Alternative Break Experience: Oregon State University

Photographer's Name

In 2022, Oregon State University’s new hiking club was selected as one of American Hiking Society’s Alternative Break Scholarship recipients. Students contributed to a week-long trail maintenance service project at Moran State Park located on Orcas Island, Washington. Yan Yan, the president of the hiking club and group leader, reflects on the students' experience below.

Photo Courtesy of Yan Yan
Students wave from a dock while exploring the San Juan Islands.

“We are the Oregon State University Hiking Club. We were honored to receive the Alternative Spring Break Scholarship from the American Hiking Society. Without the scholarship, it would be impossible for us to enjoy trail volunteering in Moran State Park on Orcas Island, WA.

There were many things I enjoyed on this trip. I love the wildlife, fungus, and plants unique to Orcas Island. I also adore the beautiful landscapes and gorgeous views. I enjoyed talking to the knowledgeable park rangers who warmly hosted us throughout this trip.

However, out of all of them, what I love most is how this trip bound the hiking club members together. We got to know each other during the week of volunteering and shared laughter by the campfire.

Photo Courtesy of Yan Yan
Students chop wood, tell stories, and roast hot dogs around a campfire after a day working on the trails.


The most rewarding part of the experience for our group is seeing how our volunteer projects can help people and impact the environment. We went to Sucia Island to clear the English Ivy threatening the local species. We opened trails covered with heavy pine needle litter and overgrown branches that might hurt the hikers. We also built a trail to create easy access and guide the hikers. Besides these, we even repaired one of Moran State Park’s most popular trails broken by fallen trees. The hikers who passed us all showed appreciation for our work by saying ‘thank you. The simple words made us feel our work was worthy, and we knew that we were making long-lasting impacts on the state park.

We all formed strong bonds with our club members and the park rangers, adopted trail stewardship, learned new skills, and created long-lasting friendships and memories on this trip. Through our volunteer work and the lessons by the park rangers, we understand the hard work of maintaining the trails that we deeply love. We learned when we encounter puddles and mud on the trail, we should step into them rather than go around them. The reason behind it is going off-road to avoid the patches on the ground will more likely widen the path and harm the vegetation. It sounds counterintuitive, but it is a part of trail stewardship. We also learned that we could create trenches to help drain the puddles.

Photo Courtesy of Moran State Park
Students work alongside Moran State Park staff to build a new trail.

We were surprised about how much effort the state park has put into maintaining the trails. This alternative spring break provides us with a new vision to look at the trails. We will have more appreciation for the trails and the trail crews in the future.

We will definitely participate in another alternative spring break by the American Hiking Society. It is such a meaningful and unforgettable experience.

I would tell my friends who want to participate in the alternative spring break that it is an amazing opportunity to be outdoors and benefit our hiking community. The hands-on experience is unique and creates long-lasting memories, and impacts us. We learned many things on this trip that we will never forget and will not be learning in classrooms.” – Yan Yan, Oregon State University Alternative Break Scholarship Recipient 2022

Photo Courtesy of Yan Yan
Students take a boat between islands to access different parts of the island while working on maintenance projects.

Alternative Break Scholarships are made possible through the generous support of our donors and sponsors, including L.L.Bean, Backpacker’s Pantry, International Appalachian Trail, Ulster Ireland, and the Robert and Dee Leggett Foundation. Learn more about supporting American Hiking Society’s programs here.