Photo: The Tongass Tiny Home at Sitka High School. Credit: Amelia Milling.
Sitka Conservation Society (SCS) is excited to announce the selling of the Tongass Tiny Home! The Tongass Tiny Home was built by students enrolled in the Advanced Construction class offered from 2015 through 2021 through the vocational education program at Sitka High School (SHS) in partnership with SCS. This was the first advanced construction class offered by the Sitka School District in ten years. The custom place-based curriculum provided students with the opportunity to build valuable technical skill-sets, while exploring potential pathways to success in the regional economy.
The Tiny Home was purchased by a Juneau family and was delivered to them in March 2021. The final construction and customization of the home will be done by the current owners. Prior to sale, SHS students completed the bulk of the home construction, in different semesters learning and applying important trade skills such as framing, roofing, siding, windows, flooring, finishing, construction safety standards, selection of materials, use and maintenance of construction tools, review of building codes and appropriate professional behavior for the construction sector.
“Some of the things we were most excited about was the chance for this project to really advance our curriculum,” said Mike Vieira, CTE Instructor at Sitka High School. “This project led us to talk about species of lumber, where that labor came from, why we’re using it, why we’re not just using stuff that’s easier to work with, and what the whole goal of the project was, which was to promote Southeast Alaska and try to make some jobs that are sustainable for the region.”
The lumber for the project was sourced from local mills in Southeast Alaska including Good Faith Lumber, TM Construction, Southeast Young Growth Milling Entrepreneurs, and H&L Salvage Mill. Whenever possible, local materials were purchased to build the Tongass Tiny Home. Buying locally manufactured wood products crafted from sustainably sourced Tongass timber provides jobs and supports local businesses across Southeast Alaska. By purchasing local wood, this project is strengthening relationships between Alaskan builders and Alaskan lumber suppliers to facilitate intra-region commerce. As Senator Lisa Murkowski said after visiting the Tiny Home in 2018, the initiative is a “wonderful example of buying local and responsibly utilizing our sustainable resources, all while equipping our young Alaskans with valuable skills and real-world experience.”
Photo: Maureen O’Hanlon, Chandler O’Connell (SCS), Andrew Thoms (SCS), Perry Edwards (USFS), Pat Heuer (USFS), SHS student Ryan Bartlett, Mike Viera (SHS), Tristan Rhoads, and Olan Moore. Credit: Amy Li.
The Tongass Tiny Home demonstrates sustainable home design and construction that meets climate needs, reduces material use, and maximizes energy efficiency with an overall low carbon footprint. Buying local wood means less fuel used and fewer greenhouse gas emissions generated from shipping than imported timber from other states and countries.
Young growth wood regenerates quickly and provides a sustainable alternative to the harvest of industrial scale, old growth timber clear cuts. The Tongass National Forest is in the midst of a transition to sustainable young growth timber management, and student use of young growth wood in the Tiny Home highlights opportunities for using these forest products.
This project also prompts Sitkans to explore the economic potential of the tiny home model. Affordable housing is a challenge for many rural Alaskan communities, and a tiny home may be a viable alternative for certain home seekers or homeowners. While not right for everyone, tiny homes may be a great option for Alaskans seeking to downsize, to reduce their energy bill, to avoid the need for a mortgage or to lower their rental payments. Tiny homes also may provide an avenue for communities to thoughtfully increase housing density and add affordable rental units to the market.
Thank you to the purchasers of the Tongass Tiny Home, and thank you to the partners, collaborators, and volunteers who have contributed to the project: The Sitka School District, the National Forest Foundation, the Nature Conservancy, USDA Forest Service, Mike Vieira, Randy Hughey, Meredith Condon, Island Enterprises Inc., Sitka Electric, Gordon Hall Plumbing, Schmolck Mechanical, & Tumbleweed Tiny House Company.
Contact SCS for more information on local young growth timber, regional youth workforce development programs, and sustainable housing.
Story and Images By Amy Li
It’s a brilliantly sunny day and just across from Kaasda Heen Circle, Sitka Conservation Society’s Community Conservation Corps members are working hard, filling the otherwise serene forest with sounds of buzzing weed wackers and humming chainsaws. For about a week, the Conservation Corps worked alongside local cemetery restoration expert Bob Sam on maintaining and beautifying the historic Presbyterian Church cemetery. Under the guidance and direction of Sam, they trimmed the understory, cleared out brush, and removed hazard trees.
