Blog

AmeriCorps

Viewing posts from the AmeriCorps category

ACE CA AmeriCorps Training Week 2016

A group of new ACE CA AmeriCorps Members participated in a rigging and rock quarrying training along the Tahoe-Pyramid Bikeway. A large rock fall had obstructed the bikeway and the members learned how to split and quarry stone and safely move large rocks with rigging equipment and rockers.

before_after_bikeway_crew_26560014485_o

The Tahoe-Pyramid is still under construction, but when completed it will connect forested Lake Tahoe to its desert terminus at Pyramid Lake. The route will descend over 2000 feet in 116 miles, using a combination of existing dirt and paved roads, plus some sections of new trail and bridges.

First, the new corpsmembers learned how to split large boulders that are obstructing the Tahoe-Pyramid Bikeway, using a rock drill and pins/feathers (see header photo).

breaking rocks down

breaking rocks down

After splitting this large boulder once, corpsmembers begin their next set of holes in preparation for the next cut. They reduced the size of the rocks until they could be safely moved with the rigging equipment or rock bars.

Here Corps members learn how to safely transport rocks using griphoist rigging equipment…

img_20160419_131534107_hdr_25957104063_o

…and here that good technique always trumps raw power while they practice using a rockbar to move large boulders.

moving rocks with rock bars

moving rocks with rock bars

Through completion of the training of the AmeriCorps members, the Tahoe-Pyramid Bikeway is now clear of rock fall, and users can safely pass through as they explore the area.

img_20160419_161531834_hdr_26533999616_o

Restorative Trail Maintenance | Grand Canyon National Park

We recently visited a crew working at Grand Canyon National Park which lies just north of Flagstaff, where ACE’s Intermountain Region Headquarters are located. The crew was performing routine maintenance on the Bright Angel Trail, the most popular hiking trail within the Grand Canyon.

IMG_7539

Each year, melting snow and ice cause erosion that can render parts of the trail unsafe for visitors. ACE partners with the National Park Service annually to perform restorative maintenance. “For this project, we are working on clearing a specific drain about 1.5 miles down Bright Angel Trail,” explained crew leader Isabel Grattan. “The drainage ditch on the inside of the trail was covered in rocks and boulders that were washed down after the snowmelt. This prevented the water from draining properly and caused it to destroy a retaining wall.”

IMG_7583

The crew began the hitch by using wheelbarrows to haul all the rocks that had fallen into the drain down the trail so that NPS staff could use them to repair the retaining wall. Safety is always imperative during any ACE hitch, but it was even more important for this project because of the numerous hikers and equestrians traveling up and down the trail throughout the day. The crewmembers had to be very alert and communicative to each other and to park visitors to ensure a safe working environment.

IMG_7581

The corps members worked hard throughout the hitch to move all the rocks from the drainage. The NPS employees then crushed the rocks with sledgehammers for use rebuilding retaining wall. By the end of the 9-day project, the crew and NPS had replaced a significant section of the wall with crushed rock that was 2 feet wide, 30 feet long, and 6 feet deep.

IMG_7711

ACE will continue working with NPS throughout the spring to maintain the popular hiking trails in the park. The Bright Angel Trail is accessible from the south rim entrance of Grand Canyon National Park.

Upper Raptor Trail, Red Rock Ranger District, Coconino NF

Recently, ACE caught up with one of our crews in the field working on multiple reroutes of the Upper Raptor trail in the Red Rock Ranger District of Coconino National Forest. ACE partnered with the USFS for this project. There are area total of 12 reroutes planned for different areas of the Upper Raptor trail, in order to re-direct visitors from unsustainable and eroded sections. The path is primarily intended for mountain bikers, but it is also useable by hikers and equestrians.

textedit

“The project is going well so far!” Said corps member Emma Nehan. “Since the trail is meant for mountain biking, the project partner wants it to be very narrow. The soil is really sandy and easy to move, so it’s not as physically demanding as some other projects. But mentally it’s challenging because we’re going against everything we’ve been taught so far about trial building. We even used a broom to create parts of the trail!”

