Idaho high school seniors must complete a “senior project” as part of their graduation requirements. While the criterion for completion varies from school to school, the basic requirement is that a senior take on a project, learn about it in-depth, then complete it by a certain date. Levi Armichardy, a student at Council High School in west-central Idaho, chose to focus on trails, something he is passionate about, and ITA couldn’t be happier.
Levi comes from a family of backcountry enthusiasts. His mom, Val, a high school science teacher, grew up at the remote South Fork Ranch on the South Fork Salmon River, helping her parents caretake the property and stock, hiking and riding trails much of the year. She went on to work on a Forest Service trail crew and now volunteers, along with Levi and his little brother Tucker, each summer as a host at the historic Moose Creek Ranger Station in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness. Levi’s dad, Pete, also worked on a trail crew and now is a Forest Service mule packer in the Selway-Bitterroot, and has taught Levi the skill (or really, as Levi says, part skill, part art). Levi has always felt at home in the backcountry, and now regularly completes solo backpacking trips to explore new places.
Val and Levi volunteered for an ITA Youth Trip in the Seven Devils in 2021, with Val as the leader and Levi as a crew member. Val’s mom Judy even volunteered as the camp cook, feeding eight hungry teenagers for a week. The exceptional crew cleared hundreds of trees and lots of brush off eight miles of trail, and at the end of the week Levi began pondering the idea of leading a trip for his 2022 senior project. He contacted ITA and asked Melanie Vining, ITA’s executive director, to be his project mentor, another part of the requirement. Levi had already thought a lot about the project and even had a trail in mind: the Echo Lake trail in the Seven Devils. He explained that he’d recently hiked it and saw over 100 downed trees. He also figured (accurately) that clearing this trail would provide a big benefit to hikers, as it accessed two beautiful mountain lakes. And, he said, he felt strongly about connecting people to the wilderness.
“…uncleared trails keep people out of the wilderness, which means there are fewer people who appreciate the beauty that can be found there. I believe trails and wilderness are an important part of our heritage, so if we lose our appreciation of those things, we lose a part of our heritage. This belief, along with my role as a frequent trail user, eventually led to my choice of a senior project.”
As planning progressed, Levi enlisted the help of ITA’s Trail Project Director, Alex Cravener, as a co-lead and Fred Hebert, a dedicated ITA volunteer, to cook for the crew. He got the approval of the Forest Service to proceed with the project, and enlisted packers to haul crew gear and food for the week. By March, when the project schedule hit the ITA website, the Echo Lake Youth Trip was set for July 31-August 6th.
Levi had a summer job working at a remote ranch, which made planning the project and communicating with the crew more challenging, but he did an excellent job and his crew of 5 fellow high school students met him and the packers at the Windy Saddle Trailhead on July 31. A week of awesome trail work ensued; the crew cut 175 trees off the trail and did over 1000 feet of brushing, clearing the trail the entire way to Echo Lake. They even enjoyed a day off to swim and fish, hiking the trail they had cleared.
Council High School seniors presented their projects to family, friends, and a panel of judges on December 15th, and Melanie Vining was able to attend Levi’s presentation. He reflected on what he’d learned in front of a three-judge panel.
”There were several important skills that I developed over the course of this project. The most important of those skills was communication. In the months leading up to the trip, I was responsible for coordinating the efforts of all the people involved in the project, including the packers, cook, crew members, parents, and representatives of the ITA and the Forest Service… A different type of communication came on the trip itself, when I had to teach the (volunteers) everything they needed to know about trail-clearing…I had to communicate my knowledge in ways that they could understand, which meant that I needed to bridge the gap between their thinking and mine. This challenged me throughout the week, and while I didn’t master it, I made significant progress and am excited to see where I can go with my new skill.”
It’s clear this graduating senior loves the outdoors and will be a public land and wilderness advocate for life. He even offered to lead an ITA trip in 2023 (which we will take him up on).
Trails are in good hands if Levi is representative of the next generation!