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In June the Chugach National Forest and Alaska Geographic hosted a Leadership Development Kayak Expedition for alumni of previous Chugach Children’s Forest Expeditions. Teens from urban and rural communities across Southcentral Alaska spent six days in Prince William Sound improving their kayak skills, and learning more about way-finding, trip planning, local ecology, natural history, and Leave No Trace principles.

In order to build confidence and self-reliance in the outdoors, the teens took turns as trip navigators. Each day, a new pair of students would work with their trip leaders to plan the day’s paddle. The navigators-in-training made observations about wind and waves, listened to weather reports, checked tide charts, charted courses on maps, and ultimately helped make decisions about when and where the group would paddle. While on the water, the student-navigators lead the way to the day’s destination.

The alumnis’ experience served them well in the expedition. The teens took responsibility for all aspects of camp and kayak life, and managed most tasks with little help from instructors. When presented with the challenges of camping in Prince William Sound, the teens responded with finesse and quick action. When a late night high-tide crept up on camp, the teens worked together to move the tents higher on the beach. On another occasion, the alumni paddled more than fifteen miles in windy conditions to reach a camping site in Squirrel Cove.

As part of this leadership program, the teens agreed to complete at least 40 hours of continued service with the Chugach Children’s Forest. So far the youth leaders have served as volunteer instructors at a “Paddle Fun Day” at Goose Lake where they introduced members of the public to the joy of kayaking through public lands. Other Youth Leaders have hosted Capitol Christmas Tree ornament-making events in their communities. The teens are brimming with ideas as to how they can be leaders in their community, promoting stewardship and introducing their peers to outdoor recreation.