IMG_5526

The method for creating these reroutes differs from traditional trail construction because of the soil type in the area. In certain sections, the crew used a push broom to establish the tread. “On all the trails we create in the Southwest, our goal is to make the most minimal impact possible,” explained Jordan Rolfe, director of ACE Arizona. “Sometimes using a pick or shovel to dig out a trial isn’t necessary, because it will take out too much dirt and turn the trail into a water chute when it rains. In some cases we want to visually create the presence of a trail, but don’t want to move a lot of dirt if it’s not necessary, so we use brooms. This is a newer technique that we are implementing with our trail building.”

IMG_5641

However, more physical labor is required in different areas. The crew is also armoring sections of the trail, creating drains and retaining walls, and brushing the corridor. Another step in the process of rerouting the trail is naturalizing the old path. By doing this, the corps members help return the initial route to its original state and prevent bikers, hikers, and equestrians from accidentally using a potentially unsafe portion of trail.

IMG_5618

The project will span six four-day hitches throughout the spring. The Upper Raptor Trail is accessible from Dead Horse Ranch State Park in Cottonwood, Arizona.

#IamACE | Mark Gestwicki

In our 3rd installment of #IamACE we are excited to feature one of our California-based Assistant Crew Leaders, Mark Gestwicki. Mark’s journey within ACE is common: a transition from Corpsmember into an Assistant Crew Leader. Mark’s work ethic and leadership skills are a true asset to our California crew program, and we are happy to showcase his story here.

[ACE] What is your background?
[MG] I grew up in Western New York. I went to the State University of New York, College of Environmental Science and Forestry where I earned a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Conservation Biology. After graduation, I served for 2 years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Malawi, Africa where it was my responsibility to introduce sustainable farming practices to a rural village. My goal was to implement community-based projects that would ultimately lead to a permanent increase in standard of living.

What motivated or inspired you to be in conservation?
My Field Biology teacher in High School was very influential and inspired me to pursue a career in environmental conservation. Together we formed the Dunkirk Outdoor Adventure Group which takes students out rafting, backpacking, and caving. He is still a good friend and I visit him whenever I’m back in New York.

How did you discover ACE?
I found ACE on a conservation job board.

What was your favorite aspect of being an ACE Corpsmember?
I enjoyed having the opportunity to spend time in some of the most beautiful parts of California. Not many jobs other than ACE offer the opportunity to spend a month in the backcountry of Sequoia National Park.

mark 2

How did you transition into an Assistant Crew Leader?
It seemed like the logical next step after my initial 6-month AmeriCorps term. I wanted to take on more responsibilities at work.

What has been your favorite project and why?
My favorite hitch was probably an invasive removal project in Sequoia National Park. We were about 20 miles in the backcountry for a month. I would spend hours’ trout fishing after work and on the weekends. We hardly saw anyone out there.

What is one of the biggest challenges you’ve faced at ACE?
I think that ACE is socially challenging. There are constantly new faces and it can be exhausting meeting new people all of the time.

What are your future goals?
I want to expand my knowledge and skills related to international development, sustainable agriculture, and natural resource management. I’m applying to graduate schools now and looking at creative ways to use my AmeriCorps Education Award. Ultimately, I want to manage conservation projects with an international NGO or nonprofit.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
It is my intention to continue pursuing a career in conservation.

Do you think this position has helped prepare you for your future career?
Yes! It’s been interesting to be a part of the “on the ground” conservation projects. I’ve been able to work closely with the major governmental land management organizations and witness which projects are given priority and how they are implemented. I’ve also gained valuable skills in environmental restoration, leadership, and problem solving.

What advice can you offer to future corps members who are looking to get into the conservation field?
Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day and forget why you want to protect natural areas in the first place. Take some time to go for a hike, sit by a stream, or climb a tree.

mark 3

Horseshoe Ranch Volunteer Service Project

Earlier in February, several ACE Corps members participated in a Volunteer Service Project (VSP) at Horseshoe Ranch Pond, part of a 200-acre ranch of expansive desert grassland transected by streams and riparian habitats that is managed by the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

DSCN1653

During the project, the Corps members installed a total of 700 feet of protective fencing.

“The crew was absolutely amazing and so efficient,” said Sharon Lashway, an Arizona Game and Fish Aquatic Wildlife Specialist who worked closely with the crew during the VSP. “Their help cut our work load down!” Corps members are required to complete either one or two VSPs depending on the length of their service term.

