Students participate in conservation efforts at Zion National Park during an alternative break.
Published: Jun 1, 2011
Eleven students went on the trip, which was the first camping experience for most of them.
Broken into teams, the students counted blades of an invasive species of grass called cheatgrass to see if certain herbicides have been effective in reducing its spread.
The nearly 1,000-foot drop on either side of Angels Landing was nerve-wracking for the UT students on the alternative break trip to Zion National Park in Utah. But making their way across the 3-foot sandstone ridge, using chains along the rock to help keep their balance, was the highlight of the students’ May trip.
“It was amazing to see how our group worked together and felt so accomplished at the end of that hike,” said Heather Ptak ’12, head alternative breaks coordinator for the PEACE Volunteer Center. “Not to mention it was beautiful.”
Ptak was one of 11 students on the trip, which was the first camping experience for most of them.
“It was a great learning and bonding experience,” said Ptak, an allied health major.
While they got to hike and view the petroglyphs in the area, the students’ main purpose for being in Zion and neighboring Pipe Spring National Monument was to help with conservation projects like trash removal, weeding and helping dispose of dead tree trunks.
“I think volunteering in a national park gives you a different feeling,” said Ptak, who has been on alternative breaks in Key West, Tennessee and Peru. “It truly empowers you to see how a small group of dedicated students can really make an impact.”
Broken into teams, the students counted blades of an invasive species of grass called cheatgrass to see if certain herbicides have been effective in reducing its spread. The project is an ongoing study at the University of Northern Arizona as the cheatgrass has taken over vast swaths of land and is, among other things, very flammable.
“It was a highlight to give back to the national parks, which have brought me hundreds of hours of joy,” said assistant professor Ryan Cragun, an avid hiker and advisor, who led the trip with Keven Hemer, a VISTA volunteer. “Some of the students came away with a better appreciation for national parks, and some had a better appreciation of camping and hiking. I also liked that we could do volunteer work doing science.”
For Ptak, alternative breaks give students the opportunity to grow as individuals as well as make an impact in the community.
“Alternative breaks challenge students to pursue an active citizen mindset, meaning that what they learn from an alternative break they will use it in their everyday life choices,” Ptak said. “Even after 12 alternative breaks, I still find myself learning more and more about the social issues that we as students can help with locally, domestically and internationally.”
Jamie Pilarczyk, Web Writer
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