High school students from the Inner City Youth Institute in Portland, Oregon, arrived in the Drift Creek Wilderness near the Alsea River, where Douglas fir and western hemlock make up the largest stand of old-growth rainforest in the Oregon Coast Range.
“We love coming to the Siuslaw,” said institute group leader, Stacey Sowders. “We love this chance to do meaningful work and meet people who are so passionate about what they do.”
The group drove in a drizzling mist along the route where invasive plants had spread up an old logging road to the edge of the wilderness boundary. Senecio jacobaea, commonly known as tansy ragwort, is poisonous to native plants, toxic to animals and livestock, and harmful to soil quality. This weed has made a comeback in recent years, threatening local economies and community health.
Students worked alongside Siuslaw employees who shared their own stories of how and why they came to serve America’s public lands.
“Today was as important for us as it was for them,” said Rob Stenson, Siuslaw Forest trails crew assistant leader. “It’s rewarding to see kids make these connections and to see the meaning behind what we’re doing,” he added.
Trips like the Inner City Youth Institute event can be a defining experience in young lives. Youth gain insight into the values of natural resources and also gain exposure to possible career paths. For some institute kids, this was their first visit to a national forest.
“No matter where we live, the natural world provides for us. Our goal is to open student’s eyes to the wonders of these places, and also to their own potential,” Stenson added.
In recent years, young people have become more estranged from the outdoors, but for some youth, the wilderness seemed intimately familiar. “I would love to live in a place like this,” exclaimed one student, who picked ripe salmonberry along the descending trail where wildflowers emerged from thick mats of moss and lichen.
After the weeds were packed in garbage bags and loaded onto the back of a Forest Service truck, one student shared the day’s impact. “Because of experiences like today, I know where I want to go with my life, and I’m not ever going to forget this,” she added.