With National Public Lands Day Coming, Volunteer At Kenai Fjords National Park Sets Great Example

Student Conservation Association Gregory Kolenda spent the summer tracking down, and eradicating, invasive plants in Kenai Fjords National Park. NPS photo.

If you need some inspiration for lending a hand on National Public Lands Day later this month, look no further than Gregory Kolenda and the work he accomplished at Kenai Fjords National Park.

Mr. Kolenda, a volunteer from the Student Conservation Association, spent the summer combating invasive weeds in the Alaskan park. The 23-year-old from Warren, Pennsylvania, recently graduated from Edinboro University of Pennsylvania and saw the SCA as the perfect avenue for this adventure seeker to contribute to the conservation effort on a national scale. He is one of more than 4,200 SCA members helping to protect and restore America’s public lands this year.

The following dispatch from the folks at Kenai Fjords explains the contribution Mr. Kolenda made this summer in the park.

The SCA is the only national organization that develops conservation leaders by providing high school and college students with conservation service opportunities in all 50 states, from urban communities to national parks and forests. More than 50,000 young people have served with the SCA since 1957. As conservation needs outpace budgets, the efforts of SCA members are more important than ever.

In the temperate rainforest of Kenai Fjords National Park, Mr. Kolenda is in the business of tracking and eradicating non-native plants to preserve the park in its natural splendor as well as raise awareness of the impacts these “invaders” cause in the wilds of Alaska.

“On a regular workday I head into the park, warm up my GPS, and start searching for invading plants. Some days they are easy to recognize and dig up, and other times it can be like searching for a needle in a stack of needles," he explained. "After locating a potential invasive plant species I analyze it to be sure of its identity and collect data such as the number of plants, whether it’s in flower or seed, and the location for future reference. Next, I am down on my knees in the mud battling to dig out all of the plants’ roots with a shovel and my hands. When the last of the roots pull free of the soil it is a minor victory.”

Working to stop the spread of invasive plants is important in order to maintain the biological diversity of ecosystems and protect the unique plants and animals that live in them. Invasive plants are a major problem nationwide and differ in species regionally. The most effective way to fight invasive plants is through awareness and education on what invasive plants are, how they spread, and where they come from.

“Exploring the mountains, streams, and coasts of Kenai Fjords National Park has been an awe-inspiring adventure that I will carry with me the rest of my life. I am grateful that the Student Conservation Association and the National Park Service made this experience possible,” said Mr. Kolenda.

The knowledge and skills that are developed through this program will undoubtedly aid this young professional in future career endeavors.

The SCA is a nationwide conservation force of college and high school-aged members who serve America’s parks, forests, refuges, seashores and communities. For more than 50 years, the SCA’s active, hands-on practice of conservation service has helped to develop a new generation of conservation leaders, inspire lifelong stewardship, and save the planet. The SCA is a non-profit headquartered in Charlestown, New Hampshire, with regional offices in Washington D.C., Oakland, Pittsburgh, and Seattle.