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Trail building | Yarnell, AZ

On January 27th, ACE crews began work on a precipitous hillside just outside of Yarnell, Arizona, to build a trail that upon completion will stretch 2.5 miles across the rocky landscape. The project is huge in scope—3 crews of 8 members will be working diligently alongside numerous crew leaders, staff members, and state parks employees for the next few months to complete their goal. However, there is another aspect of the project that gives it much greater significance. The 320-acre swath of land that includes the trail will soon become the Granite Mountain Hotshot Memorial State Park, to commemorate the 19 hotshot firefighters who lost their lives while battling the 800-acre Yarnell Hill fire on the morning of June 30th, 2013.

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The trail initially traverses a very steep slope, and once crossing the ridge, descends into a boulder field with an overlook that will allow visitors to view the fatality site. They will also be able to descend further into the actual area where the firefighters lost their lives. The rocky and harsh landscape means that the building of the trail is highly technical, and crews are using a variety of hand tools, power tools, and griphoist rigging equipment to eradicate large rocks from the path of the trail and build sturdy, safe staircases to make the ascension easier for hikers. This is a big undertaking, but ACE has tackled many large-scale projects in challenging environments with tight timeframes. However, the Yarnell trail is unique because of its emotional factor. “Every project in ACE matters, but we’re not just approaching this one from a conservation point of view like we normally do,” explained Project Field Coordinator Jack McMullin. “It also has this heavy human aspect. The community has been so supportive of our work. We visited a museum last hitch because we were rained out of work one day, and speaking to the people who worked there about the fire and the work we are doing was a really amazing experience. One man who talked to us was almost in tears. It’s that emotional.”

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On Wednesday the 17th, crews were nearing completion of the first .42-mile section of the trail up to the ridgeline. “Once we cross the ridgeline, it’s boulder city. There are massive rocks everywhere. It’s going to be awesome, and so technical. The way the trail is situated is great, because this first half mile has given everyone time to get used to rock work and get some practice in, and then once we get over the hill they’ll have to really put their skills to the test,” said McMullen.

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When creating trails, ACE strives to make sustainable routes that provide a corridor for the public to safely enjoy the beauty of nature, in turn protecting the landscape itself. “We’re still focusing on those goals with this project,” Trails Coordinator Mark Loseth affirmed, “and we’ve done bigger projects than this logistically. But the product of our work here will be a dedication to the 19 men who lost their lives in the Yarnell Hill Fire. So when you think about it in that respect, it’s the biggest project that I’ve undertaken with ACE.”

ACE will continue to cover the Yarnell project until its completion. Stay tuned for more upcoming blog posts!

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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.

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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.

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#IamACE | Daniel Reyes

In the second installment of our series #IamACE, we’d like to introduce you to ACE corps member Daniel Reyes. Daniel is a crew corps member based out of our Flagstaff, Arizona branch. We caught up with Daniel, hard at work at our Yarnell project in southern Arizona.

[ACE] Can you tell me about your background? Where did you grow up?

[DR] I grew up in Central Valley California, and I went to school at Humboldt University in Northern California. I studied environmental management and protection with an emphasis in natural resources planning. I just graduated in December.

What motivated you to get into conservation?

There’s a local preserve by a land trust near my house and the use of land always fascinated me. I didn’t go out into nature much as a kid–my family didn’t do much hiking or camping or anything. But when I got the chance to get out and be exposed to it, I realized I wanted to work in nature.

How did you find ACE?

In the summer of 2014 I was wondering what to do between semesters of college. I looked around online and found a 450 hour position with ACE. It coincided perfectly with my summer break. I liked it so much that I wanted to come back!

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Can you tell me about one highlight and one challenge of your time with ACE?

My highlight would be the people. We all come from so many different backgrounds but we all have the same mindset of working hard in the field of conservation. A challenge from my last term with ACE was the heat–working in extreme temperatures in the Grand Canyon. This project we’re on right now in Yarnell is more mentally challenging. We have to use the materials that are around us to build staircases for the trail. It requires a lot of planning.

What do you think sets ACE apart from other organizations?

I think the difference I notice working for ACE is the people it attracts. The corps members in ACE seem a lot more prepared, motivated, and willing to do this type of work.

Tell me about your goals for the future when you’re done with ACE.

