YCC's First Wilderness Expedition!

On June 23, the four members of the Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) and myself teamed up with the Angoon Community Association (ACA) Watershed crew and took a floatplane from Angoon to Lake Alexander in the Kootznoowoo wilderness area. Lake Alexander is a beautiful Lake across Admiralty Island on the Cross Island Canoe route. Lake Alexander has a U.S. Forest Service cabin on one side of the lake and a Forest Service shelter on the other side. Our group stayed at the cabin and met with three Forest Service Cabins and Trails employees as well as the ACA Watershed Crew staying across Lake Alexander in the mornings for our workdays.


Elizabeth stepping off the floatplane in Lake Alexander. Amazing to think that three weeks ago, she had never been on a plane.

When we arrived at the Lake Alexander cabin, Forest Service employee, Dana Kimbell, was waiting at the cabin to help us settle into our home for the next eight days. After setting up our tents and putting our food in the bear box, Dana instructed us how to clean the inside and outside of the cabin up to standard. Dana also guided the crew as we painted two sides of the cabin and stained the window frames and door to the cabin.


Jaxon painting a side of the Lake Alexander Cabin

When Dana left that evening to return to her camp on the other side of the lake, Zach Holder, a fellow Admiralty Island National Monument Cabins and Trails employee who was picking up Dana on the skiff, forewarned me, “Eat a big meal tonight and an even bigger meal tomorrow for breakfast. Trail work is a lot different than cabin work.” His hint was well received by the crew and myself, but that did not mean we were completely ready for the grueling work that lay ahead.


The view from our camp across Lake Alexander at Mount Distik

The following morning, we started our trail work activities. The section of trail we were working on was on the back half of the Lake Alexander shelter to Mole harbor 2-mile portage trail. To assist with the project, we hiked 1.3 miles to our work site with pack boards strapped down with puncheon boards and four-foot 4x6s, peeled trees for trail structures, assisted in building and digging these structures and collected moss to re-vegetate the area around the structures.


Breeze and Jaxon enjoying a lunch break away from the mud

This work had no shortage of carrying heavy packs or getting muddy. In fact, at one time, YCC crewmember Travis said, “Eight year-old Travis would love this job, getting paid to play in mud. Oh, who am I kidding, I love this job!” Although the rain, muck and tedious work made for long days, the crew enjoyed their time spent working on these projects.


Travis hammering in the puncheon boards for the boardwalk 

Upon completing our puncheon walkway across the wet muskeg trail and our staircase, we took our services to a different section along the Cross Island Canoe route. The next section of trail we focused on was the 1/3-mile portage between Beaver Lake and Lake Hasselborg. On our first day working on that trail, we also met with a group of Forest Service VIPs that included Leslie Weldon, the National Forest System's Deputy Chief. It was a great experience for the crew to be recognized for their hard work and to be encouraged to work to protect natural resources in their career and life paths.


Jaxon investigating a rough-skinned newt he found near the Beaver Lake Trailhead

The Admiralty Island Canoe Route has attracted adventurous canoeists since the mid 1930s when the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) constructed portages to connect the lakes and bays and also built shelters. On the second to last day, we took our stab at a short 1/3-mile portage, although we were not participating in the traditional canoe portage. Instead, a team of 10 that included ACA watershed members, YCC members, and Forest Service employees grabbed onto a long rope harness and dragged a large skiff across the Beaver Lake to Lake Hasselborg trail. After successfully completing this portage, we took a slightly smaller skiff uphill from Lake Hasselborg to Beaver Lake. This trip inspired me to complete the Cross Admiralty Canoe Route, but any intention on bringing a 5-person skiff with me was quickly terminated. A pack raft seems like a better means to cross the island.


Breeze and Travis exploring the fashion opportunities granted by bear bones found on a side trip to Mole Harbor

On our final day, we broke down camp and cleaned up the cabin. As we sat together waiting for the floatplane pick-up, we discussed the highs and lows of the trip. Laughs were shared and hardships remembered. When taking off from Lake Alexander, we took one final look at our beautiful base camp for the past week and smiled a tired, triumphant smile.


The crew in front of the lake Alexander Cabin. (Front row from left to right: Dana Kimbell (U.S. Forest Service) and Breeze Anderson; Back row from left to right: Elizabeth Crawford, Mike Belitz (SCS), Travis Maranto and Jaxon Collins)

The Youth Conservation Corps has one final trip before leaving the Tongass and heading back to their respective homes. This final trip begins on Friday, June 3, when the crew boats to Whitewater Bay in the Kootznoowoo Wilderness. On this trip, the crew will inventory and pull invasive plants, clean up the shoreline of debris and assist U.S. Forest Service archeologists in searching for possible petroglyphs. I have no doubt that another extraordinary experience will come of this trip and a greater land ethic will be instilled in these future wilderness champions. 

For more information about the YCC, please feel free to e-mail Mike at [email protected]

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  • Mike Belitz
    published this page in Stories 2015-07-02 15:28:03 -0800

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