AVERY COUNTY — During the Avery County Clean Sweep on Saturday, March 20, an unprecedented amount of volunteers committed their time to clear the county of trash and debris, but one group broke out the heavy machinery to further reduce the human footprint in the mountain landscape.

Mountain Alliance, a youth adventure organization that offers kids opportunities to explore and serve their communities, sent out two groups into the county, one from Avery and one from Watauga, to not only gather trash from the roadways but to also sandblast graffiti from natural landmarks.

In order to get the job done, the MA group from Watauga County partnered with Wild South, a local environmental preservation organization, to clear graffiti away from a popular bouldering location off of U.S. 221.

“We showed up and they were pumping water out of the creek into a seven-gallon jug. They taught us how to pressure wash using this system where they add a bucket of sand. We were pressure washing the rock with with the graffiti on it, and there was sand coming out, and it’s getting everywhere. It was a cool process, and the students really enjoyed it. The staff had a great time and the weather held out. It was a super cool, empowering day to learn about stewardship and take care of the environment and nature that we’re given,” Jeremiah Stanton-Rich, MA Program Director for Watauga, said.

Meanwhile, the MA group from Avery County ventured out to pick up trash at a familiar location and brought in quite a haul through an effort in which several organizations collaborated together.

“We partnered with other clubs at Avery High School, which were Beta Club, Key Club and the Environmental Club, and we were picking up trash around Avery High and Avery Middle. We had about eight students in total, and we gathered about 50 bags of trash between the eight students and the parents that came with us,” Stella Cybulski, Avery MA Program Director said.

Mountain Alliance has been a High Country staple for the past 30 years after the Watauga chapter formed at Watauga High School in 1991 through an effort between the high school and Appalachian State University. More recently, the Avery chapter began about three years ago and MA volunteers and staff have been preparing students for college, while also providing them opportunities to explore and serve the local area ever since.

One of the key ideas in the program is to develop leaders and to offer students unique experiences regardless of their families’ means.

“This past semester, we did a really big ski series. We worked with the ski club. We got a grant with Appalachian Ski Mtn., and we took a bunch of our local high schoolers who never thought they could ever afford to ski or would want to try snowboarding out on the mountain for them to experience some of the amazing things this county has to offer. We’ve taught kids canoeing out on Price Lake who’ve never even seen the Viaduct. So it’s cool to get them to explore their home county and see all the good they can do,” Cybulski said.

In order to help raise money for the program, the Avery County Chamber of Commerce is partnering with Mountain Alliance and selling a High Country dining pass that features buy one get one deals that are valid at more than 40 area restaurants. To learn more, click to mountainalliance.org/dining-guide.

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