Above: SCS staff outdoors during the 2019 summer (L-R: Carly Dennis, Amelia Milling, Kate Riley, Bethany Goodrich). Photo by Bethany Goodrich.

Thanks to the Alaska Conservation Foundation’s Ted Smith Internship program, I joined the Sitka Conservation Society team this summer. I absorbed fresh rainforest air, ate unlimited berries, practiced the sustainable and healthy ways of living, and explored local waters. During the amazing activities with the community of Sitka, I also learned how to engage with SCS members through social media and storytelling.

This summer was my first visit to the Tongass in Southeast Alaska and I was struck by its many layers of beauty. Once you walk under the canopy of the ancient forest, you are greeted by the misty, crisp air, and the incredibly tall trees that make your neck crook while looking up!

Sitka Trails. Photo by Amelia Milling.

Merely being present in the outdoors has proven to help mental health and I can confirm this from my own experiences. I'm deaf and, yeah, I am also not exactly what society normally considers "in shape." I'm a big person who huffs and puffs while pulling big steps up the mountain; however, I have never allowed society's view of my disability to stop me from going outside and being active at my own pace. To be an unlikely hiker means I get to see our public lands with a unique perspective. Since I do not hear, I am an extremely visual artist and person. On clear days, I am easily attracted to and calmed by panoramic views, while on cloudy days, I'm poring over the tiniest details such as a piece of bark or the bottom of mosses. 

While you're out on any trail, you never know who you're going to run into. That's the beauty of public lands: they are here for everyone and anyone to respectfully enjoy. Just because people like me are not always seen on the covers of outdoor magazines, does not mean we're not out here. We are people with disabilities, people of size, people of color, people of preferred gender, and people who utilize the outdoors to aid mental health. I will continue to explore my public lands, and I hope you do too. Maybe I’ll meet you on the trail!

Harbor Mountain Trail. Photo by Amelia Milling.

The Sitka Conservation Society has partnered with the Alaska Conservation Foundation for nearly 2 decades to host summer interns through the Ted Smith Conservation Internship Program. Ted Smith was a long-time supporter of SCS and helped us become a staffed organization with long-term and strategic programs. In our work with Ted, we always knew that he was thinking in terms of decades rather than just next year. The intern program is the same: we use it to introduce people to Alaska and the sustainability and conservation work that we do. We give our interns the experience and skill-set so that they can continue the core ideals, values, and long-term thinking in both their lives and careers. This is what Ted Smith taught SCS to strive towards.

The Sitka Conservation Society is hosting a Climate Change Policy advocate position through the Ted Smith Conservation Internship Program. This position will help catalyze local, state, and national policy on climate change while amplifying the voices of young Alaskans to reach decision makers.