By Aida Bauer
Teenagers can be discerning. Not everything appeals to us, but the drive to get outside has increased during this disorienting time.
This is apparent even in our own small community of the Upper Valley. Throughout the pandemic, we have not been able to travel like we might normally, which has led us to be much more appreciative of the place we live and the natural resources that surround us. We have come to appreciate how the physical and mental health aspects of outdoor activity are vital to all of us — especially teens.
Although hiking and being in nature were important parts of my childhood, I didn’t always appreciate it in the moment. In fact, when I was little, my mom used to have to seed the trail with chocolates to keep me going on a hike.
However, this past summer, I felt the pull of the outdoors and I became a part of the wave of young people getting outside and connecting to nature.
I chose to participate in the Upper Valley High School Trail Corps, a program of the Upper Valley Trails Alliance, and it was truly a transformational experience. At a time when I was feeling somewhat locked down and powerless, Trail Corps gave me the opportunity to get outside and serve my community.
I was also making a concrete contribution to the environment while learning about land use history and change. During a week of trail work with a small crew of other local high schoolers, we learned how to work as a team while constructing and cleaning up trails in places like Hanover, Woodstock, Lyme and Sharon.
It was not all just volunteer trail work. We often ended the days with ice cream or a swim in a nearby river or pond, and we also received a stipend for our efforts.
This positive summer experience prompted me to intern for UVTA this past semester. As a young woman interested in issues of sustainable conservation and development, I want to be part of the next wave of environmental changemakers.
Many conservation volunteers and advocates in the U.S. are aging, and their demographics reflect structural privilege. For these reasons, it is vital that organizations like UVTA have members that truly reflect our community’s diversity, including women and young people.
My internship with UVTA has been extremely valuable in teaching me how a socially impactful nonprofit organization works, especially one with tangible, local projects facing much demand.
My efforts have mostly focused on finding ways to increase engagement with Upper Valley youth (through social media in particular). We are promoting UVTA’s messages of not only encouraging the use of the land, but cultivating a sense of responsibility and ethics in relation to the resources on which we depend — which too many of us take for granted.
Through weekly staff meetings, I have glimpsed the grassroots work including everything from securing town permits, to site visits and environmental assessments, to the actual manual labor of building or maintaining a trail.
The UVTA is a part of a long line of land users and stewards; we live in a humanized landscape and we are part of that story. The UVTA’s work to help sustainably manage human-environment interactions as communities change and grow has been especially vital for my generation during this time of COVID-19 restrictions and primarily our indoor-oriented academic lives. Based on my own experience, UVTA is effectively engaging young people like me in land use and conservation by providing us with the opportunity to apply ecological and STEM knowledge to real-world situations.
I am thankful to have had the chance to put my learning into action through practical local projects that work with the land and the community.
Aida Bauer is a student at Hanover High School and a past UVTA intern. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.