“As I was walking that ribbon of highway,
I saw above me that endless skyway:
I saw below me that golden valley:
This land was made for you and me.”
-Woody Guthrie, This Land Is Your Land
Have you ever hiked the trails of the Rockies? Marveled at The Great Smokies? Witnessed the grandeur of Yellowstone or Yosemite? Even if you haven’t, have you stopped to think that they all belong to you?
America’s federal lands, which cover almost 1 million square miles according to The Wilderness Society, belong equally to all Americans. Every trail, every peak, every hill, and every stream is there for our enjoyment. But with this wonderful privilege comes the great responsibility of maintaining the land that we love. This concept in its very essence is that of stewardship. And such was the focus of the Massachusetts Youth Trail Summit that took place on Mount Greylock back in October.
On October 13-14, several young people, including myself, met with conservation leaders at the highest point in Massachusetts. Among those in attendance were representatives from Groundworks Hudson Valley, Greenagers, ROOTS Teen Center, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) and Unity, a Northern Berkshire youth development program. Through contemplative walks on trails, creating art amidst nature and a series of talks, teenagers and adults alike learned the importance of trail stewardship and preserving our land for generations to come.
Ruth Bristol, a junior at Bart Charter in Adams, Massachusetts, shared her biggest takeaway from the experience:
"I think my biggest takeaway would be an increased awareness on the importance of taking care of our trails and that they belong to everyone, that something small like picking up a piece of trash can really make an impact. It was definitely a big motivator to get out and work on taking care of what we have and helping other people develop the same attitude."
Madisyn Manzella, a Pittsfield native, also shared her own unique perspective about the Youth Summit:
"I thought it was a great experience and opportunity. I know I haven’t worked much with ROOTS, and I know that ROOTS/Unity aren’t trail groups like Groundworks or Greenagers, but since we do the Art Walks, I think the experience we had at the youth summit helped educate us a bit more on what we can do while we are on those hikes. My biggest takeaway was learning more about how to connect art with nature. Granted I didn’t draw or paint anything nature related, but it helped me realize that I can connect nature to writing."
My personal outlook echoes the viewpoints of my peers. Not only was the Youth Summit a great experience, but it was eye opening and informative as well. During the Groundworks workshop I learned as humans we often overlook the impact we make on our planet. We might not think as individuals we affect the world around us that much, but collectively we have the power to make a difference. The choice is ours to decide what kind of difference that is. And sometimes it's as simple as deciding to pick up trash we find on a trail. Clearing out fallen branches that obstruct a pathway. Picking up cigarette butts from the ground. These acts may be small on their own, but if everyone does them, we'll all live in a cleaner, better and more beautiful world overall.
After all, this land is our land, from California to the New York island. From the Redwood forests to the Appalachian mountains — this land was made for every single one of us.
And because this land is our land, it is absolutely imperative that we preserve and protect its splendor for generations to come.
Ashley "Asha" Kelton is a senior in high school, intern at ROOTS Teen Center and an active member of the North Adams community in Massachusetts. In her free time she enjoys writing poetry, drawing sketches, watching foreign films, hiking on local trails and spending time with friends and family. Follow Ashley on Instagram @ashleydoespoetry.
You can follow the ROOTS Teen Center on Facebook and on Instagram @rootsteencenter.