Summer Staff, The Fountains United Methodist Church, Fountain Hills, AZ
After a lengthy drive through the greenest scenery I have ever witnessed, California Highway 197 was nearing its end. A dense trove of Redwoods lined both sides, and where Highway 101 took over, the golden rays of the setting sun blessed everything they touched. With such a majestic reveal of Smith River, I knew I had the fortune of stumbling across something magical. With each passing week I spent there, the small town and surrounding Del Norte County revealed more and more hidden gems.
“With such a majestic reveal of Smith River, I knew I had the fortune of stumbling across something magical.”
Every road in Smith River twists itself through the naturally beautiful landscape. The trees are old, densely populating inland properties. Every worksite is immensely unique in terrain and foliage, but they all seem to have the same innate peaceful energy. Humans and nature coexist here; neither dominates the other.
Volunteering with Sierra Service Project at some of the urban sites, I have experienced many interesting, challenging, and unique worksites all in the best ways. However, Smith River offers a truly unique aspect to construction. The weather is perfect year-round, making it the most comfortable construction site I have ever experienced. My first summer there, I wore a jacket every day.
The ideal weather is provided by the ocean climate which neighbors our home at the Smith River United Methodist Church. Most mornings, there is a cool and dense fog that rolls in from the Pacific, which feels calming and wholesome. Such an exquisite climate allows for a large agriculture industry to thrive in Del Norte.
The small California county is home to internationally renowned cheeses, unbelievable beef and meats, and booming fruit and vegetable farms if animal products aren’t your thing. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to work at the Children’s Garden at First Five Del Norte, where nearly every variety of edible plant can be not only found, but eaten too. This garden was begun in partnership with Sierra Service Project and First Five, and to me, embodies everything that is SSP.
“For the Tolowa, these dunes are considered the center of the world, and the origin of the Tolowa people. It is truly a privilege and an honor to work here.”
Adventure Wednesday is a big part of SSP volunteer weeks, and the adventures to be found in Smith River are truly special. To begin the day, everyone goes to the dunes to work on conservation efforts with the Tolowa Dunes Stewards, who hope to restore the area to its former glory before the introduction of invasive species. For the Tolowa, these dunes are considered the center of the world, and the origin of the Tolowa people. It is truly a privilege and an honor to work here. SSP has provided so much support that the Stewards were able to get a grant for further removal. Any volunteers planning to return to Smith River can expect to see some amazing differences in the landscape.
After working for the first half of the day, everyone heads to Jedidiah Smith State Park for Water Day. Here, Smith River’s true beauty shines. Microbiomes and dense, tall trees block out almost all nasty weather, so if it is one of the rare days there is a storm, Water Day is still beautiful and enjoyable. The water is a beautiful, clear marine blue, and the bottom of the river can be seen at any point. Program and songtime are held on a sandy beach, and we barbeque under a redwood canopy where if you listen closely, you can hear Ewoks running along the branches.
“When you leave, your time here will remain with you forever, inviting you to come back soon.”
Every little and large charm of Smith River and the surrounding Del Norte county cannot be done justice with words alone. It is entirely magical and powerful, with the purest beauty nature can muster. When you leave, your time here will remain with you forever, inviting you to come back soon.
Editor’s Note: Bruce will be returning for his third summer on staff in Smith River, CA as the Site Director in 2020. Learn more about what makes serving on summer staff so life-changing, and apply between December and February!