Conservation That Builds Relationships
by Joshua Stearns, SCA Board Member and Alumnus
“Service has the power to connect people across generations, connect landscapes across geographies, and connect our work to a greater good.”
SCA offered me the opportunity to develop life-changing relationships. In SCA’s New York Adirondack AmeriCorps program I lived with 19 other corps members, three SCA staff, and two employees of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. I worked with teachers from LP Quinn Elementary School in Tupper Lake on curricula design, painted a community center with youth from Lake Placid, rebuilt the foundation of a ranger’s outpost with local stonemasons, constructed a lean-to with a forest ranger, helped to maintain a historic great camp with skilled carpenters, ran a naturalist club after school, repaired one of the last fire towers in the Adirondacks, and much, much more. The relationships I formed through SCA were not limited to the people I worked with, but extended to the landscapes I worked in. In service, people, landscapes, and the work at hand mingle, and it is difficult to talk about any one without the others.
At the end of one project, three of us decided to spend our last night on the trail in the lean-to that we had, just that afternoon, completed. As the last of the day’s light seeped from the horizon, we sat outside the shelter and talked about the people who would share this place in the future. From this spot we could see out over the valley below, the mountains on either side gently surrounded us like cupped hands.
On another crew, we spent three days hauling rock and gravel in our frame packs over a three mile stretch of old carriage road to repair a heavily eroded trail. I can still recount every landmark along that trip, I can remember the weight of the stones, and I can still hear the way we kept each other going, encouraging each other with good humor and good conversation.
Another time, I sat with a state park ranger at the base of a fire tower that had been closed for decades, and which we had spent the last week repairing, and watched the first visitors climb its new steps. He told me this was the last project he had wanted to see finished before he retired. Looking out at the rolling hills of the Adirondacks, stretching westward, he told me about growing up amidst those peaks, and I felt a closeness to him that was like family. Service has the power to connect people across generations, connect landscapes across geographies, and connect our work to a greater good. SCA gave me the opportunity to serve side by side with people of all ages, and from many different backgrounds. Service calls on us to honor the diverse knowledge and landscapes around us, while constantly seeking to discover new landscapes in the world and in ourselves. Most of the people I worked with, outside of my crew, had lived their entire lives in the Adirondacks and their skills, their stories, their values, and their wisdom were rooted in the local landscape. These values were as much a part of their work, as the way they swung an ax, or placed a stone, or taught a lesson. And all of this was a part of my work as well, and a part of the students I worked with. This is the legacy that service inspires.