Hoods in the woods

Darren Austin creatively protects himself from mosquitoes with a hood while replanting Dyea Flats. Photos courtesy NPS

Youth spruce up Skagway's trail system


Fresh from the showers, a young man relaxed into the plush seats of the Malaspina ferry as it breezed out of Skagway.
Darren Austin, 17, had just finished six weeks working on the trails surrounding the town with a crew and departed for Juneau Aug. 3.
Even before the ferry left the dock, Austin was in and out of the shower. After six weeks of living in the Dyea campground and taking one shower per week at the Skagway Harbor, he had apparently perfected the art of get-the-hot-water-and-get-out personal hygiene.
Austin was one of four people, ages 14 to 17, on a team of trail workers employed through a Juneau-based non profit organization Southeast Alaska Guidance Association. SAGA, a 16-year-old non-profit organization, provides jobs for economically and educationally disadvantaged youth, director Joe Parrish said.
The workers combed, rerouted and rebuilt trails for $5.65 per hour for 8-hour days, Austin said.
On weekends, they took day trips to Whitehorse, toured the Laughton Glacier, a floated the Taiya River, biked around Skagway and rode the train up White Pass, said Tim Martharer, 24, the crew’s field education coordinator and an Americorp volunteer.
“We just want to say thanks to the town for treating us so well,” Martharer said.
The crew was managed by four volunteers from Americorp, which provides a $450,000 grant to SAGA.
“For a lot of people, it’s their first job,” Martharer said. “We’ve been trying to teach them the skills they need for their first job as well as lifestyle skills like making dinner.”
This was SAGA’s fifth year with a crew in Skagway.

SAGA worker Albert Watson shovels land in Dyea while on a six-week stay in town.

“This year was the best,” National Parks Service’s Tim Steidel, who coordinated SAGA’s projects with the NPS.“The crew moral remained very high, which I think was dependent on the crew leader.”
Sean Mellon, 26, was the crew leader and also an Americorp worker. The crew remained energetic despite having one member quit and having to fire one member, Mellon said.
Four of the six weeks in Skagway were spent working on NPS projects, which were provided for by a federal $20,000 grant and SAGA contributed $5,000 for the trail work this year.
The crew’s trail work included building a foot bridge over the Nelson Slough in Dyea, weeding non-traditional plants in Dyea and replanting traditional ones, building an emergency helicopter landing at Canyon City on the Chilkoot Trail and improving the Lost Lake Trail.
The crew spent two weeks working on trails for the City of Skagway. One of those weeks was donated by NPS, said City Councilman Tim Bourcy, who coordinated city projects.
The crew cleared the AB trail and rerouted the Yakatania Point-Smuggler’s Cove Trail.
The Council budgeted $9,000 for work by the SAGA crew, which is three weeks of work. Since the Council paid for only one week, the money will carry over into May 2002, when Bourcy said another SAGA crew will return to do more trail work.
“We want to get Yakatania Point really cleaned up,” he said. “Then we’ll move onto the Lower Lake trail system.”
SAGA provided jobs for approximately 100 kids on 11 teams throughout Alaska, Parrish said. Twenty-five percent of the kids work with SAGA throughout the year and earn their GED diploma at the end, he said.
Back in Juneau, Parrish said the crew had spend the weekend refueling.
“They all got back, got to sleep in their own beds and hang out with their friends,” Parrish said. “They’re recharged.”
The SAGA crews will continue working on projects around Juneau until SAGA’s graduation ceremony, which will take place Aug. 24.
Austin said his favorite trip was an impromptu hike up AB Mountain, one day while they were combing the trail.
He and crew member 14-year-old Albert Watson agreed the exhilaration of escaping from work to climb the steep peak and the view from the top was the highlight of the six weeks.
“It was worth the write-up,” Austin said, emphatically as Watson nodded in agreement.
Meanwhile Mellon smirked his team’s antics.