Some people are fortunate to find their passion early in life. Connor Stack, a senior at Rim High, is just such a person.
At the age of 11 he signed up to volunteer with the Children’s Forest. “Being able to volunteer at a young age showed me I could make a difference in the environment,” he said. “I built up a skill set and moved into more advanced work.”
All told, Stack has given more than 1,600 hours in volunteer work to the Southern California Mountains Foundation—running the greenhouse, leading tree-planting projects, teaching visitors about local flora and fauna. Because of those hours, Stack has received the President’s Volunteer Service Award the past four years.
Two years ago it was Stack who was holding a gopher snake at the Forest Festival, anxious to share his knowledge with the guests.
For the second year, Stack has been selected to serve on the Keep America Beautiful Youth Advisory Council, one of 10 young people from across the country. There is one other student from California, as well as one each from Missouri, Georgia, Alabama, Nevada, Illinois, Texas, Florida and Indiana.
“Each of us has a different skill set,” Stack said. “Trail building, garden building. There’s a girl who knows about bees and a guy who runs marathons in a city environment.”
Each teen has dedicated his or her childhood to something unique in the environment, Stack said. “I live in a national forest and taking advantage of that is what got me onto the board.”
As a veteran, Stack was put in charge of helping orient the new people this year. The 10 youth participate in conference calls and webinars throughout the year and also attend the Keep America Beautiful national conference. In the 2014-15 year it was in Washington, D.C. This year, at the end of January and beginning of February, it will be in Orlando, Fla.
His first conference, Stack said, was “one of the best and also one of the most stressful” things he had ever done. “I’ve always done the grunt work,” he said. “This was more businesslike.”
Each members of the Youth Advisory Council is given a grant of $1,500 to put on a program that has two components: education and cleanup. Stack did an Earth Day fair at Rim High, where he invited other agencies to come and share their missions. He also had a litter cleanup project “under the guise of a scavenger hunt.”
Each type of litter picked up had a certain number of points attached to it. Stack used his grant money on the prizes—Keep AmeAPPALACHIAN TRAIL
Those aren’t the only doors being on the Youth Advisory Council has opened for Stack. This past summer he was looking for an internship with the National Park Service. For most programs interns have to be 18 but Stack found the Student Conservation Association through which he spent three weeks working on the Appalachian Trail in Bear Mountain, New York.
He described the work he did—building a rock crib wall—the hardest level of trail building. “It can make grown men cry,” he said.
It is a retaining wall built with no mortar. If it’s at all unstable, Stack said, it will fall over. “I got about 28 feet done in three weeks,” he said. “On a good day, I would get five or six feet done. On a bad day, negative three or four because I would make a mistake and it would fall over.”
The boulders weighed 100 to 200 pounds each, he said. The objective was to carve the rocks so they look like they’ve never been carved. And for every rock you see, there are two to three behind it.
While working on the Appalachian Trail, Stack saw a lot of people hiking the trail. “You get the best stories,” he said.
The participants filled about 65 trash bags with litter they picked up around Rim High, a feat Stack calls “impressive but at the same time disgusting.”
Because the fair was so successful, Stack has been asked to repeat it in April 2016.
Stack says being on the Youth Advisory Council has opened a lot of doors for him. He was able to take students from Charles Hoffman Elementary and Valley of Enchantment Elementary on field trips to the Children’s Forest visitor center. They went on hikes and learned about animals.
Stack has also been working on a project called Tree Trails with Texas A&M Forest Service, taking measurements of designated trees. Tree Trails then measures the value of the forest, “morally and financially,” Stack said.
They are able to determine how much carbon dioxide the trees put out, how much they raise property value, how they help stop erosion. So far Stack has measured trees in Dogwood Canyon, behind the high school. He will be doing more work this year although he hasn’t been briefed yet on just what it will be.