DSCN1654

ACE Nat’l Restoration Program Manager meets Sen. and TCN CEO

ACE’s National Restoration Program Manager, Afton Mckusick had the great honor of meeting Arizona Senator, John McCain, and Chief Executive Officer of The Corps Network (TCN), Mary Ellen Sprenkel, at the Corps Network Conference that was held last week in Washington DC.

Afton was recipient of TCN’s Corpsmember of the Year award in 2006.

Maricopa Trail, Arizona

ACE staff and crews have returned from the holiday break and are hard at work once more restoring and maintaining public lands throughout the country. Our ACE Arizona crews have started work in central and southern Arizona where the temperatures are a bit warmer than those in Flagstaff and the surrounding area.

IMG_3831

The first project of the year brought our crews to Maricopa County, just outside of Phoenix. The goal of the project is to perform maintenance on the Maricopa Trail, which stretches 240 miles and connects the 10 regional parks in the area. ACE is partnered with Maricopa County for this project, and the crew has been working with John Rose, who is the trails supervisor for the region. The county boasts an extensive trail network that far exceeds many public land areas.

IMG_3767

The crews are performing routine trail maintenance in order to prepare for the inaugural Prickly Pedal race, which will span 40 miles. Proceeds from the race will benefit the Maricopa Trail and Park Foundation, a nonprofit organization which strives to provide sustainable financial support to the newly constructed Maricopa Regional Trail System. Preparations for the event began six months ago, and this maintenance is the final step in ensuring the safety and accessibility of the trail for the racers. Corps members are doing everything from moving large rocks (tripping hazards) off the path to re-establishing the slope, brushing the corridor, and clearing drains.

IMG_3785

“An important aspect of trail maintenance is clearing and repairing drains,” said Trails Coordinator Mark Loseth. “We want to create a clear path to move water off the path to prevent erosion and improve sustainability.”

IMG_3819

Making a route sustainable enough for continued long-term usage assures that recreation will be safe and enjoyable, which brings more people out to enjoy the land, and in turn can renew interest in nature and create new job opportunities. “This trail embodies the idea that public lands should be safely accessible for the public to enjoy and appreciate,” explained crew leader Bryan Wright. “On this trail, as with all trails we work on, the goal is to localize traffic, minimizing the impact on the vegetation and wildlife in the area.”

IMG_3800

The Prickly Pedal Mountain Bike Race will be held on the 23rd of this month. More information can be found at www.pricklypedal.com.

The first crew of 2016

ACE Arizona is so happy to welcome our first crew of 2016.

New GOYFF recruit Sarah Komisar uses a powerpoint to introduce herself to the rest of the new recruits.

New GOYFF recruit Sarah Komisar uses a powerpoint to introduce herself to the rest of the new recruits.

On Monday January 4th, 21 new recruits of ACE Arizona’s Leadership Development Program arrived at Intermountain headquarters in Flagstaff, AZ. These members have committed to a six month AmeriCorps program working on environmental service projects throughout the state of Arizona. These new recruits are volunteering in partnership with the State of Arizona’s Governors Office for Youth, Faith and Family (GOYFF). This marks the 7th year ACE has partnered with the GOYFF to engage young adults in a service-learning environment.

Paul Beuchner, a Wilderness First Aid trainer from the National Outdoor Leadership School, explains how to safely move an injured person in order to transport them or administer further care.

Paul Beuchner, a Wilderness First Aid trainer from the National Outdoor Leadership School, explains how to safely move an injured person in order to transport them or administer further care.

During their first three months with ACE, our newest AmeriCorps corpsmembers they will work on a single project to help them utilize and develop proficiency in the skills they learn during their initial training. For their remaining three months in the program, the corpsmembers will operate on ACE’s traditional rotating project schedule, applying their newly gained knowledge over a wider variety of project types.

ACE corps members undergo Wilderness First Aid training as part of their term of service.

ACE corps members undergo Wilderness First Aid training as part of their term of service.

ACE provides educational opportunities by bringing in professional land managers and other industry experts that can expose members to the various career options that exist within the field of conservation, providing knowledge that will aid them in becoming the next generation of land management leaders. The members will also work to organize a volunteer service project event within the local Flagstaff community.

Emily Zastrow, a new GOYFF member, engages the other recruits in a short yoga session as a way to introduce herself.