I’d like to work for the city or the county. I love hard manual labor and getting outside. I’m not totally sure what I’d like to do, but I think ACE has been helpful in preparing me for my future. ACE provides you with experience in the field, helps you form an applicable skill set, and you have to work together with many other people which helps you develop your teamwork skills.

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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.

Invasive Species Removal | Saguaro National Park

Recently, we met with our crew at Saguaro National Park in southern Arizona, where 8 corps members have been stationed for a month long project. The crew has been performing invasive species transects alongside employees of the National Park Service, among other tasks. Last week, the group was specifically focused on locating the Matla starthisle, a plant listed as a noxious weed in Arizona. However, they also kept an eye out for other invasive plants such as sow thistle and buffelgrass.

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To begin a transect, the crew forms a line with about three meters between each member, and then they proceed through the desert and hunt for the specific plants. If a plant is discovered, its location is noted on a GPS unit. The primary goal of the crew during this project is to focus on the removal of invasive species, but they will also help to perform saguaro and border impact surveys and attend informational lectures. “The NPS staff we are working with are great. Working closely with them provides us a great opportunity to learn about the area from professionals,” explained crew leader Marianne Keith, “and staff at this park in particular has been great about incorporating that educational aspect into the work, which is really important to me.”

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The removal of these species is important because an invasive plant has the ability to spread aggressively outside its natural range, which can disrupt natural habitats by choking out native plant life, altering ecosystems, and thereby reducing biodiversity. The work required to remove invasive species can be repetitive, but an intimate knowledge of all the plant species in the area is imperative in order for the corps members to be as efficient as possible. Identifying plants can be especially difficult in the Sonoran desert, which is the most biologically diverse desert ecosystem in North America with over 2,000 native plant species!

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Corps members find this kind of work very rewarding. “This is my favorite project I’ve been on so far.” said corps member Autumn Rooks. Autumn started her term with ACE working for our North Carolina branch, but briefly relocated to the Arizona branch for the remainder of her term. “We’ve been learning how to identify so many different plant species that I’ve never seen before, like creosote, London rocket, palo verde, and many types of cholla.”

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#IamACE | Stephanie Emery

Today we launch a new blog series titled “I am ACE” (#IamACE), which aims to highlight the individual stories of ACE’s corps members and interns.

Our corps members and interns come from culturally diverse backgrounds across the United States and each has a unique story to tell. Common to all is the passion for our natural environment, and a desire to develop into a future land steward.

In the first of our #IamACE series we introduce you to Stephanie Emery, and ACE EPIC intern currently serving with the Bureau of Land Management in Ironwood Forest National Monument in southern Arizona.
We are excited to share Stephanie’s story.

Stephanie Emery

[ACE] What is your background? Where are you from?
[SE] I am 22 years old. I’m born and raised in Seattle, Washington. I went to the University of Washington there. I just graduated last winter and studied environmental science, and focused on conservation.

What motivated you to be in conservation?
I am Native American–from Alaska. I grew up learning to be in tune with the land and with nature, and that motivated me to want to conserve our landscape. Growing up I really saw how people have been negatively impacting nature, and I really want to make a positive impact and try to restore our lands.

How did you find ACE?
I did an internship with AISES (American Indian Science and Engineering Society) who shares a similar mission with ACE. I met Hannah Wendel (ACE/EPIC internship Program Manager and Recruitment Specialist) through that position and she informed me about this internship, so I applied.

Can you tell me about the responsibilities you have for your internship?
We do a lot of trash pickup along the border. We monitor wildlife using cameras, and coordinate volunteers for different events. We install wash barriers to prevent people from driving off-road and causing erosion, install informative and regulatory signs, and also repair fences on the monument.

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Stephanie and fellow intern Alex Hreha check up on a barrel cactus that was relocated off of the path of an access road. The cactus was replanted safely off the road site and has been growing steadily and healthily since its relocation

What has been one highlight and one challenge of your internship?
The highlight has been working outdoors. We see a lot of wildlife and Native American artifacts. We’ve seen lots of bighorn sheep, some foxes, lots of animals. I love being out here.
The volunteer coordinating can be challenging. We are facilitators in that setting, so we take on a lot of responsibilities. The volunteers often come in with their own ideas, so we have to work with them. They often ask us why we’re doing a project, so we have to reassess our reasoning and back it up. This can be a positive experience though, because if we were just given an assignment we may not even think about the reasoning behind it, whereas when we coordinate the volunteer events we really have to know what we’re doing and why.

