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School Assignment Leads to Cleaner Beaches in Kenai

Published On: Dec 26 2013 04:48:54 PM AKST   Updated On: Dec 30 2013 04:39:59 PM AKST

Kenai resident Courtney Stroh turned a school assignment about helping her community into a project that's helped clean up a local beach and protect salmon habitat.


Not many teenagers can say they helped change the law, but Courtney Stroh can.

“I have a lot of perseverance,” she says. “I don't give up, and I stand up for what I believe in.”

The 17-year-old is a lifelong resident of Kenai. She said she loves her town and the natural beauty of the area, like at nearby K-Beach, where Alaskans harvest sockeye salmon every year.

But for Stroh, a budding fisherman herself, the beach is not just part of the scenery. It is a major part of the local economy.

“Growing up on the beach, which is just across the road, I saw it every summer,” she said, referring to the annual parade of dipnetters and other anglers.

When she saw that the beach was being destroyed by litter, she found it easy to stand up and push for a solution.

“The way people treat the beach isn't right,” she said. “It’s not fair that they are coming, taking our resource, and not doing their share to keep up the environment.”

Stroh took matters into her own hands.

“It kind of started with a school assignment, which is called ‘Caring for the Kenai,’” she said. “The question that’s asked is, what is something I can do to better my community?

"I actually took that essay and turned that into an actual project.”

At first, there was some resistance.

“She was kind of turned down by the city manager,” said Nancy Cranston, Courtney’s grandmother. “He said, 'Why is a 14 year-old girl trying to change things in Kenai?'”

"No isn’t in her vocabulary," Cranston said. "I thought, this isn't right. I need to do something about this. That's how I started ‘Roc the Kenai,’ which stands for ‘respect our community.’”

The movement gained support and got extra help through state funding. Courtney eventually got the rules changed, with enforcement in place and crews on hand that make the beach cleaner.

If you talk to anyone who knows Courtney, what she accomplished is no surprise.

“When Courtney's name comes up, [people say] oh yeah, I've heard of that kid,” says Alan Fields, Courtney’s principal at Kenai Central High School. Fields says people know Stroh as “the kid that works on the beach and helps clean up fish.”

It is a lesson on commitment Courtney said she learned from her grandfather.

“My grandpa, Charles Cranston, he inspires me a lot,” she said. “He doesn't give up. And I wasn't going to give up with this beach project.”

Stroh said she is determined to make everything she does a success.

“I just like getting out and actually doing something that matters and that can make a difference,” she said.

What started as a project to save a beach has become a passion.

As she chooses between colleges in Minnesota and Oregon, Courtney Stroh she wants to continue her work keeping the beaches clean by majoring in environmental science.