Emily Zastrow, a new GOYFF member, engages the other recruits in a short yoga session as a way to introduce herself.

It’s been a busy few days, not only for our new members but for ACE’s dedicated Intermountain Staff and Trainers. Our newest ACE corps members are receiving training’s including sustainable trail construction, rock work, and Wilderness First Aid. Training will continue into next week when the recruits will embark on their first project.

Rock work at Wupatki National Monument

An ACE Arizona crew has just returned from a four day hitch working at Wupatki National Monument. The crew worked alongside NPS staff to repair numerous bollards (small stone structures) in the Citadel Ruin area of the monument. The structures were created to prevent ATV/UTV users from driving on the protected area.

IMG_0589

The crews were not completely removing the structures, instead they focused on chipping off and replacing old mortar and removing and replacing rocks that were unstable — a process known as repointing. For the time being, this task is the primary project for the crew, but when they complete repairs to the bollards they will move on to trail maintenance in another area of the park.

IMG_0581

ACE crews work at the local Flagstaff monuments all year round on various types of restoration and conservation projects. The work can be challenging at times, but as ACE Crew Leader Nicole Cuaz put it, “…our work here will help to free up NPS staff to focus on other important projects. It’s an awesome opportunity to get to work in and help protect the monument.”

Arizona Trail Association Seeds of Stewardship

ACE staff and Corps Members recently attended a local community service project in Flagstaff, where they partnered with the Arizona Trails Association and the Coconino National Forest to teach a large group of 75 students from the local Mount Elden Middle School about the importance of trail work.

ACE were awarded a plaque recognizing their exceptional commitment to the community and continued support of the Coconino National Forest Trails Program

ACE were awarded a plaque recognizing their exceptional commitment to the community and continued support of the Coconino National Forest Trails Program

The students arrived in the morning and gathered at the Little Elden trail head for an introduction from Coconino National Forest’s Trails and Wilderness Coordinator Sean Murphy. At this time, ACE was presented with a plaque recognizing our exceptional commitment to the community and continued support of the Coconino National Forest Trails Program. Sean also conducted a safety briefing, and demonstrated the tools that the students would be using which included Mcleods, shovels, and pick mattocks.

Tools in hand, the students hike to work led by an ACE leader

Tools in hand, the students hike to work led by an ACE leader

Th​e ​students were split up into groups of four and assigned a leader, either an ACE​ Corps Member or an Arizona Trail Steward. The groups began digging drains and check dams to direct the flow of rainwater off the trail and to make it more sustainable. “It’s important to get kids invested in the structures that they use for fun, and to teach them that trails don’t just happen–it takes a lot of hard work,” said Sean Murphy. “They will feel a little more ownership for the trails they use after this project.” The students spent a half day (about 4 hours including a lunch break) at the Little Elden Trail, alternating between working and participating in educational hikes in the area.

A.J. Conrad demonstrates techniques to the students

A.J. Conrad demonstrates techniques to the students

The event was part of the Arizona Trail Association’s Seeds of Stewardship initiative, a youth outreach, education, and stewardship program that aims to encourage youth participation in the Arizona Trail through experience, education, and service learning. “I think it’s important for younger people like myself and other ACE Corps Member to help teach these kids because we can relate to them and connect with them on a more personal level,” explained Gavin Monson, ACE Crew Leader. “I think it’s crucial to instill these conservation goals in the minds of these children. They’ll be in charge someday. If we can show them that this kind of work is important, we can help make a difference for the future.”

Students learn about tool use

Students learn about tool use

The students were enthusiastic about the work, and it was evident that they truly cared about the impression they were making on the land. “I like this kind of work because I like being outdoors,” said student Corbin Cuff. “I think it’s important because we can help the environment.” Corbin went on to explain that he would certainly be interested in doing more trail work in his future. It has been said that we will conserve only what we love, and we love only what we understand.

Everyone at ACE thoroughly enjoyed the event and we hope to participate in future events.

ACE EPIC Volunteer Service Projects

Welcome to a roundup of recent volunteer service projects organized and conducted by our ACE EPIC members. Over the summer ACE EPIC members logged volunteer hours from Arizona to Florida, and many places in-between. Below we feature the details of three of these volunteer service projects:

Restoration at Grand Canyon South Rim Lodges
Grand Canyon Village, AZ.

