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Three years ago, Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in Albany Township began offering high school-aged students around the region the no-cost opportunity of joining a group called the Hawk Mountain Conservation Corps. The latest venture of the students involved a packrafting trip in the late snowy days of December.
The packrafting involved the students beginning a hike at 3 a.m., moving 14 miles on foot and then 12 miles by water along the Little Schuylkill River until they reached the base of the sanctuary on the blow-up rafts they carried in folded-up form on their backs at the start of the expedition.
The students who are a part of the HMCC sign up for a full year of participation and meet periodically at the sanctuary to learn skills like land management and stewardship, trail building and maintenance, raptor identification, first aid skills, navigation and GPS mapping and anything else related to fending well for themselves and tending reverentially to the environment out in the whims of nature.
Leading the students is the sanctuary’s director of land and facilities, Todd Bauman, who serves as the program director for the HMCC.
The group of students commits to the cause for a year. Bauman has the openings now booked for two years, with eight each allowed in the two age groups, which are 14- and 15-year-olds, and 16- and 17-year-olds.
“Some do join again for a second year,” Bauman said about the kids who have enjoyed their time outdoors with the group so much.
Before this latest expedition involving packrafting, the students, parents, Bauman and other mentoring volunteers met on several occasions to address needed gear, packing and organizing everything for the trip and documenting the experience.
The students take time to do field journaling when together and wrote several blog entries last year after paddling around the Florida Everglades; a few of them also use teamwork to take video footage of their excursions, later editing the content, which is on the sanctuary website.
“The biggest challenge was the weather, with it snowing and being cold,” said Albany Township resident Lucas Wessner, 17, about the packrafting trip from just a few weeks ago.
Wessner has been a part of the HMCC since the age of 14.
“Especially when we were on the rafts in the water, it was hard to keep our hands dry,” Wessner added.
“Other times, we’ve also learned rock-climbing, tying different sorts of knots and building trails and how to prevent water damage on them,” Wessner said.
Developing the skills to move large rocks with small or limited tools is another asset Wessner mentioned from his time spent with the HMCC
“If the students have an interest or passion in conservation, this gives them an opportunity to explore and develop what it would mean to be in that field,” Bauman said, pointing out that even those who become professionals with other career routes will benefit the world through respect and understanding of the environment.
Local participants in the HMCC include: Albany Township residents Lucas Wessner, 17, Noah Rauch, 15, Nick Volk, 15, and Fred Short, 15;and Greenwich Township resident Liam Baldrige, 16.