Diverse projects presented in Caring For the Kenai competition

Winner chosen in annual contest

Posted: Sunday, April 14, 2002

Fourteen high school students pitched their ideas on how to protect the environment of the Kenai Peninsula Friday night at Kenai Central High School, in the 12th annual Caring For the Kenai competition.

Projects as varied as creating a recycled coloring book to producing public information radio segments were presented.

Caring For the Kenai is an environmental competition in which high school students come up with a way to protect the environment of the Kenai Peninsula or to improve the area's preparedness for a natural disaster. The project is typically assigned in high school science classes.

This year more than 300 students entered projects. From those, 120 were chosen as semifinalists, and from that group, 12 were selected as the finalists who were required to deliver an oral presentation about their projects Friday.

All finalists received a 2002 Caring For the Kenai T-shirt and jacket, designed by students in a Soldotna High School art class, and at least a $150 savings bonds, thanks to a $6,000 donation from Agrium and Unocal, the program's main sponsors.

All 120 semifinalists will be taken on a guided fishing trip with the Kenai River Professional Fish Guides Association. Any school that had at least 50 students participate in the project received $500 for its science department from a $5,000 donation earmarked by Agrium and Unocal for this purpose. The rest of the $5,000 was distributed to the schools proportionally to how the students placed in the final round.

First place went to Kaitlin Vadla, a sophomore at Soldotna High School, who received a $1,500 U.S. savings bond. She designed a Web page for riverbank property owners. The page gives information about how to mitigate the negative environmental impacts of construction on riverbank flood plains.

Vadla began her project on flood plain protection two years ago, after her parents bought some property along the Kenai River in Soldotna. She researched her topic and decided the Internet would be a good way to share her information with the public. So she began to set up her Web site, which she said was the most challenging aspect of her project.

"The rest was cake," she said. "Even though (the research) was a really big factor."

In the process of doing her Caring For the Kenai project, Vadla not only learned how to help protect her environment, she also developed an interest in technology.

"I think I will pursue this as a career," she said. "There's a great opportunity to put these skills to use."

Second place went to Cameron Schneider, a freshman at SoHi, who designed and constructed a Tundra Soft Track wheelchair carrier that can provide disabled persons access to the outdoors without damaging the environment by building heavy access infrastructures. The carrier was made out of aluminum and was built to be lightweight, safe and portable. Schneider received a $1,000 savings bond.

"After I got started I thought it was pretty cool," he said. After I saw what I could do, I wanted to win, so I got involved and tried my best."

Ryan Hughes of SoHi won third place and a $800 savings bond by creating a riverbank stabilization design using discarded tires.

Megan Kennedy of Nikiski High School took fourth and a $600 bond with her board game that teaches facts about household hazardous wastes.

Fifth place and a $450 bond went to Ben Breakfield of SoHi, who advocated implementing a filter system for storm drains to prevent hydrocarbons from entering the Kenai River during times of heavy runoff.


'I think I will pursue this as a career. There's a great opportunity to put these skills to use.' - Kaitlin Vadla, Caring For the Kenai winner.

Leo Grasso of SoHi took sixth place and a $300 bond with a similar project -- a system designed to capture oil in storm-drain runoff.

Other finalists were Kelly McLain of SoHi, who wrote and illustrated a children's environmental story; Cody Conrad of SoHi, who advocated passing legislation requiring the recycling of bottles and cans; Kim Martin and Gabby Merry of Skyview High School, who promoted the construction of "Earthships" -- buildings made with recycled material; Jamie Miller and Nick Byrne of Skyview, who wrote, produced and performed an environmental information public radio segment that will air this summer; Keely Chavka of SoHi, who produced an information packet that promoted electricity conservation; and Amy Shoemaker of SoHi, who created an environmental activity game and coloring book.

Judging the oral presentations were Dale Bagley, Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor; Mike Nugent, plant manager for Agrium Kenai Nitrogen Operations; John Zager, assistant manager of Cook Inlet Gas for Unocal, Alaska; Paula Christensen, director of elementary education for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District; Brett Huber, executive director of the Kenai Peninsula Sportfishing Association; Reuben Floyd, a junior at Nikiski High School who won last year's Caring for the Kenai competition; and Deric Marcorelle, environmental specialist for the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, who sat in for DEC Commissioner Michele Brown, who was unable to attend.

Merrill Sikorski, contest coordinator, said he is pleased the community is getting involved with the kids and helping make their ideas a reality.

The Caring For the Kenai finalists, their teachers, families and guests will attend a banquet in their honor on Friday.

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