Stories from the Field

Olympic Alcoa Scholars Session Two in the Frontcountry

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Mild, misty weather and a July sunset peaking through the mountains behind Lake Crescent welcomed our second session of Olympic Alcoa Scholars on Sunday evening. Arriving from Australia, Hungary, Norway and the U.S. states of Pennsylvania and Tennessee, the 10 Scholars are a group of bright, adventurous and environmentally-focused students ready to explore biodiversity and climate change in the Olympic backcountry: nature’s best classroom.

They will spend the next two weeks collaborating, exploring and learning so that they may come away with a better understanding of environmental issues, as well as ideas for mitigating climate change and preserving biodiversity. Here’s a look at what our Scholars have been up to in the frontcountry:
 

Sunday July 28th

  • 5 p.m. Scholars arrived on campus after a long day (or days) of traveling, met their fellow Scholars and moved into their cabins!
  • 7 p.m. After a delicious Rosemary Inn dining hall dinner of pizza, they spent the evening getting to know each other, their two NatureBridge Educators Justine and Caleb and discover how they would be spending the next two weeks in Olympic National Park. 
I’m most excited about the opportunity to explore an untouched national park with like-minded people from all corners of the globe, who all have different experiences and backgrounds.
Emma Tinley, Alcoa Scholar of Western Australia

Monday July 29th

  • 7 a.m. Scholars met for breakfast in the campus dining hall—the historic Rosemary Inn—and fueled up for a day of team building activities, backpacking preparation and introductions to field science investigations
  • 9 a.m. We were thrilled to have Kayla Branch, Grants Administrator of Alcoa Foundation, welcome the group to the Alcoa Scholars program Monday morning via video conferencing. In her warm greeting she shared excitement for Alcoa Foundation’s support of our partnership and of the annual program, which provides this diverse group of students the opportunity to collaborate and understand environmental issues from a global perspective in the beauty of our parks. This year, Kayla looks forward to the outcomes of Scholars’ science investigations, focused in Alcoa Foundation’s key areas of engagement: biodiversity and climate change. She signed off with well wishes for a great backpacking adventure and the hope of not too many mosquito bites!
  • 10 a.m. The Scholars and Educators then began the process of looking through individual and group gear, ensuring that the group would bring everything that they needed and nothing that they didn’t need.
  • 1 p.m. The group took a break to hike to nearby Bovee’s Meadow. There, they divided into cooking groups and tent mates. The Scholars learned how to operate the backcountry WhisperLite Stoves and to set up the tents they’d be calling home for the next week.
  • 7 p.m. Scholars came up with a group name (“Sprinkles, the Cute Bear”) and decorated their group flag. Afterward, the group participated in one of the highlights of the NatureBridge Alcoa Scholars experience: culture share presentations. Every Scholar comes to the program having prepared a short (5-10 minute) presentation about themselves and the communities they come from. These presentations take many forms, including sharing special food items, playing music, showing pictures of family and hometowns and teaching each other the sports that Scholars play or watch back home. Our Pittsburgh Scholars described their home city and passed out Pennsylvania’s famous Hershey Kisses, Rosey from Tennessee taught the group how to dance to “Cotton-Eyed Joe,” and Emma and Jamie from Australia shared a plethora of treats with the group and showed videos of Footy games. The rest of the Scholars would present their culture shares the next evening.

Tuesday July 30th

  • 8 a.m. Another early breakfast call for our Scholars! They were eager to learn more about the science investigations they would be leading while in the backcountry.
  • 9 a.m. The group got a lesson in backcountry food, ensuring that it was all accounted for and learning what some unfamiliar items were (there were lots of dried and dehydrated foods to identify). Then it was time for packing their backpacking backpacks and trying them on for the first time. For the next week, everything they need to live comfortably in the backcountry will be carried in their packs!
  • 1 p.m. Scholars met with Bill Baccus, Physical Scientist for Olympic National Park. Bill talked about the studies he and his team have conducted to monitor climate and its role as an ecosystem driver. He shared pictures of the work he and his team have done to monitor snowpack, precipitation levels and the freezing and thawing of high lakes. Bill also talked about the ways that climate change is predicted to impact the national park, and how 2015 (which was an unseasonably warm year on the Olympic Peninsula) provides a case study for how the ecosystem’s may be impacted by the changing climate.
  • 3 p.m. The Scholars headed into the field to make observations and journal about the forests surrounding them at Barnes Point. Educator Caleb also introduced them to the scientific tools they could choose from when determining what ecosystem characteristics they would study while backpacking through the national park.
  • 6 p.m. Our Scholars from Hungary and Norway presented their culture shares, and the group made the final preparations in anticipation of heading into the Olympic Wilderness the following morning.
     

Wednesday July 31st

Departure day!
There was a buzz of nervous excitement in the air as last-minute backcountry logistics were discussed and bags were packed! Today, they head out for seven days backpacking through Olympic National Park. They’ll hike from the Sol Duc River to the Hoh Rainforest (the opposite route from the first trail group of the Olympic Alcoa Scholars from session one) . The weather for the week looks mild and partly sunny—perfect backpacking conditions! Stay tuned for updates as we get them in.

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