Daunika on the 2022 Split-Loon Youth Project

As one of ITA’s Youth Trail Crew volunteers, Daunika just completed her third week-long project with ITA. Last year, she introduced her younger sister to ITA and they have worked on the last two projects together. She has brought joy to each project she’s been on as well as a hard-working attitude. Thank you for all that you do for ITA, Daunika!

What are some of the things you enjoy doing for fun? What are your hopes for your future?

I’m 17 years old, a native Idahoan, and the oldest of 6 kids. In my free time, I read everything, draw and sketch, do pottery, write, rollerblade, and hang out with my family and friends. My future, well, is both planned out and rather fluid at the same time, such is life! I’m a college freshman at CWI pursuing my Associates as a Physical Therapy Assistant, and eventually a doctorate somewhere. The next two or three years, I hope to spend traveling the US extensively with my family, all 8 of us, our dog and cat, in our 36-foot travel trailer. The world is so big, and I’m excited to start experiencing my country.

How and why did you first get involved with ITA? What do you like about volunteering with ITA?

This is actually a rather funny story, though retrospective funny. My dad is a long haul trucker and two years ago, I had the opportunity to go on another trip with him, we made it all the way over to Massachussettes! Somewhere in Connecticut or so, my mom sends me a text, with a screenshot of a notification for a trail clearing opportunity that desperately needs volunteers, in about 2 weeks. I, being me, completely skipped over the fact that it was in the Sawtooth Wilderness, and went along my merry way of exclaiming that I wanted to challenge myself to hike and clear trails, all the while thinking it would be a week of just day-trips in my area. A few days later, my mom exclaims: “I got your packing list!” and I am thinking, ‘what? Mom, why would I need a packing list for a daytrip?’ She talks about how I need to bring a tent, and good shoes, and oh, a water bladder, and when my brain finally catches up, I realize what I’d signed up for! Steeling my nerves, I kept going, and in less than a week after getting home from Massachussettes, I left again to spend a week in the Sawtooth Wilderness. We hiked 56 miles accumulated, cleared over 100 trees and over 100 waterbars. Wow! The trip was so amazing, between the views and the work we did, but especially the people, and I had the opportunity to go on a return trip with them last year.

I love volunteering with ITA because it gives me the opportunity to go out into the wilds, meet people from all over Idaho and not just my valley, and we clear a trail together. We get to learn to use tools we didn’t even know existed, and work together and at the end of the day, when we’re tired, we’re all a team that remembers what work we did. Also, when you work hard all day, our camp chef can cook us nearly anything at all and it will taste like heaven on earth.

Most memorable backcountry or ITA experience?

Hands down the most memorable experience I have had would be a 3-hour long trailblazing excursion on the Split-Loon trip last summer. Split-Loon Lake trip was a full weeklong backpacking trail-clearing trip to Loon Lake, and half way through the week, we had an adventurous three hours where we were in a valley without a trail, without our leader, and then saw a bear! The trail to Loon Lake is one of those trails that is easiest to hike going one direction, and we were trail-clearing the other. That morning, we had decided to pack out all the way to Loon Lake and then work our way back to clear the trail. Carrying 30-pound packs and tools, we managed to lose the trail completely, and log-hopped, rock jumped, attempted not to fall, all down to a creek to refill our water and take a break. After a little while, our leader tried to go and locate the trail, and unbeknownst to us, sloshed a significant way through a bog on the other side. After a while, we realized he hadn’t come back, and so stood on a rock to try and locate him. We saw him, and he pointed us parallel to the creek towards a saddle, trying to help us avoid the swamp, and after an hour or two, we completely lost contact with him, whistle, sight, anything. At that same time, the boys who had stepped up to the leadership position saw a bear, and led us to cross the creek, then we scrambled all the way up to the ridge. It was there that we found the trail, blessedly clear of trees and rocks and uneven ground. From there, we found our leader’s backpack, and then we saw him, all the way across the valley. Exhausted, we sat down and waited for him to hike back around on the trail to come and reunite with us, and from there, we made our way to Loon Lake. I think this experience taught me several things, one, that trails are really useful, even if it’s a trail that hasn’t been brushed or cleared of logs. Two, the value of whistles as signaling and communication tools. And finally that we are more self-sufficient than we think we are.

How do you feel like working with ITA has changed you?

ITA first gave me an experience with backcountry trails, even though I had hiked and camped previously, it was nothing compared to the trails that I’ve helped clear, rugged and beautiful, sometimes level with the peaks and other times winding among the lowest valleys. It then gave me a valuable lesson that I can do hard things, that I am capable of hiking 56 miles in a week, and where I had never slept in a tent alone, that I could, even if I thought I couldn’t. It also showed me a new level of teamwork that I hadn’t experienced before. It’s hard to use a crosscut saw alone, or clear a trail alone, and everything gets so much easier when you have someone who you can ask to help and work together on accomplishing something.

Why are trails worth protecting?

In a world of technology, like cars and motorized scooters, phones, and anything that can get it done faster than our bodies and our brains, it is incredibly difficult to explain, what is the valuability in going back to our roots. To handwriting, to basic math, manual transmission, and walking to doing it ourselves. It’s about the experience, and the accomplishment, and the journey it took to get to the finish line. It’s indescribable to see something in person, so say, that I walked to and through that, I saw it in a way that was unaffected by the outside world, as it was and is and hopefully will be for so many years. I hope to preserve this experience, and keep the trails open for others to see the world in a wonderful way.

Daunika (right) with her sister Aurora