Lisa Busch says she is a typical Sitkan. Friends and family members say she is far more.
More than 400 Sitkans lost their jobs when Alaska Pulp Corp. shut down its mill in 1993. A trail enthusiast, Busch co-founded Sitka Trail Works in 1997 to employ displaced workers and revitalize the city's economy. Many of the workers stayed and moved to other jobs.
For her contribution, Volvo Car Corp. selected her as one of three finalists in the environment category of the third Volvo for Life Awards. Each year, Volvo searches for hometown heroes in environment, safety and quality of life. The winner of each category receives $50,000 in charitable contributions and a new Volvo every three years for the rest of his or her life.
Finalists take $25,000 for charity.
Busch, 38, was nominated in the environment category along with a California engineer who grows gardens to beautify the community and feed low-come families, and a California woman who advocates for protecting school children from harmful chemicals. Volvo will recognize all the finalists and announce the winners March 24 in New York.
Busch, a former public radio reporter, said she thought building trails an ideal alternative to mill jobs. Many of Sitka's trails were built in the 1930s and fell into disrepair for lack of maintenance.
"Trails provide economic engines for the town," Busch said. "And it is something everyone loves."
Shawn McLeod, who had worked at Alaska Pulp for 17 years, said Sitka Trail Works gave him the experience and training for his current job, head of groundkeeping for the city of Sitka.
"I was 36 and had three children and a wife," McLeod said. "I was scared and didn't know what to do. Lisa and other board members knew of me and asked me to be a director of a trail-building crew.
"I hired seven displaced timber workers and helped them adopt their skills from their previous work to build trails."
Busch, president of the Sitka Trail Works Board of Directors, said another contribution of the agency was to coordinate the various government agencies and create a trail plan.
Deborah Lyons, executive director of Sitka Trail Works, said the group now has 500 members. Although the group doesn't have its own trail construction crew anymore, it focuses on applying for grants and coordinating different agencies.
Barth Hamberg, a landscape architect for the U.S. Forest Service, said Busch has deserved an award like this for a long time.
"She has a long history of community service. She gets things done," said Hamberg, who has known Busch for 10 years.
Busch doesn't think she will win, but she is happy that, like all finalists, she will get $25,000 that she can donate to any charity she chooses.
"I will donate the money to Sitka Trail Works, of course," she said.
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