Despite finicky weather conditions, AmeriCorps member and ACE intern Jennifer Reeder and 10 volunteers logged 160 hours over the course of two days in Mid-August 2015. The original plan was to pull invasive plants and then sow native plant seeds in the restoration areas around two lodges in the South Rim (Thunderbird and Kachina Lodges) over the course of two days. Before the project took place however, Jennifer coordinated with the Grand Canyon Native Plant Nursery knowing the weather conditions were not in favor of working outdoors for two days. A volunteer commented that although things didn’t go as planned, it was still a favorite volunteer event, “Weeding, seeding, transplanting… so much variety in our activities!” Thanks to Jennifer’s problem solving skills, she ended up providing them more experience than originally planned. Reeder also encouraged creativity in her volunteers while they sowed the seeds, she said “They started making shapes: snakes, polka dots, common park petroglyphs!” The aesthetics of the park have been creatively enhanced thanks to Reeder and her team of volunteers.

Invasive Reptile Presentation at Camp Manatee
Miami, FL.

Camp Manatee outreach,Molly Conway_ pic3

In early July 2015, Molly Conway, an AmeriCorps member and ACE intern, gave an informative invasive reptile presentation to a group of young campers at Camp Manatee. Around 60 kids, aged from 6 to 14 years old listened intently about the reasons why invasive reptiles thrive in South Florida, and the negative consequences they have on the Everglades. In order to keep the kids engaged, Molly was able to bring a live Argentine Tegu and a juvenile Burmese Python. The up close encounter gave the kids an opportunity to see physical traits up close, like the Tegu’s long sharp claws that are used to dig up native turtle eggs. This was an important presentation, because it demonstrated that although small juvenile reptiles can seem to be appropriate pets, they grow to be very large and end up becoming another addition to the multitude of invasive species in Florida.

Camp Manatee outreach, Molly Conway_pic1

Pennington Creek Park Clean Up
Tishomingo, OK

BenShamblinParkCleanup_pic2

On September 26th, 2015 Ben Shamblin and Brent Wilkins, AmeriCorps members and ACE interns coordinated a volunteer project for removing trash and debris that was washed into Pennington Creek Park after recent floods. A crew of local inmates also participated in painting over graffiti and weeding problem areas around the trails. After the participation of 31 volunteers, an inmate crew, and a 4-hour window for cleanup, the collaboration had the park looking spotless just in time for the National Chickasaw Festival that was held in Pennington Creek Park on October 2-3.

BenShamblinParkCleanup_pic3

BenShamblinParkCleanup_pic5

Concert for the Birds, Las Vegas NM

ACE recently attended an event titled “Concert for the Birds,” celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Las Vegas, NM Wildlife Refuge. The ACE crew assisted in several ways: weeding the educational ADA trail that surrounds the Wildlife Refuge headquarters of Musk Thistle, setting up the tents for the event, and managing educational games for the children attending the event.

P1020677

The whole festival was a means of showing appreciation to the public for their continuous love and support of the Las Vegas National Wildlife Refuge, as well as to promote the importance and necessity of National Wildlife Refuges around the country. The festival highlighted the importance of the refuge in welcoming an influx of migratory birds that stop by to recharge while on their journey south for the winter. The continued good health of this and all refuges is crucial in maintaining a steady ecological balance, perpetuating the lives of migrating birds, mammals, fish, waterfowl, and native grasses.

P1020660

ACE crews also tagged Monarch butterflies as part of their hitch. Monarch butterflies are endangered due to lack of habitat. They depend on milkweeds which provide nectar for migration, and are one of the only plants where they will lay their eggs.

Once ACE corps members had distinguished between a male or female Monarch butterflies they placed a thin round sticker–a third the size of a penny–on the discal cell of the under wing of the butterfly and recorded the “tag number” of the sticker, the gender of the butterfly and the date it was tagged. There was a flowering bush nearby that the corps members placed them on once the tagging was complete. From here, the butterflies will travel south to Mexico for the winter, heading back north during the spring.

Congaree National Park

We recently posted about our ACE Southeast crew that were busy clearing 14 miles of the popular Cedar Creek Canoe Trail in Congaree National Park. We’re delighted to announce that due to the hard work of corps members the crew completed Phase I of the project after just 6 weeks.

