Letter to Trailside Family


Dear Trailside Family,

In the summer of 1997, I drove my truck from the east coast to Alaska to work as a wilderness trips guide with Trailside Discovery Camp. Like many bright-eyed, adventurous, outdoor-oriented young adults, I was drawn to the idea of providing high quality environmental education experiences to children and teens, and I was thrilled when Tom Burek hired me. I worked for Tom for three years, and that experience launched me into a decades-long journey of outdoor leadership, environmental education, and youth leadership development.


Twenty years later, as we celebrate Trailside Discovery Camp’s thirty-fifth year, we will also be commemorating the final summer of Trailside under Tom’s direction. After more than two decades of dedication to outdoor learning for children across Alaska, Tom is moving on to the classroom year-round once camp wraps up in August. He has been working on his Masters in Teaching from Walden University for the past two years, and starts student teaching this fall!

While we are sad to see Tom go, we are excited for his next adventure and the energy he’ll bring to his classroom.I know Tom will bring with him the same compassion, innovative learning and joy to his classroom that he has provided Trailside for 21 years.

Tom started his journey with Trailside in June of 1996; when the average annual enrollment was just 250 campers. Trailside flourished under Tom’s guidance and we now work with more than 5,500 campers annually. Tom broadened the program’s reach through key community partnerships, making it possible for more children to experience outdoor education who may not otherwise be exposed to our beautiful backyard.tomhappy

Tom has cultivated an environmental education program that encourages campers to not only get outdoors and enjoy the world we live in; but to also protect and take care of it for future generations–a mission that I believe all Alaskans can support. He’s facilitated community environmental stewardship projects with Trailside teens, and he’s grown leadership development for counselors in training. Tom’s impressive record in environmental education was recognized in 2012 when he received the prestigious Alaska Conservation Foundation Jerry Dixon award for Excellence in Environmental Education.

Tom is more than an employee to me – he is a leader, teacher, and friend.

Needless to say, we knew that Tom’s impending departure meant that we’d have some pretty big shoes to fill. After a long search, I am pleased to say that our Associate Camp Director, Vicki Long-Leather is just the person for the job! Vicki comes to Trailside from Girl Scouts of America Camps in the lower 48. Prior to her two years as Vice President of Program & Property / Camp CEO with the Girl Scouts of Southern Nevada, she spent seven years in camp leadership roles with the Girl Scouts of Minnesota and Wisconsin River Valleys. She strongly believes camp brings community, learning and play together in a safe environment where children and adults can step out of their comfort zone and be who they want to be.

vickiOne of the most important things to Tom was the ability for Trailside to provide a camp experience for kids that might not otherwise have the option. He worked relentlessly with our Trailside Advisory Council members to raise scholarship funds each year. Since Tom came on board we’ve been increasing the number of scholarships we give out each year. Last year we provided approximately 300 scholarships to campers, and this year we have provided over $27,000 in scholarships so far.

As part of his outgoing requests, Tom wanted us to commit to raising more scholarship funding for Trailside campers. If you’d like to honor Tom’s dedication to Trailside, you can do so by making a contribution to support Trailside scholarships in his name.

Donate here to support Tom’s legacy >>

Please reach out if you have any questions or concerns about this transition. We’re sad to close Tom’s chapter, but excited to continue to grow and improve the program under Vicki’s management.


Polly Carr
Executive Director
The Alaska Center Education Fund