After SCS received CARES funding for the Conservation Corps, helping Bob Sam with his decades-long effort to maintain and restore the cemeteries in Sitka immediately came to mind for Executive Director Andrew Thoms and SCCC project lead Ben Hughey when deciding what projects the Conservation Corps should work on.
“The Corps’s core mission is to support Sitka’s community assets, and the cemeteries are a very important part of our community,” Thoms said. “We hope to honor the people buried here by doing this work.”
The historic Presbyterian Church cemetery is the resting place for roughly 400 to 500 Alaska Native people, many of whom lived in the Cottage Community adjacent to Sheldon Jackson College. Despite the many important social justice figures buried in the cemetery, Sam believes that “few people in this community” know of its existence. Many key figures from the beginnings of the Native civil rights movement are buried in the cemetery, including Peter Simpson, the famous Alaska Native rights activist. Beyond helping found the Alaska Native Brotherhood and serving as its first Grand President, he also contributed significantly to Alaska Native land claims efforts in the early 20th century. Today, the cemetery is owned by the Alaska Native Brotherhood.
“I don’t know how many Native American places that own their ancestors and their cemeteries,” said Sam. “Sitka is one of those places, where we actually own our ancestors and lineal descendants have ultimate say-so of their ancestors. Powerful. We have a responsibility to take care of this place and make sure it’s not forgotten.”
The Sitka Community Conservation Corps worked diligently to help Sam in his ongoing upkeep of the cemetery. The three acres of lush forest shrouding the cemetery was so overgrown that just 20 years ago, it was impossible to walk through. Over the past two decades, Sam has worked tirelessly to thin the understory, remove standing dead trees, and restore headstones, improving the well-being of the forest and cemetery.
Before & After Clearing Work
“A sign of a healthy community is a clean cemetery,” explained Sam. “If we keep this place clean, it falls on the descendants in a good way. It helps us become better people, more thoughtful of our ancient connections as people that come from this place.”
With over 18 cemeteries like the Presbyterian Church cemetery scattered around Sitka, the work Sam and others have done to conserve and reinvigorate these resting places is crucial for not just the community, but also for those who have come before us and those to follow.
“I’m indigenizing this place, making it blend into nature, to decolonize and make it Tlingit,” said Sam. “It’s become a very beautiful place now.”
The moss-covered logs, bushes dripping with ripe huckleberries, and now-restored headstones concur. The Sitka Conservation Society Community Conservation Corps has helped Bob Sam in making the cemetery a bit more beautiful, for past, present, and future generations to find respite in.
“I’m very grateful that we have a cross section of the community working here,” said Sam of the Conservation Corps members, noting that they are local Sitkans. “It educates the community to respect this place with dignity and honor.”
“You know, this is the first time I’ve ever done any of this,” one elder exclaims, as she puts the finishing touches on a vegetable sushi roll. A group of 4-Hers scurry around the table, looking for sticky rice, slabs of seaweed, carrot and cucumber slices, as they assemble veggie sushi rolls with residents of the Pioneer Home.
4-Hers working on 2017 Parade of Species masks.
Grace and Martha work on animal masks for the 2017 Parade of the Species.
Emma, Lydia, and Madeline making snack recipe pouches.
The Sitka Spruce Tips “Alaska-Way-of-Life” 4-H program piloted a new program this past March involving a weekly engagement with elders at the Sitka Pioneer Home and 4-H youth. The Sitka Pioneer Home is an assisted living home located in the heart of downtown Sitka, adjacent to Sitka Conservation Society's office.
The mission of Sitka Conservation Society is grounded on building sustainable communities in the Tongass National Forest. Though the word “sustainable” has a variety of definitions, I believe an important component of cultivating sustainability is creating connections between young and old community members. Seeing how different members of 4-H have been able to do this has been one of the most rewarding aspects of my year as a Jesuit Volunteer coordinating the 4-H program.
4-Hers and Pioneer Home residents eagerly await instructions for the day.
Tommy takes a turn at indoor Bocce Ball: one of the favorite activities during the series.
Lydia puts the final touches on sweet potato carrot apple muffins (recipe from Skye).