IMG_8041

As a result, the crew found themselves back on land, assisting NPS staff with maintenance of the park’s 30+ miles of trails. The first task was to remove unwanted vegetation from campgrounds and roads with hand tools and brush cutters.

IMG_8072

Next up, the crew tackled a huge fallen log that was blocking a hiking trail. Here they used the grip hoist and crosscut saw to remove the obstruction.

IMG_8204

Field Operations Manager Josh Burt explained some of the differences of working in the East, compared to ACE’s desert heartlands: “Working in the East has positive and negative aspects. From an invasive species management perspective, there is a lot of work to do, a lot to combat. But, in doing trail work, we have some advantages…For example, we’re removing this log from the trail by dragging it over the land. In this environment the marks made by this movement will soon be unnoticeable, whereas wouldn’t do that in the deserts of Arizona; the marks on the landscape would last for many years. So although some challenges are much greater there are more options available for how to deal with them.”

The ACE Southeast crew will continue to assist NPS staff and will return to work on Cedar Creek in the weeks to come.

Canoe Trail Restoration, Congaree National Park

News of a very unique and interesting project from ACE Southeast. Crews there are actively involved in the restoration of over 14 miles of popular canoe trails in Congaree National Park, near Hopkins, South Carolina.

imagejpeg_2_5

That’s right, canoe trails. ACE has become somewhat synonymous with trail building and trail maintenance in the deserts of the Southwest, but this is a first, conducting canoe trail maintenance. As we geographically expand so does the scope of our expertise.

ACE corps members suited up for canoe trail restoration

ACE corps members suited up for canoe trail restoration

The ACE crew, led by its fearless leader Isabel Grattan, is using primitive hand tools to clear the popular Cedar Creek Canoe Trail that travels through the heart of Congaree National Park. Cedar Creek is a major part of the dynamic floodplain wilderness area of the park and passes through a primeval old-growth forest which contains some of the tallest trees in eastern North America. The marked trail winds approximately 15 miles through the Congaree Wilderness, starting at Bannister’s Bridge and going all the way to the Congaree River.

imagejpeg_3_2

Downed trees and log jams are a common occurrence on Cedar Creek. The ACE corps members paddle 2-4 miles a day in their two-person canoes and use cross-cut saws, hand saws, and loppers to clear away large trees and debris that have fallen over the creek during the previous late summer and winter storms. This work is vital in improving the conditions for park visitors who would otherwise need to portage around these obstacles.

20150723_114143

Congaree National Park was established in 2003 and is home to many champion trees (largest of their species) and a wide variety of reptiles, amphibians, as well as fish-eating spiders. Paddling the Cedar Creek trail is arguably the best way to experience the Park.

Views from the canoe

Views from the canoe

Restoration along the La Verkin Creek, Utah

This past week, an ACE Utah crew completed a four day hitch working to eradicate the invasive species Arundo Donax from the banks of the La Verkin Creek in Utah.

IMG_6781

Arundo Donax is a plant native to the Mediterranean. It is a perennial grass that grows in large stands up to thirty feet tall.

Arundo Donax can grow up to thirty feet tall

Arundo Donax can grow up to thirty feet tall

It is a voracious water consumer and can grow up to 6 inches per day. Furthermore the plant contains oils that make it a fire hazard. Combined, these factors make Arundo a very problematic plant. “If Arundo is left to grow, it can create a monoculture,” explained staff member Rick Anton. “We still have a chance to eradicate this species, but early detection and rapid response is our motto for this project.”

The crew used GPS to locate stands

The crew used GPS to locate stands

The eradication project is ongoing. Previously ACE crews went out on the creek, sawed down the stands, and sprayed the stumps with herbicide to prevent regrowth. The current project involved crews revisiting sites by following GPS coordinates and re-treating with herbicide any stands that had signs of new growth.

Cutting Arundo Donax plants by hand

Cutting Arundo Donax plants by hand

The conditions were hot and humid, and the task was repetitive. But the corps members remained in high spirits, even Bhrianna Malcolm, who has completed five hitches on this project. “It’s challenging work but I’m able to stay positive because you can see that your efforts are working. You can see that the plant is slowly becoming eradicated. It’s well worth it,” said Malcolm.

