The Kenai River brings in thousands of tourists every year; for fishing, rafting, or just to see the sights. But it also brings in a lot of volunteers who work to preserve all those activities. Moira Pyhala is one of those volunteers, and her efforts have earned her a nomination for a Spirit of Youth Award.
Moira spent a good chunk of her summer break from Skyview high school volunteering with the Kenai Watershed Forum’s Stream Watch program. The program’s coordinator, Lisa Beranek, nominated her for the award. Part of the deal when you are nominated is an interview with the Spirit of Youth folks. You’ve probably heard some of those stories on the radio in the past. I was invited to tag along for Moira’s interview last week at the Kenai Airport with Spirit of Youth’s Shana Sheehy. Moira said her time on the river allowed her to make connections with people from all over the world.
“I think the most significant part is when you ask people ‘do you know all these rules and regulations, are you ready to fish?’ and you end up just talking to people. We met people from Germany, from all over the lower 48, who really didn’t know anything about the river, didn’t know anything about fishing.”
So why would someone, in the golden years of high school, want to spend a summer patrolling the river?
“The Kenai River…is a huge economic resource that’s going to effect my future and generations to come, so I think it’s really important to protect.”
For a lot of 16 year olds, one volunteering project would be enough. But, working through the local Rotary Club’s RYLA program, Pyhala helped start a local Interact Club.
“We’re supposed to do a community project and an international project. We volunteer in the community. We just did the Turkey Trot 5K/10K run for the Tustumena 200. And we’re raising money to go on an international trip to volunteer.”
They’re still nailing down a location for that potential trip. Some voluntourism in Costa Rica is one option, but there’s still more work to do at home, she says.
“It’s something that’s really positive, because it gets kids, gets volunteer hours, which I don’t think I realized how important that is until this summer.”
And her experience this summer might have triggered an interest in what she does for a career.
“After volunteering for awhile, I actually want to go into marine biology now.”
Pyhala is one of a hundred individuals or clubs vying for awards in 11 different categories. And she joins a number of other volunteers from the Kenai Peninsula: Hailey Hughes and the Colors of Homer group from Homer, Naomi Hess from Ninilchick, Isaiah Simeonoff and Timothy Ukatish from Nanwalek, Port Graham’s Micheal Anahonak, the Ocean Sciences Club from Seward, Trinity Standifier in Tyonek and summer Anderson, also from Soldotna.
In the interest of disclosure, we must note that Pyhala is the daughter of KDLL Board member Matthew Pyhala.