Joseph Zubek
“Congratulations! You have been selected as one of 10 students to attend the first-ever Alternative Spring Break (ASB) trip at Waubonsee!” In the weeks since I had applied to be part of the first group of student volunteers from Waubonsee Community College to spend our spring break volunteering in Tennessee, this was the message I had been waiting to see.

For the next few months, I attended weekly meetings with nine other students as we organized, planned and fundraised for the weeklong trip, where we would spend our spring break helping to clear a section of the Cumberland Trail, a 300-mile trail stretching from the Cumberland Gap National Park in Kentucky toward the Chickamauga Chattanooga National Military Park, just outside of Chattanooga, Tennessee. We would be part of a volunteer corps of college students from across the country who are working to complete the trail within the next four years.

I woke up bright and early on March 13 for the long day ahead. Before I knew it, we were at the airport, checking our bags, entering security and boarding our plane. During the flight alone, I made lifelong friends. A bond that only strengthened throughout the week.

After landing safely in Nashville, we packed the rental van in a manner that was like a real-life game of Tetris, and embarked on a three-hour trip through mountains to Fort Bluff Camp in Dayton, Tennessee. The rest of the day flew by as everyone explored the area and waited for other schools to arrive so we could receive our orientation and head to bed, waiting eagerly for the next day.

The following dawn started our daily routine of work on the trail. We grabbed our tools and gear, and hiked for about 20 minutes down to a section of the Cumberland Trail. Once there, we all set to work, plowing the duff (topsoil), clipping roots, chopping stumps and removing rocks. By building an extension of the Cumberland Trail, we were providing a path for people in the future to hike, bike and explore the surrounding beauty.

The rest of the week followed a similar routine, with additional presentations and activities. Over lunch periods there were educational presentations about historical events in Dayton and the species found on the trail.

In the evenings, we had sessions on the essentials for survival, the history behind the Cumberland Trail, and predatory birds like the owl, vulture and the American bald eagle. We spent time sitting around bonfires, playing games and reflecting on our journey throughout the week. On our last evening, we even learned how to square dance.

Over the course of the trip, I gained a new understanding of the joy that can be found in hard work and teamwork. Each day, I was pumped with energy and enthusiasm, ready to fulfill my duty as a volunteer. No matter what obstacle presented itself on the trail, I set myself to the challenge with determination.

I actually found myself singing while I worked and encouraging everyone with words of praise and gratitude. The lesson that teamwork is essential to successfully finish major tasks is a reward in itself. My ASB experience was truly wonderful and I am excited to incorporate lessons learned into my daily life.

Joseph Zubek lives in Yorkville and is a student at Waubonsee Community College

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