The students showed Carlsbad Caverns National Park staff they were willing to roll up their sleeves, perform manual labor and have fun doing it.
The dozen students and their staff advisor signed up for their school's annual alternative spring break program and found this year they were heading to Carlsbad Caverns National Park.
"They were awesome and incredible. I was just blown away," said Sam Denman, park archeologist, in describing the group's work ethic and willingness to learn about the park. "I hope they set a trend for other students to volunteer."
Christine Jones, a junior at A&M, said this was her third year as a volunteer with alternative spring break and the program has taken her to different parts of the country.
"Every year we plan a trip. This year, we had planned to go to Florida, but that didn't work out. Our trip coordinator sent out e-mails and the people at Carlsbad Caverns National Park replied first," Jones said. "Coming here has been awesome. We shed a lot of blood, sweat and tears because sometimes the work was hard. But we all bonded with each other and the rangers that worked with us."
The students, during their week-long volunteer stint, cleaned lint from formations in the cave, removed barbed wire and old telephone poles and lines along the park escarpment, and helped clean a historical dump site.
Jamaica Powney, A&M faculty staff advisor, speaking during a lunch break with the students and park staff, said she worked alongside the students but admitted it was a little tougher for her.
"They had a little more energy than I did. But I gave it a good effort," she said laughing. "These students are amazing. This alternative spring break is a great opportunity for Aggies to go out and show the rest of the nation what great students we have. These students are majoring in genetics, biology, civil engineering, oceanography and other science fields. I'm proud of what they have achieved here this week."
Elda Ramirez, a graduate student, said two years ago she volunteered at Mammoth Cave on spring break and she jumped at the opportunity to come to the caverns.
"It's been pretty interesting," Ramirez said. "I have learned a lot about conservation, preservation and the outdoors. I got to meet a lot of cool people and park rangers. I got a better idea of what they are doing here at the park and their priorities for the park. I highly recommend alternative spring break. Sure, it was hard work, but it was very rewarding being here. I was doing something that was greater than myself."
Glenn Reynolds, interpretative ranger and guide, said he met the students for the first time on Friday at the park's historic dump site.
"It's an archeological site also called a "midden" (a mound or site containing shells, animal bones, and other refuse that indicates the site of a human settlement) left by an ancient culture such as the Pueblo people. The students were enthusiastic and I was very impressed in how the reacted when I explained the historical significance of the things we found today and they documented it."
Reynolds said he was also impressed that the students chose to come to the park to work over the commercial entertainment many college students choose during their spring break.
"I hope through their experience here they will choose to go out into the world and do the right thing," he added.
Senior Jared Head, who plans to go to medical school after obtaining hi Bachelor of Science degree, said alternative spring break gave him the opportunity to do some good and "see more of our beautiful nation."
"Being out here in the park puts things in perspective. It also showed me how the people working at this park are protecting the resources," he said. "I actually enjoyed the manual labor. I have done landscaping and other outdoor labor. The work was hard. But being out here gives you inspiration and a different kind of energy."
Senior Michael Brown, who is set to graduate with a degree in civil engineering, said he chose to participate last year in an alternative spring break that took him and his peers to New Orleans to assist in the ongoing cleanup and repair caused by Hurricane Katrina. However, he said his week at the caverns superseded his expectations and the experience was far better than in New Orleans.
'Here, we have met so many different people; we interacted with the park rangers and saw what they do every day. I gained a lot of knowledge in what we do impacts the earth and how it is mitigated. Before coming to the park I didn't know much about it or the area. I didn't expect everything to be as organized as it was. The warm hospitality was outstanding."
Justin Woldt, park deputy chief of interpretation and coordinator, said he was thrilled when the park was chosen by the students for their alternative spring break project. He said the group was hard-working an collectively put in 600 hours time during their week at the park. Woldt said in terms of dollars, the work they performed was a cost-savings to taxpayers.
"They contacted the park through our website,' he said. "I have worked at other parks where they have alternative spring break students and I had hoped we could do it here. I really like the program because it allows young adults to get some hands-on work in the area of conservation and it shows them there are careers within in the park service that may meet their career goals."
Woldt said he plans to grow the program to get other colleges with alternative spring break programs to consider Carlsbad Caverns National Park as a destination do their volunteer work.
"The students that worked here this past week got a lot accomplished. My plan is to grow this program that will fill up the whole month of March with students from different schools and states as they go on spring break," he added. "This week has been great. I know it can be done."
Source: Current Targus