Earlier this year, the Children's Forest Network selected 30 NextGen Forest Ambassadors, ages 14-16, to participate in a three night/four-day Youth Summit in and around Chattahoochee National Forest in North Georgia. These Ambassadors were introduced to outdoor stewardship, received hands-on training, and were inspired to fulfill 20 hours of creatively sharing their outdoor stewardship experiences and unique perspectives.
Charlie Robbins was an adventurous NextGen Forest Ambassador who documented his experience at the Next Generation Forest Ambassador Youth Summit and his stewardship experience on National Trails Day. Below are some of his thoughts and experiences.
The U.S. Forest Service notes on their website that 867,634 out of 38.032 million acres in Georgia are National Forests, and that small sliver is breathtaking. The outdoors is a wonderful place to explore, play and relax with your friends and family. However, our public lands are being threatened by pollution and lack of upkeep from the communities around them.
As a population, we can mitigate these impacts of pollution harming our local parks and trails by picking up trash during our nature walks, practicing Leave No Trace principles and treading tightly, or teaching our friends and families about our local public lands.
A few months ago, I received an invitation to attend the Next Generation Forest Ambassador Youth Summit led by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Greening Youth Foundation, US Forest Service and Georgia Appalachian Trail Club, who make up the Georgia Mountains Children’s Forest Network. This outing was a four day, three night camping trip where I, along with 26 other participants, learned many skills about conserving the environment like hiking on durable surfaces like designated campsites, packing only what you need so don’t produce more trash, and how I can encourage others to do the same. I even learned a creative skill of creating a rope out of a braided Yucca leaf!
One of the most notable topics we talked about during this Youth Summit was Leave No Trace. Leave No Trace is a set of outdoor ethics comprised of 7 principles. Leave No Trace advocates for conserving the environment and making Public Lands seem just as beautiful as they were before you came to the area. Leave No Trace is all about the environment. As a Boy Scout, I had already been exposed to Leave No Trace, but not to this extent. The mentors from the Georgia Mountains Children’s Forest Network went into great detail about each principle and why they are important. Leave No Trace encouraged us to tread lightly and about bringing only what we need, and to plan ahead and prepare by not packing an excessive amount of gear on our trips.
With these new skills to draw from, we were required to fulfill 20 hours of shared stewardship work after our Summit wrapped up. Before we left, we worked as a collective of NextGen Forest Ambassadors and came up with lots of ideas. For example, maintaining the condition of trailheads, parks, and reserves in our local communities. Some of my peers even started to collaborate with each other to clean and maintain a local trail that had been blanketed in trash and litter from people who are not educated on the negative effects that abandoned trash can have on our public lands. Another idea was to create an advertisement for volunteer cleanups and maintenance to engage our neighbors. An idea that caught my attention was from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy who suggested volunteering on National Trails Day on June 1st.
I decided to teach my Boy Scout troop, Troop 205, about Leave No Trace and minimizing our impacts. I also committed to volunteering on National Trails Day by cleaning up an overgrown trailhead and building a sign with my dad and other volunteers like me.
This four day-three night summit taught me a ton about camping, conservation and other useful skills. I have also gained a few friends along my endeavors of spreading the word. Next year, Georgia Mountains Children’s Forest Network hopes to hold another Next Generation Forest Ambassadors Youth Summit that I highly recommend to your friends and family members aged 14-16. Our public lands are amazing places that many teenagers and young adults overlook because they may think it’s not as fun as the technologically connected world today. However, that’s not the case! Who knows? You may venture out and see some amazing places as well as snap some breathtaking pictures like I did!