What are your plans after this position? Goals for the future?
I took the GRE and I’m planning on going to graduate school for either Rangeland Ecology or Fire Ecology. Eventually I hope to end up with a full time position with the BLM, who I currently intern for. That’s one of the major organizations that I’ve aligned myself with.

So do you think this internship has helped you to prepare for that career?
Definitely, yeah. This internship has given me the long term experience that I need for my resume, compared to some of the other internships which I’ve done that have been much shorter. This internship is 9 months long. One of the benefits of this work is that it has given me close to a year of experience that I need for my resume to prove that I’m committed.

What do you feel sets ACE apart from other organizations?
ACE’s staff seems more closely connected and more helpful than what I’ve experience with other internships. During some internships I never even met any of the staff and no one contacted me throughout the time I was working. ACE’s staff is readily available. The internship durations are better, and they have more cooperation with different organizations like NPS and BLM, which is great for career moves.

So do you think it’s helped you professionally?
Yes it has, in that I’ve gained a lot of good connections within the BLM, who I want to get a career with them in the future. It’s also helped me with graduate school, because it brought me from Phoenix to Tucson and helped introduce me to people from the University of Arizona where I can hopefully study someday.

Any advice you’d give to someone considering a career in conservation?
ACE is a good starting point. I think I’d advise people to start by volunteering (I did a lot of volunteering which I felt helped me get in with ACE) then short internships, build up to longer term internships, and that can help you build the framework for a career in conservation.

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Stephanie and Ryan Scot Gillespie install a sign to notify the public to refrain from entering a certain area in order to protect the bighorn sheep who are entering their lambing season.

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.

Tamarisk Removal along the Virgin River, UT

Last week, a crew finished a hitch working on the Virgin River near St. George, Utah. Crews have been hard at work removing invasive Tamarisk trees from the banks of the Virgin River.

A corps member removes Tamarix from the bank of the Virgin River

A corps member removes Tamarix from the bank of the Virgin River

Tamarisk is extremely invasive in riparian areas, often completely replacing native vegetation with impenetrable thickets of the plants. In this particular area, Tamarisk has altered the morphology of the river, negatively impacting the habitat of the native flora and fauna. A goal of the project is to initiate the process of restoring the area to its original state, ensuring that native species can reestablish and flourish once more.

Crew leader Michael Stapleton shows some corps members a topographical map of the area they will be working in.

Crew leader Michael Stapleton shows some corps members a topographical map of the area they will be working in.

Where once the river was shallow and wide — ideal conditions for native fish species such as the wound fin and the Virgin River chub — the Tamarisk trees now grow so thick that their huge root systems prevent the natural erosion of the bank. As a consequence, the river becomes centralized, deep, and cold. This type of non-historic river morphology causes challenging conditions for these two endangered species.

A corpsmember uses a chainsaw to cut invasive Tamarix on a cold morning

A corpsmember uses a chainsaw to cut invasive Tamarix on a cold morning

The project also seeks to re-establish nesting sites for the Southwestern willow flycatcher, an endangered species of bird that lives in riparian areas and whose habitat has been altered by the invasion and establishment of stands of pure Tamarisk. ACE is partnered with BLM, the Virgin River Partnership, and the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources on this project, which has been ongoing throughout 2015. “I’ve always been really impressed with ACE,” said project partner Bob Douglas. “They have great work ethic and they are very safety conscious.”

Corpsmembers clip the smaller Tamarix stalks with loppers, being careful to avoid cutting any young native willow saplings

Corpsmembers clip the smaller Tamarix stalks with loppers, being careful to avoid cutting any young native willow saplings

This project has required many hours of very hard work over a long period of time, and the efforts of everyone involved will help to restore this area to it’s original state.

Commute into work

Commute into work

Trail building at Hidden Cove Petroglyph Park, AZ

An ACE Arizona crew just completed an 8 day hitch in Holbrook, AZ at Hidden Cove Petroglyph Park. The area features hundreds of petroglyphs (rock art) that date to the Pueblo II era, which spanned from roughly 900 to 1100 A.D. Hidden Cove also includes the historic ruins of the Zuck family ranch. These cultural features establish Hidden Cove as very important and very fragile area.

