Anna Hurst, a 22-year-old senior at the University of Kansas, experienced plenty of sun and sand during her spring break. No beach, but lots of sun and sand.
Hurst was a time zone away from the nearest ocean. She and 6 other Kansas students spent a week of their spring break in late March volunteering at Zion National Park.
“We did maintenance on one trail that had a lot of sand,” says Hurst, a finance major. “In places the trail was like pure sand. A few times I had to dump sand out of my shoes. But it was super fun. All the work we did made me appreciate the trails I go on a lot more.”
How cool is that?
Meet the student body—back row, left to right: junior Kris Mo, senior Wes Powell and freshman Adam Moon. Seated students, from left: sophomore Alex Kraatz, senior Anna Hurst, freshman Anna Dietz and senior Cassie Absher. Rock Chalk, Jayhawk.
Hurst, a native of Wichita, and her fellow Jayhawks are involved with a student-run movement known as Alternative Breaks, estimated to have around 140 colleges participating nationwide.
Wes Powell, Alex Kraatz, Cassie Absher and, below, Kris Mo doing trail work.
REI: So what is Break Away/Alternative Breaks?
Hurst: Alternative Breaks is a nonprofit organization that sends groups of students across the country to volunteer. They do weeklong programs or weekend breaks throughout the year. At Kansas we’ve got groups of students out volunteering at 14 sites during spring break. Zion is just one of the sites.
Cassie Absher and Anna Hurst above, and Wes Powell and Adam Moon below, get acquainted with loppers and Zion's fast-growing manzanita.
The Magnificent 7 celebrate their clean-up effort for Zion's Nature Center.
REI: How did all of you get there?
Hurst: We’re all in one van together with all of our gear. That’s when you really got to know everyone. But it’s been really good. We have 3 guys and 4 girls on the trip. My last trips were mostly all girls. We have a budget for our food, and that’s interesting, because the guys like to eat a lot. So we have to ration our food. But we all get along really well.
Alex Kraatz trims a plant that is in the line of a fence being installed at Zion's nursery of native plants. The fence will keep deer from eating seeds. The park harbors native seeds for possible replanting projects in case a wildfire damages the landscape.
REI: How did you become an outdoor person?
Hurst: I think the biggest influence on me was my friends. In my family we did RV and tent camping and rode horses, but my friends grew up in extremely active families—backpacking, hiking, running, biking. So my friends rubbed off on me.
REI: Some speculate that young people today are too indoors-oriented. True?