“One of the greatest rewards I feel we reap from our hard work in the backcountry is the effect those efforts have on future generations,” said RAF Arizona and Public Lands Liaison Mark Spencer. For example, consider James, son of Lori and Ken Nebrig of Prescott. For his Eagle Scout project, he designed, planned, and constructed the ramada at the Payson airport (KPAN). James, then 14, got his first backcountry ride from the Payson airport to Buzzard Roost, the newest airfield on the Tonto National Forest “and it really lit a fire in him,” Spencer said. James recently completed his glider private pilot checkride on his 16th birthday and is now headed toward his fixed wing checkride on his 17th birthday.

“There is just something about the freedom that aviation brings us, and added to the backcountry experience that [the RAF] team has helped make possible . . . we’ve got something that is truly interesting to young folks,” Spencer said.

At one of Grapevine’s (88AZ) fly-ins, young Eddie Stetcher received his first ride in RAF member Tod Dickey’s seaplane. As Eddie was recovering from his airsickness, he proclaimed, “This is the best day of my life!” Spencer heard from Eddie’s parents that he is now hooked on aviation.

At the 2017 Veteran’s Day Pleasant Valley (Young, 24AZ) fly-in, USFS recreation specialist Gary Lollman approached a local Girl Scout troop camped up the road, and invited them to visit the airstrip. The visit turned into airplane rides. “The smiles on these girls’ faces after the flight were one of the greatest rewards I’ve experienced in the few years I’ve been involved,” Spencer said. “Perhaps that day will have touched one of them in a way that no school or other career counselor can, perhaps leading them onto the path towards becoming a pilot.”

“Our partnership with the USFS on this endeavor has also been one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever experienced,” he added.

Submitted on January 19, 2018

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