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Up until now, there have been guided tours provided to the public on weekends, but no established trails. The City of Holbrook sought funding several years ago to create sustainable trails that will allow visitors to see the park without degrading it, and now ACE crews have begun building them.

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The work is varied; at the top of the mesa, the soil is so thin and the ground is so flat that crews created a trail using push brooms, so as to disturb the landscape as little as possible. At the bottom of the mesa however, heavier labor is required. Corps members have been splitting and shaping large rocks to use as steps, and using a grip hoist to move boulders out of the way of the trail.

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This project is imperative to preserve this historic area, and, once complete, visitors to the park will be able to safely and respectfully experience the beautiful landscape and cultural features.

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Zion NP revegetation

On November 13th, an ACE Utah crew completed a re-vegetation project in Zion National Park. The crew worked alongside NPS staff repairing areas where heavy equipment and major road construction activities had removed or damaged vegetation on a section of the scenic Kolob Terrace Road.

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Roadsides in this area of the park are very susceptible to erosion, and in order to stabilize the sediment in this vulnerable area, crews planted a collection of native grasses, shrubs, and cacti. The attention to detail, and careful consideration of each plant will be key to the long term success of each planting.

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Working alongside NPS staff provided a great opportunity for crew members to learn from the staff’s experience and knowlege and provided opportunities for crew members to show off ACE’s work ethic and culture. “The NPS staff said this was one of the best crews they have worked with,” affirmed field operations manager David ‘Skip’ Siesel, “and the area was really beautiful.” Although the project was short, the work will allow park visitors to witness the gorgeous plant species native to Utah.

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ACE CA at Mount Hermon

ACE California often partners with Mount Hermon, a family-oriented camp, conference, and concert center located just outside of Santa Cruz, CA. Mount Hermon is nestled in the towering Santa Cruz mountains redwoods and it attracts more than 60,000 visitors each year, many of which are part of school groups.

Ryan Smith carrying brush

As a neighbor, ACE California helps out at Mount Hermon however it can. We often send crews to Mount Hermon to help with a variety of projects ranging from roadside brushing to fuel reduction, and trail work to ecological restoration.

Crew Moving Planks

Last week Mount Hermon hosted a crew of 11 ACE California Corps Members and volunteers. Led by Crew Leader Jake Homovich, the crew completed a rock work project on a trail that circumnavigates the Mount Hermon Conference center.

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Mount Hermon is a popular project location among our crews; rather than preparing breakfast, packing lunch, and cooking dinner after work, crews at Mount Hermon are often served breakfast, lunch, and dinner by the camp’s kitchen.

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Later this week, from November 19, ACE California will be hosting a school group from Providence Day School in North Carolina at Mount Hermon. For 4 days the students will experience life at Mount Hermon and participate in a range of conservation-focused projects and educational sessions prepared by ACE Staff and AmeriCorps members. We’re very excited and look forward to bringing you more new of that project soon!

Trail Maintenance in Prescott National Forest, AZ

ACE Arizona crews recently completed a trail project in Prescott National Forest. The project involved annual light maintenance of several high volume, multi-use trails located on the outskirts of Prescott, in an area known as the Prescott Basin.

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Crews focused on brushing — opening the trail corridor to 6 ft wide and 10 ft tall, and clearing out existing drains. “In a few spots we also installed features to make the trail more sustainable,” explained crew leader Jimmy Gregson. “We put in an armored drain pan and a retaining wall, and created a few new drains along the trails as well.”

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The two crews completed 20.7 miles of maintenance during the project. Each crew was provided with a ranked list of 7 priority areas to work in, and they therefore used maps of the area to plan their time effectively.

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The highest priorities for both crews were sections of the popular Prescott Circle Trail, which circumnavigates the city and lies on lands managed by the City of Prescott, Prescott National Forest, and Arizona State Land Department. Since ACE partnered with the US Forest Service for this project, they worked on sections of the trails that were within the Prescott National Forest boundary.

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A majority of the work was completed within the Thumb Butte and Granite Mountain areas. “I’ve never done any work like this before,” said Kaitlin Eagan, an ACE corps member of two months. “It feels great to use my body for hard work that really means a lot.”