Spraying Arundo Donax stumps

Spraying Arundo Donax stumps

ACE’s work removing the Arundo Donax plant from the creekside is of significant importance to the restoration of this riparian zone to its original state.

Arundo Donax stumps

Arundo Donax stumps

Mesa Verde Crew

Today we welcome back a crew returning from Mesa Verde National Park in Southwest Colorado who for the past week the crew has focused on eliminating the highly invasive species Russian Knapweed from along the Mancos River within the park.

The Mesa Verde crew

The Mesa Verde crew

On the first day of the hitch, however, the river was swollen with monsoon rains. Since it was therefore unsafe to work by the river the crew worked with NPS staff to eradicate invasive musk thistle in a different location in the park.

Removing Musk Thistle

Removing Musk Thistle

Corps members removed the blooms from the musk thistle plants by either pulling them by hand or snipping with pruners. They cut the stalks to waist level height so other corps members came through and sprayed the stalks with Milestone herbicide to prevent the regrowth of the invasive.

Pruning the musk thistle

Pruning the musk thistle

The musk thistle can spread extremely rapidly because of the high seed production–almost 120,000 per plant!

Spraying the musk thistle

Spraying the musk thistle

Ecological restoration is something ACE corps members dedicate themselves to during their term of service. Part of restoring a native plant community to its original state is the removal of invasive, destructive species followed by the planting of native species.

The fruits of labor

The fruits of labor

Corps to Career: Veteran and ACE Alum Dale Thomas

American Conservation Experience is proud to showcase a former AmeriCorps member, Crew Leader, and United States Veteran, Dale Thomas.

Dale has had a long history of service. Not only in serving his community through volunteerism, but also serving his country. For 7 years Dale served with the Arizona Army National Guard, 819th Engineer Company. Joining the National Guard was the way he was going to help pay for his college tuition and do something meaningful with his life.

Dale Thomas serving military

Dale Thomas serving in the military

Serving our country while attending college at Northern Arizona University showed Dale’s dedication not only to the homeland but also to his education. While studying Parks and Recreation Management and Park Protection he was deployed to Afghanistan for a year. School was put on hold while he served.

“Our mission was Route Clearance, where we helped a lot of people by clearing IED’s (improvised explosive devices) from both paved and dirt roads to allow our own NATO forces, Afghan army and police, and local public to safely travel the roads. After this year long adventure, I returned to finish out school.”

After he returned from his deployment in Afghanistan Dale completed a final internship and a Wilderness First Responder course in order to receive his degree. Through NAU Dale found American Conservation Experience. Although Dale would have to travel with ACE, and be away from his wife and family, he decided it would help him meet his goal of working towards improving our natural resources.

Dale in ACE

Dale when serving as a Crew Leader with ACE

“ACE sounded like a really cool opportunity so I went for it. It was definitely worth it! In the beginning of my term I had fairly minimal experience in any of the tasks I performed in ACE. Through the service learning model I was trained in trail design, layout, construction, and maintenance; dry and wet stone masonry; archaeological ruin preservation, fencing construction and repair, and greatly improved my knowledge and skills with a chainsaw. Dry masonry and fencing turned out to be my favorite projects along with sawing. I also made quite a few connections. Once I was a crew leader, I had a lot of contact with different project partners. Many of them gave me their information and offered to be references and even offered some jobs. Which is how I got where I am now. Working for the National Park Service”

Dale spent quite a bit of his time with ACE working at the National Park Service, Flagstaff Area Monuments (Walnut Canyon National Monument, Sunset Crater National Monument, and Wupatki National Monument) and was able to make professional connections with the staff and management at these parks. Securing a position with NPS, Flagstaff Area Monuments, Dale is now a Maintenance Worker at the park. His tasks include working on trails such as the new Lenox Crater Trail at Sunset Crater NM, and doing general maintenance work such as repairing the Walnut Canyon visitor center.

When asked to speak to the next generation of corps members who may be interested in volunteerism and the conservation corps movement, Dale has some great advice:

“Be diligent and keep a good eye out for opportunities. Seek and utilize opportunities for training. These will improve your skill and knowledge base. Practice being calm, cool, and collected and rely upon your training as this is what your mind will revert to in split second decisions. Don’t give up on what you want. Finally, learn and employ techniques of resiliency; don’t let setbacks keep you down. ACE was a great place to do these things and I felt like I was fulfilling those goals of mine.”

