Originally published Tuesday, August 6, 2019 at 09:40a.m.

GRAND CANYON, Ariz. — Once a year at Grand Canyon National Park, the park service hosts a national conference for collegiate students who are opting out of the traditional party-type spring break. Instead students give back through service work.

Many schools are expanding on the Alternative Break Citizenship School idea and incorporating other school breaks into the program, like this summer option. At this year’s conference there were over 75 students from 40 schools. As part of their training, students learned about how to organize and host other successful alternative break opportunities.

As students learned about leadership and organization, they also received an education in the Park Service. In order to manage such a large group of volunteers, volunteers swapped between different maintenance projects. All of the students helped pick up litter and attended educational training offerings put on by the park.

In one of the lectures students learned about how micro trash affects wildlife.

“I didn’t realize that small things like very small pieces of paper and cigarette butts can really affect the wildlife,” said Ashley Lanuza, a spring break participant. “A story that really struck me is that the condor needs bone in order to lay their eggs but they can’t tell the difference between glass and bone and so they end up eating the glass and dying.”

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Alternative Break students help with litter clean-up at Mather Point on the South Rim of Grand Canyon. (Terri Attridge/WGCN)

Rodas, who gave the talk on micro trash, came back this year as an intern. He said he really enjoyed his frost-time experience in March and wanted to see more.

“The commercialization of the Canyon leads to more trash to be generated here,” Rodas said.

For the volunteer week, students will power-wash concrete areas and coat floors with epoxy. Students also attend a safety briefing and tutorial put on by the Park Service before jumping into these projects. Four NPS maintenance staff help students work on new skills and guide student teams.

“We are learning about service but we are trying to connect it to the National Park Service and stewardship,” said Rachel Funk, a National Park Service Community Ambassador.

As an ambassador, Funk helps with all duties that fall under assistant volunteer coordinator.

Funk is well-seasoned to hard work – in the past, she has worked on a trail crew. Funk is funded through a partner organization and has worked with this volunteer program as a year-round employee for two years. During the alternative spring break, she spends all day with the students, fielding their questions. She challenges students to think about how to better care for national parks.

“How can we make this messaging better so our parks aren't being loved to death but just being loved?” Funk asks.

Christina Cuevas said “I wanted to learn about eco tourism and how humans are affecting nature… I wanted to get the perspective about hoe humans are killing the planet by enjoying it.”

Cuevas thinks that there are ways to enjoy the environment without destroying it. The impact of social media on the environment is just one of the many topics students are discussing this week.

Additionally, Alternative Break Citizenship School participant Addie Addalla is currently making a film about the program, which can be viewed on the Break Away YouTube channel.

The team of 75 students will do service work for 5 hours each day during this volunteer week. They will accomplish $23,000 worth of work for Grand Canyon National Park.

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