This spring and summer ACE Southeast is continuing to work in partnership with Mammoth Cave National Park. While this stunning national park is known for its expansive cave system and its’ role in American history, it also has dozens of front and backcountry trails for visitors to enjoy above ground.
This year the crew is working on the lower half of the First Creek Trail for approximately six weeks. The crew is being led by ACE crew leader Jacob Graham. Prior to the ACE crew working on the trail, the conditions were rocky and steep, with many exposed roots and washouts. The erosion caused by these conditions were negatively impacting both hikers and horseback riders using the trail.
The crew worked to improve the trail by putting in water bars, drains, and a bridge over a creek crossing. The bridge was built with both hikers and equestrians in mind. ACE is proud to be continuing work with this incredible national park!
ACE has taken part in multiple forest thinning projects across the Southwest over the last several years. Each project has had a similar objective in mind: wildfire prevention. Each year wildfires have increased in severity and occurrences, and it has become more crucial than ever to remove the lower level fuels that allow them to become more severe.
Fall of 2017 proved to be a very busy time for our ACE Utah crews in regards to fuels reduction. Crews performed forest thinning in beautiful, Bryce Canyon National Park, for an eight-day project.
Forest thinning helps to prevent wildfires from becoming catastrophic. ACE’s part in this aspect of wildfire prevention is to remove any trees that would serve as ladder fuel. Ladder fuel is a firefighting term for live or dead vegetation that allows a fire to climb up from the landscape or forest floor into the tree canopy. This means cutting down any tree species that are easier to catch fire, trees of a specific diameter, and removing any dead or down trees.
In Bryce Canyon National Park the ACE crew was led by crew leader, Brandon Lester. The primary objective of this project was to protect limber pines and bristlecone pines as well as Douglas firs and Ponderosa pines. Douglas firs and Ponderosa pines are being protected because they tend to be more resilient against wildfires. By keeping these more resilient species and thinning more flammable species, the forest becomes less prone to catastrophic wildfires. The bristlecone pines are being protected because in this area they tend to be very old and the limber pines are being protected because they are a more rare species. By selecting certain species ACE is working to create a healthier pine forest.
To do this the crew was reducing the number of flammable species such as white firs and some of the Douglas firs that could potentially become ladder fuels. The crew was also targeting trees that were growing in clumps and trees that were growing too close to the species they were trying to protect. For example, the crew was not directly targeting Douglas firs but if there were any Douglas firs growing too close to a Ponderosa pine, then the crew would remove that tree.
During this single eight-day project the crew aimed to thin approximately three acres within the park. ACE is incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to return to work in this beautiful national park and look forward to our continued partnership with the National Park Service and our friends at Bryce Canyon National Park.
For more information on Bryce Canyon National Park click here: Bryce Canyon National Park
In summer 2017, four local high school students from Akron, Ohio participating in the six-week ACE Youth Conservation Corps program (YCC) joined ACE EPIC Intern Carlyn Mitchell at Cuyahoga Valley National Park to assist the National Park Service (NPS) with a variety of natural resource management projects there. NPS has produced a wonderful video series called the “Outside Science (Inside Parks)” initiative.This video showcases the pollinator field research study. Click here to learn more about the research taking place at Cuyahoga Valley National Park
One of ACE’s longest running partnerships is with the Grand Canyon National Park. This past summer and in to the fall ACE crews worked on several of the many trails in and around the canyon.
ACE had two crews working on two different trails in the canyon, the Bright Angel and the Hermit trail. The crew on Bright Angel was led by ACE crew leader, Hannah Baskin and the Hermit trail crew was led by ACE crew leader, Stephanie Gonzales. Both of these trails experience heavy foot traffic in the summer months. In addition to hikers, the Bright Angel trail also supports mules tours as well as pack mules throughout the year.
Both crews were performing cyclical maintenance on the trails. This usually encompasses widening tread, clearing drains, reinforcing water bars, brushing and clearing the trail of any obstacles. The canyon trails require attention all year long because of the constant erosion that happens within the canyon walls.
On the Bright Angel trail the crew was performing general maintenance as well as assisting the National Parks Service trail crew with a rock work project. Some of the crew members were on patrol to make sure that hikers were safe while the work was being completed and other crew members got to try their hand at the rock drill.
On the Hermit trail the crew was using a grip hoist to move some large boulders from the trail. Using rock bars the crew was able to move boulders out of the main trail and repair parts of the trail that were eroded by flooding.
Going into the fall ACE crews will continue working further down the Bright Angel Trail and eventually to Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the canyon. Our staff and corps members continue to feel grateful that they are able to serve in and contribute to the protection of this park.
ACE Arizona partnered with the National Parks Service at Sunset Crater National Monument. Sunset Crater is a cinder cone volcano that is located north of Flagstaff, AZ. Through the end of September the crew constructed a trail through the lava flow within the park.
The crew is being led by ACE crew leader, Tim Beck. This is a completely different type of trail building for the corps members. A typical trail involves working with pliable dirt however, in this case the crew has had to learn to work with lava flow remains which is hard volcanic rock.
The ground in this area is comprised of lava rock that is unstable and dangerous to walk upon directly. To lay the foundation for the trail the crew begins by moving the lava rocks to fill in any gaps and cracks. Using double and single jacks the crew is crushing in lava rocks to flatten the ground into a trail. By rearranging lava rocks and spreading rock gravel the crew is creating a trail that sits several inches below the lava flow. The trail will allow visitors to walk amongst the lava flow which has not been accessible in the past.
