Seniors Embark on OPI Adventure

Ari Stein, Staff Writer

More endangered salmon may end up swimming and spawning upstream, thanks to an approximately $350-million river restoration observed this past week during Miramonte’s annual Olympic Park Institute (OPI) trip. This past week, students and staff studied the ongoing removal of two dams, the largest such salmon-habitat restoration project in the U.S. “Each day on our outings, our educator was able to teach us about the Olympic National Park through fun games, small projects, and short lectures. During the night we went to EP(Evening Program) and learned about the Elwa Dam, the research being done there and more,” senior Devyn Nan said. Senior Chiara Marley who roomed with Nan thought that, “although removing the dams was a tedious process, restoring the salmon migration pathways had positive impacts on the environment.”

The dam removal began in mid-September when contractors started cutting away at the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams in Washington State. According to Audubon Magazine, by removing this dam, an ecosystem will be restored and salmon will once again be able to swim up Elwha River to spawn in its headwaters and tributaries. “The salmon were affected greatly by the dams, and the purpose of removing them was so the fish could return to their place of birth,” senior Nick Bavafa said. “Looking forward, I think it was a good decision that they removed the dams, because it is a big project so it is good that they started.”

Not only did students have the time away from a classroom setting for a week, but so did a handful of teachers. There were multiple teacher chaperones that went on this trip, consisting of Jennifer Moore, Brian Henderson, Nikki LeBoy, Rebecca Promessi, Aileen Gell and Jeremy Foltz. These teachers are knowledgeable and have experience of having been on the trip before. Geology teacher LeBoy said the purpose of this trip is “to provide a trip for senior science students to use their observation, problem solving, knowledge and skills to learn and explore individually and with their peers in small hiking /learning groups.” In addition to students gaining knowledge of a different ecosystem, being able to apply science out of the classroom, bonding with classmates and escaping the stress of school for a week, seniors learn the political and cultural effects of dams and dam removal, standard backpacking skills, ID of biodiversity in a boreal rain forest, alpine forest and Pacific coast intertidal zone, etc. Not only could the seniors study science outside of a classroom setting, it was also a cleanse from using smart phones. “My favorite part of the entire trip was not having my phone. I was able to interact with classmates I wasn’t really close with before the trip,” Bavafa said. Marley concurs, “For students who are considering going next year, I highly recommend not bringing your cell phone. Having my phone with me would have detracted from the overall experience. I had such a good time spending my time exploring the Washington landscape without my phone.”

Students are eligible for this trip if they are a senior, taking a science class, in good academic standing and have good attendance. However, if spots are available, seniors who are taking psychology, sports medicine or computer science may go.
The OPI trip began in January of 1997 as a result of the flooding in Yosemite Valley. Originally, OPI was the Yosemite Institute Senior Science trip organized by former AP Biology teacher Odie McCain and former Biology and Physiology teacher Paul Yriberri. However, in 1997, the floods caused the Merced River to overflow and flood the valley and facilities used on the trip. Thus, the Yosemite Institute staff offered for the class of 1997 to go to their sister facilities on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington state. The trip was rearranged and the seniors went up to Washington to be able to study in a totally different environment. “The campus and program up at Olympic Park ended up being fantastic and we were so impressed. It turned out to be the start of a great new trip to the Northwest that we have continued since, and one that Ms. Moore (who now organizes the trip) continues to tweak and make a bit better each year,” science teacher LeBoy said.

One of the main highlights of OPI is a one and a half day backpacking trip to the coast. Between the scenery, adventure and challenge students often come back exhausted, but inspired. “It was cool to walk through a forest with different types of scenery and biomes. The solo hikes were really relaxing too,” Bavafa said.