GARDEN OF THE GODS, IL (KFVS) - Many college students use their spring break for a vacation, but some students from Boston University are in southern Illinois trading their downtime for more work volunteering in the Shawnee National Forest.
Since 1988, Alternative Service Break at Boston University promotes community service, develops leadership skills, and creates strong bonds among the student participants.
The group in Illinois consist of eight students and a chaperone. Ashley Welch and her colleagues are spending their spring break getting their hands dirty.
"We don't have things like this in Boston," said Welch. "We have parks, but they don't come anywhere close to this."
They are volunteering their vacation days for environmental work at different locations in southern Illinois such as Garden of the Gods, Clear Springs Wilderness, Giant City and Inspiration Point.
They were putting some check dams on hiking paths.
"It's All about connecting them to our local and national history here on the Shawnee National Forest in Southern Illinois," Kelly Pearson, the wilderness technician, and youth host/volunteer coordinator said. "So when they go home they might be curious or want to do the same think. They might want to connect with nature wherever they're from."
One the student coordinators, Julie Martorell, said this is a new experience.
"Basically it's just to get out of the city to learn about other communities we are not a part of and to engage and learn and gain new perspectives because we are in such a bubble at B.U.," said Martorell. "We forget there is a world outside of our own."
In one week's time, they've had compass and map training, hauled gravel, pulled garlic mustard invasive species, and even trash pick up.
They are heading home very appreciative."
"Everyone, not just in southern Illinois, but in every community should the take the time more to explore their backyard because this is your home and this is the place that will always be special to you," said Welch.
This is just one of 29-other service trips across the country for B.U. The students leave Saturday morning.