Three Girl Scouts from Troop 210 hold their first Bucket Tree after finishing construction with the help of Davis Block employees. (Photo by Leah Eskelin)

Three Girl Scouts from Troop 210 hold their first Bucket Tree after finishing construction with the help of Davis Block employees. (Photo by Leah Eskelin)

Refuge Notebook: A bucket list for summer

There’s a perfect marshmallow just waiting for you this summer at the end of a stick. Toasty in the glowing coals of your campfire, this marshmallow will mark a perfect moment in your weekend. It will combine with melty chocolate and crunchy cookie to become the very best s’more.

Then, as you clean up camp and get ready to call it a day, you will look around and have another moment of realization. You don’t have a fire bucket packed!

The good news for campers forgetting their fire bucket in summer 2022 is that a new pilot program is coming to nearby campgrounds: Bucket Trees.

The Bucket Tree project started a year ago with the simple hope of seeing fewer campfires left burning on public campgrounds, which is how campfires escape their rings. Then consider the dry conditions that have led to the current burn restrictions across the Kenai, and it is easy to see how escaped campfires can grow into wildland fires.

Already this year, 20 Kenai Peninsula fires have been recorded in the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center’s Situation Report. None have been lightning-caused fires.

A troop of middle school Girl Scouts in Soldotna heard about the problem and worked with fire prevention staff at Kenai National Wildlife Refuge to think through possible solutions. Inspired by the Kids Don’t Float life jacket loaner stations, they decided on a loaner board for fire buckets. The girls went to work, and the project would earn the Silver Award.

It started with four Girl Scouts and help from parents and friends, who donated design time, engineering reviews and scale drawings to build a first bucket tree model for testing.

Next, Davis Block & Concrete in Soldotna donated the construction space and power tools for the project and employee time to help them measure, cut and build the first tree.

Then, with a functional model ready to demonstrate the project, representatives from five cooperating agencies (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Alaska Department of Natural Resources – Division of Forestry, Alaska State Parks, City of Soldotna Parks and Recreation Department, and U.S. Forest Service) agreed to test the trees this summer and helped the scouts source the lumber and buckets needed to install 10 bucket trees in test locations.

When asked about the experience, the Girl Scouts all shared that they felt hopeful that their project could help people have safer camping trips. They felt proud to be able to work hard to design and build the bucket trees and excited that there was such support from area campground managers to test their project.

“It’s been fun to work together on making the (bucket) trees. We’ve been in the troop together since first grade, so we know how to help each other do a good job,” one scout said.

When interviewed, the four girls, now entering high school, were busy painting each tree brown at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge carpentry shop. Laughing over the music playing on that sunny April afternoon, they took turns lining up printed stickers along the side of 200 plastic buckets.

Conversation blended from how to get the stickers as straight as possible to describing places the girls are planning to visit this summer on their troop trip to Fairbanks. They had used some of their cookie sale proceeds to buy the bumper stickers that marked their project buckets. The red flames were Caitlyn’s idea while they designed the layout, she says.

The other stickers encouraging “Drown – Stir – Feel” with Department of Natural Resources – Division of Forestry’s mascot Spruce the Moose smiling out from the print were next to go on the other side of every bucket. Soon, with the combined efforts of the Girl Scouts and their supporters, the last of the Bucket Tree structures were complete and ready for installation as the ground thawed.

This week, the 10 pilot project Bucket Trees will be “planted” in campgrounds and prepared to hold their first buckets, all decorated with those stickers by a small group of dedicated local youth hoping that summer 2022 sees fewer unattended campfires on the Kenai.

I leave you with a new kind of bucket list, a list of the area campgrounds where you can find a bucket loaner tree and help keep our community safe from escaped campfires. These pilot trees will be stocked with marked blue buckets.

Please support the Girl Scouts and project sponsors to make this program a success by using the buckets when you need one and replacing them on the tree for the next camper when your fire is out. Find a Bucket Tree at:

Hidden Lake Campground, Kenai National Wildlife Refuge

Quartz Creek Campground, Chugach National Forest

Centennial Campground, City of Soldotna

Morgan’s Landing, Alaska State Parks

Johnson Lake Campground, Alaska State Parks

When you see a Bucket Tree, take a selfie with it or your bucket showing how you put your campfire out cold and share it on social media with #KenaiBucketTrees. Then email your pic to kenai@fws.gov to share your feedback with the project team and the Girl Scouts.

Leah Eskelin is Lead Park Ranger and Visitor Center Manager at Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. Find out more about refuge events, recreation, and more at kenai.fws.gov or Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/kenainationalwildliferefuge.To find more Refuge Notebook Articles go to https://www.fws.gov/kenai-refuge-notebook.

Girl Scouts Caitlyn, Kadie, Emma, and Lyberty work to bolt on the arm of the wooden structure they call a bucket tree. (Photo by Leah Eskelin)

Girl Scouts Caitlyn, Kadie, Emma, and Lyberty work to bolt on the arm of the wooden structure they call a bucket tree. (Photo by Leah Eskelin)

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