Youth Expedition 2010: Prince William Sound
The Babkin set sail into the cool mists of Prince William Sound on July 15, laden with research equipment, cameras, fishing poles, kayaks, shrimp pots, and a red Zodiac named Bob. On board were eight high school students from across the region, set to discover—and document—some of the wildest features of this wildest place.
“What do you want to see on this trip?” queried Kate Alexander, lead instructor for the voyage, as they prepared to depart. The answers spilled back. “Have fun! Spot whales! Porpoises! Black bears! See all there is to see!” The excitement was palpable, as delicious as the watermelon they slurped down while discussing their upcoming adventures.
“But this isn’t the Prince William Sound Free Vacation, is it?” Kate asks. “No! This is the Prince William Sound Expedition! And as expeditioners, we need to track where we go, what we do and what we see.” And so they set forth, cruising into the Sound beneath misty, glacier-meringued mountains.
The eight students hailed from communities throughout Southcentral Alaska, including Chenega, Cordova, Valdez, and Anchorage. Over the next six days, the group visited multiple sites, including tidewater glaciers, remote beaches, a fish cannery, and the terminus of the Alaska pipeline.
Throughout the journey, the students worked to enhance an expanding collection of repeat photographs of glaciers in Prince William Sound. The Chugach National Forest has gathered nearly 800 historic images from across forest dating from the late 1890s to early 1950s, including extensive collections of the glaciers in Prince William Sound. Photographs taken today from the same location help document and reveal changes in the landscape over time.
The students visited eight sites over the course of the trip, taking repeat photographs at each location. “The goal is to show landscape changes in general,” remarks Aaron Poe, a wildlife biologist with the Chugach National Forest who accompanied the trip. “You can see some amazing vegetation changes in several spots we visited, from grassy meadows to 50-foot trees a hundred years later.” Pictured below is one of the group's repeat photographs, looking west from the same site towards the historic location of Columbia Glacier--today trees entirely obscure the view.
On Day 5 of the expedition, the group experienced first-hand the lingering effects of the Exxon Valdez oil spill as they visited a seemingly pristine beach on Eleanor Island, only to discover oil just below the rocks. In the words of students Wesley and Sergei: “The fifth day of the expedition was an eye opener for everyone on the boat. We saw remnants of oil leftover from the spill. It was heart-breaking to see that there is still oil 20 years later.” For the students—all of whom were born after the oil spill—it came as a stark reminder of the challenges facing stewards of Alaska’s public lands.
Wildlife abounded over the course of the trip, from black bears to humpback whales, tentacular jellyfish to clouds of sea birds. The students also had the opportunity to drop shrimp pots overboard, study the resulting catch of crustaceans—and then eat them.
Students documented their experiences through images, journals, and film clips. They had the chance to kayak is iceberg-studded fjords, pilot the Babkin, and cruise to landings aboard Bob, the expedition’s stalwart skiff. They hiked to an abandoned cannery, visited an active hatchery, and ate fresh salmon pulled from the Sound waters.
Youth expeditons are programs of the Chugach Children’s Forest, a partnership effort between the Chugach National Forest and Alaska Geographic to connect Alaska’s youth, families, and communities with their public lands.
“Youth Expeditions are designed to take young Alaskans outside and introduce them to a whole world of possibilities,” explains Ann Mayo-Kiely, Alaska Geographic’s program director. “From outdoor recreation to appreciation of what’s in their own backyard, from new educational experiences to greater understanding of peers from different backgrounds, they experience it all while exploring a beautiful place.”
For the students, it was a journey they’ll not soon forget.
In their own words:
Overall, on a scale from 1-10, how would you rate your experience on the Expedition?
"10 because it was fun exciting and I learned lots in a fun way outside."
"10 because I learned so much in so little time. The experiences were spectacular."
"9.9 This trip was a fun hands-on experienc
e that didn’t put me to sleep. The trip has far exceeded my expectations. "
"I would say 9 ¾--the other ¼ was the boys annoying me like my younger brothers."
"9 because it was awesome. It got musty in my room."
"9. My reason is because of the funny/funny stuff we were up to."
"9 because I learned and had fun."
The expedition was made possible through the support of Alaska Geographic, the Chugach National Forest, Babkin Charters, the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council, and REI.