We are proud to feature ACE Alumnus, Dale Thomas. We feel honored that ACE played a role in his service-learning experience, and helped him achieve his goal of turning his corps experience into the career of his dreams.

For more information on ACE Alumni
Contact susie@usaconservation.org

ACE Utah @ Manti LaSal NF

Before, during and after shots of the turnpike

Before, during and after shots of the turnpike

Today, a crew returns from a hitch working in Manti-LaSal National Forest in Utah. The 8-day project initially focused on repairing a turnpike on the Josephite Point Trail, with the crew then moving to work on a reroute and construction of log drainage structures along the Castle Valley Ridge Trail.

The Manti LaSal crew's morning commute

The Manti LaSal crew’s morning commute

The reparation of the turnpike was a team effort. First, the old logs had to be removed and the rebar had to be salvaged. Next, sawyers felled trees that were the correct diameter for use in the construction of the retaining walls, and then cut them to 10 1/2 feet.

Sawyers cut trees of the correct diameter

Sawyers cut trees of the correct diameter

Crew members stripped the bark from the logs, a technique which will help them to withstand rot for a longer duration. Next the logs were hauled to the trail, and pounded into place with the salvaged rebar.

Drilling the harvested logs to insert the rebar

Drilling the harvested logs to insert the rebar

The project was important because the section of the trail that included the turnpike was a meadow that retained water easily during heavy rains, and the trail could be rendered impassable if it wasn’t reinforced. The crew’s efforts will ensure that visitors to the National Forest can have an enjoyable and safe experience.

High five for a job well done!

High five for a job well done!

Catching up with EPIC Interns

Although our conservation corps is centralized in the intermountain region of Utah, Arizona, and North Carolina, and in California, ACE also has an Emerging Professional Internship Corps (EPIC) whose geographic scope spans across the entire country. This past week our photojournalist caught up with the three interpretation interns who work between the National Monuments in the Verde Valley of Arizona: Montezuma Castle, Montezuma Well, and Tuzigoot.

ACE EPIC Interns at Northern Arizona's National Monuments

ACE EPIC Interns at Montezuma Well National Monument

The ACE interns work alongside National Park Service employees each day. They act as the front line representatives of the National Monuments by interacting one-on-one with visitors; answering questions, selling park passes, and roving the trails. During their internship each individual is required to develop a unique personal program to deliver to visitors.

EPIC Intern engages the monument's visitors

EPIC Intern Dana Henze engages the monument’s visitors

“There’s so much history here,” said Dana Henze, who has been an intern at the monuments for 2 months. “And it’s a great learning opportunity. It is a great way to get a foot in the door and learn about the ins and outs of the Park Service. I hope to become a wildlife biologist for the National Park Service someday, and I feel that this internship is helping to prepare me for that career,” she explained.

Dana Henze

EPIC Intern Dana Henze

The EPIC internship program allows youth to explore, connect, and preserve America’s natural and cultural resources as they gain professional skills and cultivate their careers in the resource management field. For further details, including how to apply, visit EPIC’s dedicated program pages.

ACE Crews @ Grand Canyon National Park

Every year, ACE crews have the privilege to work in arguably one of the most beautiful National Parks in the country—the Grand Canyon. ACE’s summer work season always begins with work on the north rim of the canyon, and once complete, crews move to the south rim.

Grand Canyon Blog Post -03

They perform routine maintenance including cleaning water bars and check steps, re-dirting the trail where necessary, and clearing out irrigation ditches. They focus on the three main historic corridor trails: North and South Kaibab, and Bright Angel.

Grand Canyon Blog Post Before After

These trails are the most popular in the park, and have a very high volume of pedestrian and mule traffic. “Trails at the Grand Canyon are so different,” explained crew leader Evan Thibodeau. “The trails drainages are on the inslope, which is opposite of most trails. The work we are doing is an effort to help prevent erosion from the outside of the trail.”

Grand Canyon Blog Post -02

The work that ACE crews do in Grand Canyon National Park is imperative to prepare the trails for the onslaught of traffic and monsoon rains that they will sustain this summer.

Grand Canyon Blog Post -01

We're busy conserving the environment