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The crews efforts will ensure that the trails can be safely used by hikers, bikers, and equestrians so they can access the gorgeous scenery that is available to them just outside of town.

De Laveaga Park Trail Work, Santa Cruz, California

Our ACE California Branch is located in the beautiful of Santa Cruz, California, just a short walk from the famous Boardwalk. Our ACE California crews spend a lot of time working on projects that transcend the state, but every now again we also get the opportunity to do something in the locality of our regional branch location.

De Laveaga Park lies within the city of Santa Cruz, providing local residents with the opportunity to get out into a wooded area and enjoy recreational activities including a network of trails, ball courts, a playground, and picnic areas. As such, this is a a very popular recreation area with a lot of joggers and dog walkers. DeLaveaga Park offers a mixed environment of redwood groves, oak woodlands, mixed forests and grasslands that hosts a variety of wildlife including deer, coyote, bobcats, and mountain lion.

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The park is named for the park’s generous benefactor, Jose Vicente De Laveaga. Born in Mexico and schooled in Europe, DeLaveaga settled in San Francisco with his parents in 1868. A successful businessman, he acquired numerous landholdings, and in 1892 his love of nature led him to purchase over 500 acres on the eastern edge of Santa Cruz, building a hacienda in what is now known as DeLaveaga Park.

The trail project at De Laveaga Park was brought to ACE by the city of Santa Cruz, and was completed during September 2015. Our Corps Members, led by ACE Crew Leader Trevor Willits, installed two staircases in order to improve trail access and provide safer hiking and jogging conditions for trail users.

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This was a fulfilling project for Corps Members as the stairs were made out of reclaimed logs and natural material that was sourced close to the project. The crew were able to transform this reclaimed wood into a rustic looking staircase, helping to mitigate future trail erosion and also preventing people from seeking out ‘social trails’, causing damage to the flora and fauna.

ACE California crews were grateful to be a part of the City’s beautification of a local park, and to create sustainable trail access for the people of Santa Cruz.

Zephyr Cove Boardwalk & Fallen Leaf Lake Projects – Lake Tahoe, California

ACE is in the business of amazing locations. Day in, day out, our crews are at work in some of the most stunning locations in the United States. But we are also fortunate in that our regional offices are located in amazing locations, too. Take our Lake Tahoe branch in California. Here, our lucky corps members get to live and work at one of the most beautiful lakes in the country. We are proud that our crews are able to partner with agencies such as the Forest Service and National Park Service close to Lake Tahoe, and work to restore and maintain the beauty of the surrounding area. And when our crews are not working, Lake Tahoe is an outdoor enthusiast’s playground and a prime vacation destination.

ACE crews measuring and constructing the boardwalk at Zephyr Cove

ACE crews measuring and constructing the boardwalk at Zephyr Cove

In addition to working on the Mount Tallac Trail and the Kingsbury Stinger Trail, projects that we have featured on our blog this week, ACE California crews based out of Lake Tahoe have also spent the summer completing two projects that focused on protecting the gorgeous meadows around Lake Tahoe. One project was the construction of a boardwalk near Zephyr Cove that will be part of a bike path providing access to the eastern shore of the lake. The other project was helping with the construction of a causeway near Fallen Leaf Lake that will reduce the damage to a meadow from high equestrian use.

Corps members work to clear the Fallen Leaf Lake Causeway

Corps members work to clear the Fallen Leaf Lake Causeway

ACE California would like to thank the many corps members who participated in projects in the Lake Tahoe region this summer.

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Kingsbury Stinger Trail – Lake Tahoe, California

ACE is partnering with the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit (LTBMU), in Douglas County, Nevada, in the southeast portion of the Lake Tahoe Basin. Here, ACE California crews have been rerouting the Kingsbury Stinger Trail, a challenging OHV (off highway vehicle) and mountain bike trail, known locally as the “Stinger Trail”.

ACE California crews begin construction of the Stinger Trail

ACE California crews begin construction of the Stinger Trail

Although the Stinger Project, like the Mount Tallac Trail, involved a reroute, that is where the similarity ends. Instead of a 12-16″ wide wilderness trail, the Kingsbury Stinger Trail is 50″ wide and designed for motorcycles, ATV’s and mountain bikes. Consequently, ACE crews have adopted a different approach, skill set, and attitude.

Corps members drilled through large rocks in order to move them from the trail.

