip, the scouts biked their way to the southern tip of San Juan Island to American Camp National Park to begin their conservation efforts. After a short history lesson about the island, the group of scouts journeyed down a short trail to Grandma’s Cove for the first steps in their USFWS Leave No Trace training. This cove was a small beach recommended by USFWS partner Friends of San Juans as the perfect location for a beach clean-up. This small cove was rarely visited by beach cleaners and the boys were eager to see what kind of trash they could gather and clean from the shore. To make their efforts even more exciting, we added in a citizen science spin and let the boys record data on the beach debris they were finding and cleaning to be used by the Friends group. As the group scurried about with compostable trash bags and data sheets, it wasn’t long before a group of scouts spotted a washed up life raft along the back banks of the cove. Weighing in at 128 lbs., the life raft looked to be a piece of debris from the 1960s, according to its label. After about a half hour of strategizing, the group of discoverers was able to hoist the raft up and out of the cove with a bit of lifting and a lot of team work! Almost ten full trash bags showcased the spotless cove we left behind!

CPWN team member, Julie, teaches the troop about water contaminants.
Photo credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
Adventures in Clean-up
As the week of camp wound to a close, the troop discussed Leave No Trace back at the campsite. Hearing that improper care of their camp site could eventually lead to toxins in the lake they swam in all week prompted the group to do a full camp clean-up. Recycling stations were set-up, trash was divided, and within an hour the entire campsite was spotless. Pretty impressive for a group 20 teenage boys! As the night closed out with kayaking until dusk (which enjoyably was around 10pm) the group reflected on the connections between recreation and conservation. Great adventures were had by all, and by the time the adventure was over, not a trace was left to be found!

Check out all of our photos from the weekend here!