Peninsula home to budding environmental experts

Area student follows tradition of winning lofty President’s Environmental Youth Award

Posted: Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Most communities in the U.S. would be proud to be the home of one President’s Environmental Youth Award winner. Truth be told, there is only one area in Alaska’s judging region to ever produce a multitude of winners: the central Kenai Peninsula.

When Soldotna High School junior Marit Hartvigson travels to the national awards ceremony in Washington, D.C. this April, she will be the fourth area student to accept the honor for Region 10, which includes Washington, Idaho, Oregon and Alaska.

Hartvigson’s entry was originally a winning idea for the annual Caring for the Kenai contest. Her idea, which became a reality last year after permitting, design work and a good deal of leg work, was to build a “Stream Keepers Walkway.” The project produced a grated platform from which Kalifornsky Beach Elementary students can collect water samples from Slikok Creek without damaging the stream’s bank. The walkway allowed the continuation of the Adopt-A-Stream program, which teaches students about watersheds.

The announcement of Hartvigson’s award came at the Kenai Chamber of Commerce’s regular meeting Wednesday. At the meeting, Caring for the Kenai organizer Merrill Sikorski pointed out how the 16-year-old program had helped make the Kenai Peninsula so widely recognized for youth environmental service. The three previous award winners and one runner-up also started by participating in Caring for the Kenai.

Caring for the Kenai calls on area high school students to offer project ideas in the areas of environmental protection and disaster preparedness. Winners get cash rewards, offered by way of the sponsorship from Agrium Inc., Union Oil Co. of California (formerly Unocal) and the Kenai River Sportfishing Association.

Hartvigson, who found out about the PEYA recognition last month, said the news came as a pleasant surprise.

“I was really excited and I felt very honored to win it,” Hartvigson said.

Hartvigson’s advice to those entering Caring for the Kenai this year?

“Be creative with your ideas and don’t be afraid to try a new thing that may seem out of the norm. Stick to what you want to do and you’ll be able to achieve anything you put your mind to,” she said.

Hartvigson won top honors from Caring for the Kenai in 2004, and 2005’s winner also will fly to Washington, D.C. this spring.

Kenai Central High School junior Hannah Watkins won in 2005 by designing a series of books on disaster preparedness for preschool children. The first three in the series, “Heidi and the Tsunami,” James and the Volcano” and “Molly and the Earthquake” were written and illustrated by Watkins. One thousand copies of “Heidi and the Tsunami” were printed and sent out to kindergartners all over the Kenai Peninsula. The other two are complete and ready for printing, and Watkins is working on a fourth, called “Spencer and the Wildfire.”

Hannah won the Prudential Spirit of Community Involvement Award for her work. She will receive $1,000, an engraved silver medallion and a four-day trip to the nation’s capital in May.

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