Corps members drilled through large rocks in order to move them from the trail.

The crew has used highline rigging and power drills in to maneuver the massive boulders required to create a sustainable, yet fun and challenging trail, which flows down Kingsbury Grade to Lake Tahoe. As they build, the crew need to remain mindful of the eventual users of the trail; mountain bikers and ATV users. These trail users will travel a lot quicker than hikers, and therefore the trail must be safe to travel yet still be enjoyable.

In order to move such large boulders, the crew used the grip hoist

In order to move such large boulders, the crew used the grip hoist

While the existing trail provided plenty of challenges, it also was built along the fall-line and as a consequence had become severely eroded. The Stinger Trail realignment will bring the trail further away from drainage’s, and contour along ridge lines, using the topography to provide a more sustainable and environmentally-friendly trail.

Over-sized tree stumps were removed by hand using pulaskis

Over-sized tree stumps were removed by hand using pulaskis

ACE California crews will be back to work, finishing The Stinger Trail, during the summer of 2016.

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.

Arizona National Scenic Trail Repair

This Wednesday, an ACE crew returns from a project on the Arizona National Scenic Trail (ANST). The project is a partnership between Tonto National Forest, Mesa Ranger District, the Arizona Trail Association, and ACE. The goal of the project is to renovate 4.6 miles of the ANST, which has suffered from decades of neglect exacerbated by significant erosion as a result of the 2012 Sunflower Fire.

After the fire, the monsoon rains ripped the original trail to pieces, and flooding caused significant sloughing from the steep slopes that are a prominent feature in the area. The initial trail is nearly indistinguishable, and hikers frequently have gotten lost in the area, making it unsafe. When renovation is complete, a portion of the ANST will be redirected from the current unsustainable trail to a new route. The new route will connect to the Cornucopia Trail, an old mining trail that is part of the state trails system in the area.

Mount Peely Trail before trail dozer

Mount Peely Trail before trail dozer

The project featured the use of one of ACE’s trail bulldozers (SWECO), which cut the initial tread of the new route and significantly lessened the work for the hand crews that followed behind. The dozer was an essential machine in the creation of the reroute because of the excessive sloughing of soil and the prodigious plant growth that had all but destroyed the old path.

ACE's Trail Dozer

The SWECO cuts the initial tread of the new route.

Corps members work on the trail after the trail dozer

Corps members work on the trail after the trail dozer

The project has required two years of logistical planning, mapping, site visits, and permit acquisition. Crews can only work at the site at certain times of the year, weather permitting. The types of work that the crew focused on were trail stabilization, water, and erosion control. They used hand tools to smooth out the tread, establish the critical edge and a stable backslope, and to brush back encroaching vegetation. This work will ensure that the trail corridor is wide enough to accommodate the intended user groups and conform to USFS standards.

The trail after corps members

The trail after corps members have smoothed out the surface and repaired the critical edge

Corps member brushing the trail corridor

Corps member brushing the trail corridor

The crew camped just off the trail in a very remote backcountry setting, which lacked facilities but included gorgeous views of craggy mountain peaks and narrow canyons. This project will take seven weeks to complete, and afterwards the trail will be restored to a sustainable condition and will be accessible so that the public can safely enjoy the beautiful scenery and appreciate the rugged landscapes.

Crew Campsite

The crew camped just off the trail in a very remote backcountry setting, which lacked facilities but included gorgeous views of craggy mountain peaks and narrow canyons

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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Swedish students visit ACE

For the past few weeks, we have had a group of 6 Swedish students visiting and documenting the work of the crews in both our Flagstaff and Utah branches. The students are gathering content for a presentation on social entrepreneurship as part of the requirements for their environmental science major. They have been interviewing corps and staff members to learn more about ACE.

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Interviewing ACE Crew LEader

Interviewing ACE Crew Leader

The leader of the group was Marie Olssen, who served a 3-month term with ACE 9 years ago as an international volunteer. “It was the time of my life. I grew so much as a person, and became a lot more optimistic, independent and adventurous. My passion for the environment began with ACE, so I think I can credit my experience working for the organization for at least part of the inspiration for the continuation of my education in this field,” said Olssen.

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Interviewing NPS staff member

Interviewing NPS staff member

The students fly back to Sweden on Friday August 28th, and we will miss them!

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

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