By Josh Davis, a 17-year-old ITA volunteer, photographer, and recent high school graduate. You can see more of his photos by following him on Instagram. 

The South Fork Blackmare Creek trail project was my third and biggest project volunteering with ITA. Although I have worked on a multi-day project in the Frank Church Wilderness and one day trip at Station Creek, I had little personal insight into what I would really be getting into. South Fork Blackmare was a seven-day, stock-supported venture into the winding Salmon River Mountains where me and seven others would swing pulaskis, row crosscuts, and freshen up a trail to a beautiful lake that has since been closed down. From day 0 to day 7 the entire trip was a rollercoaster of memorable experiences and difficult challenges.

As a youth volunteer, I have a different perspective than my peers with decades of experience. That is why I try really hard to reflect on each trip I take and try to find as many things as possible to learn, adapt, or abandon. These mental notes gave me a way to separate good adventures from not-so-good adventures; enjoying trips and learning trips. Blackmare Creek was a learning trip on many accounts. From adopting a tick key to double-checking if I brought more than one pair of socks, the people that I am surrounded by on ITA trips have been great influences on me. With much to learn, having the ability to come in contact with people that have been in my shoes and are happy to guide me instead of finding out the hard way is a significant part of my growth.

Getting my boots on the ground with loppers in my hand and a pulaski in the other, I was awestruck by the jungle of brush that faced our group. The Frank Church trip taught me how to cut logs, and Station Creek how to build water bars, but as Gregg Rettshlag, one of our crew leads said, “We’ll be spending a lot of time just staring and scratching our heads.” and he was not joking. All week, we slowly but surely bushwhacked and cleaned the trail; some parts had piles of branches that were similar to walking through a corn-field.

When I did not have a tool in my hand or admittedly soaking in the scenery, I was taking photos with my camera. What I love about ITA and the outdoors in general is how flexible and open it all is. My passion is photography and the skill of using principles of design and composition to capture what I see. This personal angle is welcomed on trail projects for the mutual benefits of giving others memorable photos while improving my craft.

In addition to the insurmountable challenge ahead of us, the weather had the pure intent of raining on our parade, literally. With hail the size of nickels on Sunday and afternoon showers half of the week, my choice to bring double-knee Carhartts was not one of my best decisions. Bugs were another adversary we all faced, where there were no ticks, there were mosquitos and I believe my final count for ticks on my pants was 23 by the end of the week. But, with all of these odds plus some personal, it made the final day so sweet. Walking back from our farthest point and just admiring what we managed to do made me feel accomplished and glad to be with the crew that I was with.

Despite its challenging work, I cannot stress how special this project, and all the others I have gone on, is to me. This culmination of everything that ITA is and the learning process of a growing outdoorsman leaves me with nothing but praise for the opportunities offered. The path of making a difference in nature has greatly influenced my decision for college as I am pursuing forest engineering to get more active in preserving, managing, and improving the outdoors I have grown to love.