Community editor and columnist Kris Capps is a longtime resident of Fairbanks and Denali Park. Contact her at, in the office at 459-7546 or by cell at 322-6334. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMKris.

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DENALI PARK — Imagine there were no plastic water bottles in the Denali Borough, recycling was routine and all currently wasted food was put to good use.

That is what a team of local teens are brainstorming for a new community service learning project in the Denali Borough. They are volunteer members of the new Zero Landfill Ambassadors Program. The program is part of the Zero Landfill Initiative, a partnership between Subarau, the National Park Service and the National Park Conservation Association.

Subaru chose Denali, Yosemite and Grand Teton national parks for the program. Subaru shares its knowledge of zero-landfill practices to reduce landfill waste from the park, and those practices are tested at these three parks.

“Of these three projects, only Denali is focusing on the community and not just the park,” said Patrick Kelly, youth program coordinator for the Denali Education Center. “They are also the only ones focusing on youth.”

That has caught the attention of Grand Teton National Park, which is seeking information from Denali on how to engage young people in the process.

“We are setting the standard for youth involvement in waste management,” Kelly said.

It’s being done through service learning. This is a specific kind of learning, initiated by youths and supported by a class through the Denali Borough School District.

“The goal of this is to be a youth-driven zero landfill initiative education,” said Kelly, who facilitates the project. This means it is the teens who identify the problem, come up with solutions and then implement their own plans.

“We’re making sure this is all kids’ ideas,” he said.

The teens began working on the project this summer, and they are serious about it. At a recent meeting, eighth-grader Ben Brown showed up with a file filled with ideas and informed the group, “I have ideas, and I have specific solutions.”

These are the three areas the teens identified as needing attention: tourist culture and its relationship with waste, year-round culture and waste and food waste in general.

They considered how to remove the never-ending disposal of plastic water bottles in the landfill. That could be accompanied by a “Bring Your Own Bottle” education campaign. It might include giving away or selling refillable water bottles.

They debated slogans such as “We Don’t Use Plastic Water Bottles” or “Denali Is A One-Use Water Bottle Free Zone.” The teens will discuss this option with Denali tourism companies, Kelly said.

Year-round culture focused on lack of community awareness of recycling and little opportunity to recycle.

“They talked about a two-pronged solution to this,” Kelly said. “A Healy transfer station with landfill restrictions, coupled with an education campaign, starting at the school and something kids can bring home that explains what can go into the landfill, what can be recycled and what a difference it can make.”

The teens were open to ideas of how to recycle food waste locally.

Subaru has a long history of environmental stewardship, dating to 2003, when a Subaru manufacturing facility in Indiana became the first and only plant in U.S. history to earn Backyard Wildlife Habitat status.

Eighteen months later, it became the first company to achieve zero-landfill status. All waste generated by its vehicle production is either recycled or repurposed to create energy. None of it goes to the landfill.

To see a recent video report on this project, see

Child care survey

The Denali Education Center in the McKinley Village area is exploring the possibility of opening a day care/pre-school.

A survey went out to local residents this week to gauge interest.

“For a number of years, we have bounced around the idea of offering child care at McKinley Village,” Kelly said. “I said, ‘Let’s look at it.’”

This is a long way from taking place, he said. State regulations that be met, and a location must be found.

An open forum was held at the Murie Science and Learning Center about a month ago that included staff from Denali National Park and the most-used day care/pre-school facility from Healy, Denali Preschool and Learning Center.

“We’re making sure we don’t step on any toes,” he said. With a nod from the DPLC, the center decided to “run with this.”

“The next step is to see if there is a real need,” Kelly said. “I thought up this little survey for people in the borough. Do they themselves have a need? Will people benefit from childcare and/or preschool in this area?”

Funding remains to be seen, as does location.

He said one option might be to approach the McKinley Community Center and see whether the second floor could be dedicated for this purpose.

“Improvements would have to be made in terms of water testing, fire escape, etc,” he said.

It all came about at the request of community members. This part of the borough is becoming home to more young families. More information will be forthcoming.

“In about a month, we’ll crunch the data and put out an FAQ,” Kelly said. 

Another public forum then will be held.

“It’s really exciting,” he said. “I’m excited to be part of it.”

Contact community editor and columnist Kris Capps at, in the office at 459-7546 or by cell at 322-6334. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMKris.