Stories from the Field

Yosemite Alcoa Scholars in the Frontcountry

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On Sunday, August 4, NatureBridge educators welcomed 33 Alcoa Scholars to the Bay area and brought them back to our Golden Gate campus in the Marin Headlands where they spent their first night. Jet lagged but excited, Scholars arrived from Hungary, Canada, Norway, Australia, Iceland and the U.S. states of Pittsburgh, Indiana, New York and Washington. A handful Scholars that arrived early— Liam, Will, Gabriel, Jeremiah, Evenlyn, Beth and Marco—had the opportunity to do a little bit of hiking with NatureBridge Educator Shawn in the Headlands in the afternoon!
Their first evening involved settling into the new time zone, catching a west coast sunset at Rodeo Beach and getting to know one another. Among the things Scholars shared they hope to get out of the experience included getting to know one another and one another’s cultures, learning about and understanding the ecology of Yosemite and seeing snow for the first time. Each of the 33 students brings with them a unique perspective on environment, climate change, ecology and biodiversity, as well as an inquisitive desire to learn more. 
On Monday morning the group hit the road, stopping for lunch in Mariposa. Crane Flat site manager Jan, more commonly known as Jan the Man, was there to greet the Scholars in Yosemite that afternoon and gave them a brief orientation and welcome. After a hearty Crane Flat dinner of pulled pork, salad, quinoa, potatoes and pasta salad, it was time for culture shares. 

Jordan and Paige from Western Australia spent some time teaching the group common Aussie slang including “straya,” which means Australian and “smoko,” which means a break at work. Lincoln presented an interview with an elder Aboriginal man, the indigenous people of Australia and taught the group that the history of the indigenous tribes date back 40,000 years ago.

With each Scholar that stood up, there was a demonstrated connection to place that shone through in the culture share presentations. We’re thrilled to see what they take away from this new experience.

I’m most excited about having the opportunity to meet new people from all over the world and building a further understanding of the environment around us and what I can do to help minimize my ecological footprint in the world.
Alcoa Scholar Paige Bembridge of Western Australia

Tuesday: Trail Day!

On a hot and sunny Tuesday morning in Yosemite, Scholars woke to a delicious breakfast of pancakes, fruit, oatmeal and yogurt and granola. The session’s six educators—Lizzie, Jose, Eden, Scott, Sarah and Shawn—arrived to campus and called morning announcements, where they established what would become the three trail groups for the program. The groups are who Scholars will spend most of their time and backcountry excursion with!
Scott and Eden’s trail group ventured up to the Crane Flat Fire Lookout—the very first to be built in Yosemite—to learn about fire ecology, the natural cycle of wildfire and how climate change is impacting their spread and frequency. From the top, Scholars were treated to a 360 degree view of Yosemite, with the Mount Clark range visible in the distance. The group even got to see a helicopter land at the fire lookout site!
Both Lizzie and Jose’s and Sarah and Sean’s groups explored the Tuolumne Sequoia Grove. Team building activities included the Scholars blindfolding themselves and working together with teammates to guide each other through the hollow Sequoia Trees. These groups also got an introduction to fire ecology, with a focus on the biodiversity within Yosemite National Park. 

Tuesday afternoon was a big hit as the 15 Scholars hailing from Australia collaborated on their food culture shares. All 33 scholars and the six educators circled up in the Crane Flat dining hall to explore the goodies brought. Sustaining 15 hours of flight time, Tim Tams, Shape Snacks, eucalyptus drops, Vegemite, Jumpys and fairy bread were shared with the group, much to everyone’s delight! Anzac biscuits were a particular interesting share, and several Scholars took turns explaining the history associated with them. Due to their long shelf lives, the biscuits were sent to Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (Anzac) abroad during World War I. The group was also treated to “brown cheese” from Norway brought by Sverre!
The afternoon unfolded with a few more culture shares: Shawn Evans gave his culture share (on his birthday)! Hailing from the Gascony Region of Western Australia—known for its marine biology diversity—Shawn talked about his love of the ocean and marine life and growing up fishing with his dad. From there, Daniel and Caitlin of Perth talked about the marine life and biodiversity in the Great Barrier Reef, reflecting on the drastic changes and bleaching that the reef has endured due to climate change. Later that evening, the group got a taste of traditional Hungarian dancing with Anna F., Anna I., Barna and Dávid and the Icelandic alphabet with Almar.

Wednesday: Packout Day

Wednesday morning kicked off with pack outs. The three trail groups spread out around Crane Flat campus and did a thorough run through of backpacking packing lists. Educators went around checking that each Scholar had all of the appropriate clothing, gear and enough socks and underwear! Educator Lizzie explained to her group of Scholars that organized chaos is the most effective way to pack a backpack: It’s about maximizing space and packing everything in tight.
Next, it was time to explain and distribute group gear. In Scott and Eden’s group, Scholars chose a pile of shared gear that they would be responsible for for the duration of the trip. There were mixed reactions as some realized they were in charge of the bear can labeled “Lunch #1” and would soon have a much lighter load than those responsible for the “Dinner #5” bear can. Teamwork prevailed however, as discussions about taking turns carrying gear ensued.
A few feet away, educator Sarah went over bear can basics and “backcountry beauty,” explaining all of the scented items that should and shouldn’t be brought on the trail. Anything with a scent needs to be stored in one of the group bear cans.
Meanwhile, Lizzie and Jose’s group was learning the basics of map reading. Going over the elements of a map and how to use them, they also learned the difference between true north and magnetic north when using a compass. After a lunch of tacos, tent setup and a few more team builders, the afternoon was spent in the serenity of the Tuolumne Meadows. Culture shares that evening included Travis and his small hometown of Chase Mills, New York as well as his hope to return to Yosemite and be a park ranger one day! Then Jeremiah of Waroona shared with us the traditions and holidays in Australia.

Thursday: Departure Day

On Thursday morning, all three trail groups enjoyed a hearty breakfast at Crane Flat, backed up their gear and got ready to explore the backcountry. Stay tuned for updates on their adventures, science investigations and beautiful views of Yosemite!

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