I was lucky enough to spend last weekend in Asheville with the Alternative Break program through the Center for Civic Engagement.
Alternative Break is an awesome program here on campus:
“Students spend college breaks traveling to national and international destinations to participate in community service, explore exciting places, and make new friends! Through a rigorous education component, direct service and reflection, College of Charleston Alternative Break members promote self-awareness, respect for diversity, and become civic-minded individuals who are conscious of social issues and the importance of being an active citizen.”
This was my first trip with the program and it was a lot of fun- would definitely recommend!!! The focus of the trip was on Land Conservation and Environmental Awareness. We worked with two different land conservation groups in the Asheville area- Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy and Mountain True.
When conserving ecosystems there are many factors to consider. Human induced land disturbance is detrimental to a fragile ecosystem. Foot traffic can kill endangered species and change patterns in the soil dynamics. Unfortunately humans are also associated with litter which can have cascading effects on an ecosystem. On the other hand, it is important to educate people and create human and nature connections which can only happen by bringing people to the ecosystem so they can see, learn, and understand. Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy explained to us that they struggle with this debate all of the time. For the piece of land we were helping them with they decided it was not suitable for public access. In order to keep people from entering we helped them plant A LOT of blackberry trees along the highway to keep people away. These trees which were just little nubs when we planted them will grow rapidly and have thorns so people will be discouraged from trying to get passed them. It was really fun to learn about the land and we saw several species of native wildflowers including Viola and Trillium. There was also an abundance of wild onion plants and we were able to take some home!
Planting Blackberry Trees!
We also learned a lot about the importance of native species and how destructive invasive species can be in an ecosystem from Mountain True. Ecosystems are extremely complex and we do not fully understand them. Invasive species are plant species that are not native and fill niches in the ecosystem which inhibit native plants to grow. Some invasives are diabolical and have poisonous roots, but others just grow quick and fast before other species have the time to sprout. Invasive species take away from biodiversity which make the system less complex and less resilient to change. Invasive species are also foreign so native insects often times cannot survive off of their nutrients. This has cascading effects because if the native insects begin to die off then whatever animals normally eat the insects will begin to die as well. When we worked with Mountain True we helped them remove two invasive species which had completely taken over the land. It was very informational and also a stress relieving activity!
While we were having all of this fun, we also made CofC Alternative Break history by going zero waste! When talking about environmental awareness evaluating your own life choices and becoming conscious of your personal actions is super important. Making a weekend trip zero waste requires a lot of planning because many daily activities generate waste. In preparation our trip leaders bought food in bulk from Earth Fare and we all brought our own mess kits with reusable napkins. In Asheville we went to a farmers’ market to get fresh veggies and brought them back in our reusable bags. Any other waste we generated was diverted from the landfill via composting or recycling. We all learned that it is possible to have a successful and fun weekend while generating zero waste!
-Lizzy Beyer, Sustainability Intern