Copper River Record 2015
By Robin Mayo
When WISE presented our first Changing Seasons program in 2003, Emmie VanWhye was a third grader. She remembers making leaf rubbings, excited to watch the pattern of the leaf “skeleton” emerge as she rubbed with a crayon. When she was in 4th and 5th grades, she recalls going to Wrangell-St. Elias National Park Visitors Center for Earth Discovery Day, where the recycling information and games made a big impression, especially the image evoked of discarded bottled water containers stretching to the moon and back.
In 2009, Emmie was chosen to participate in the Copper River Stewardship Program, and spent ten days with a group of teenagers from the Copper Valley and Cordova. The youngest of the group, she was initially intimidated, and worried she would not be able to keep up with the older kids. As they rafted down the Copper River, her confidence grew. The group set up camp in pouring rain, learned to row, and along the way grew in their understanding of each other and the watershed they all call home. Emmie also participated in the Copper River Stewardship Program in 2011, this time a seasoned veteran who took on a leadership role among the students. The group travelled to McCarthy and went flightseeing in a small bush plane, an experience which Emmie describes as “definitely the coolest thing I have ever gotten to do.”
Building on knowledge and experiences gained in the Stewardship Program, Emmie began volunteering at Earth Discovery Day, first as an assistant, then as lead instructor for the presentation on pollution and enviroscape. Using a model of a typical landscape, she explained the differences between point source and non-point source pollution. Colored liquids are used to show how quickly a small mess can become a big problem as it enters groundwater and river systems.
With a growing interest in the environment and pollution issues, Emmie began looking for more opportunities to learn, and her experience with WISE was a stepping stone to be accepted for programs like UAF’s Girls on Ice, and the Alaska Youth for Environmental Action conference in Juneau. After her graduation from Kenny Lake High School in 2013, Emmie went to the University of Alaska in Fairbanks. She is studying Rural Development with an emphasis on Natural Resource Development. Her favorite classes are on conservation and sustainability, and after graduation she hopes to work on sustainable agriculture in Alaska. Emmie feels her experiences with WISE “helped me learn what I really like to do, and contributed to the path I chose.”
Who We Are
WISEfriends are several writers connected with Wrangell Institute for Science and Environment, a nonprofit organization located in Alaska's Copper River Valley. Most of these articles originally appeared in our local newspaper, the Copper River Record.