Repairs to Tsegi Point Trail in Navajo National Monument are a unique and exciting project for ACE Arizona. Navajo National Monument is located within the northwest portion of the Navajo Nation in northern Arizona and was established to protect three well-preserved Anasazi cliff dwellings. Like much of northern Arizona, the Navajo National Monument area is composed of sandstone that is apt to lead to rocks falls and landslides due to winter freeze and thaw conditions.
Partnering with the National Park Service, our work here involved creating a bypass for an area of trail that had been blocked by boulders that eroded from the surrounding canyon walls and fell into the trail. The crew was lead by ACE trails trainer Jack McMullin and ACE crew leader Andrew Greenwell.
To create the reroute the crew used grip hoists, rock bars and patient teamwork to remove rocks from the new section of trail. We also built rock walls to support the new tread and to insure that the tread is wide enough for hikers to pass safely. Tsegi Point Trail overlooks Tsegi Canyon and the crew agrees that it is certainly one of the most scenic places ACE has been lucky enough to work in.
This was the second of three projects that ACE is working in the area.
Not far from Hollister, California, ACE has partnered with Pinnacles National Park to host a “Ranger Corps” Program. The initiative started in 2009 and is one of the few of its kind. Pinnacles National Park currently has four Ranger Corps members, Elijah Valladarez, Alex Diaz, Conner Stephens and Ryan Robledo. All of the members are local youth (ages 18-25) who will complete 300 hours in the park over their weekends assisting park professionals and learning about the National Parks Service.
“I like that I have been able to work in my community and this experience has taught me to really appreciate the area that I grew up in,” explained Alex Diaz, Soledad resident. The program runs on the weekends and aims to mentor the interns in different directions through working closely with the park’s rangers and other ACE members participating at Pinnacles.
Elijah Valladaraz is studying criminal justice and explained, “since I am interested in law enforcement the park does its best to get me around the park’s security rangers.” Alex Diaz expressed a similar point, that he was focusing on botany in school and gets to go out and work with the park’s vegetation and restoration team.
Conner Stephens and Ryan Robledo are both in their senior year of high school. Conner is hoping to study something along the lines of geology in college. “This position has improved my social skills but it has also taught me a lot about basic geology and plants and has improved my overall mood,” explained Conner, “the highlight for me is waking up each morning and being in a National Park and being able to work outside, whether that is assisting the vegetation and condor crews, or just helping park incoming visitors.”
Paul Mondragon is a part time Park Ranger and runs the program in the park on the weekends. Paul expressed his dedication to the program and stated, “I like seeing the kids grow and become more comfortable talking with the people who come to visit the park.” Paul has been working with the program for the last five years and works closely with the corps members.
The Ranger Corps also provides CPR and first aid training in addition to the hands on experience of working in the National Park. The program aims to open doors for the local youth into the world of environmental stewardship.
ACE partnered with the National Park Service and the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation for an 18-week restoration project at Moses Cone Memorial Park. This national historic site receives 250,000 visitors a year and is located on the Blue Ridge Parkway near the town of Blowing Rock, North Carolina. The park preserves the country estate of Moses Cone, a textile entrepreneur, naturalist and conservationist who lived in the late 1800s. It encompasses 3,500 acres including 25 miles of carriage trails now used for hiking and horseback riding, as well as a twenty-three-room mansion called Flat Top Manor.
The primary objective of this project was to restore the 25 miles of carriage roads to their historic width. Lead by Corey Harrison, the crew accomplished this by brushing back vegetation with mechanized equipment including pole saws, chainsaws, and a wood chipper. By protecting and restoring the cultural landscape at Moses Cone, the ACE crew is providing sufficient width for carriages, horses, hikers, maintenance equipment, law enforcement patrols and rescue vehicles.
Meet EPIC Intern, Kyle Tibor. Kyle has been interning out of Pinnacles National Park’s Condor Program. Pinnacles National Park joined the California Condor Recovery Program as a release and management site in 2003. The park currently co-manages 86 wild condors in central California with Ventana Wildlife Society. Thank you to our partners at Pinnacles for allowing us to see the amazing work you are doing with these majestic creatures. Pinnacles is located east of the Salinas Valley in Central California. For more information on Pinnacles Condor Program go to: https://www.nps.gov/pinn/learn/nature/condors.htm
Since January of 2017 ACE California has had a crew working along the coast in Garrapata State Park. This ongoing project is the first in partnership with California State Parks, a relationship ACE hopes to continue to build in the years to come. The ACE crew has been lead by Kevin Magallanes since the start of the project and will continue to be lead by Kevin until its completion.
ACE corps members have been working on two different projects with the California State Parks crew. Half of the crew were building wooden steps along the trail. With the use of drills, saws, and the frequent double checking of measurements the crew constructed the wooden base for a staircase that will later be filled with small rocks. These steps make the hike more easily traversable by reducing the trail’s steepness.
The other half of the crew was building a multi-tier retaining wall which will be a lookout over the coast when it is completed. “Rock work is this strange meditative process,” explained Jesse Wherry who has been on the project for three months, “you can spend your entire day on something and in the end you just have to take it all down.” This extensive amount of rock building requires a lot of patience, skill, and experience from the crew members.
The crew brought on three new members during this project who got to learn about both rock work and step building. This lookout is one of two multiple week long projects that the crew will complete for the trail. ACE looks forward to the continuation of this project over the upcoming months in the best office anyone could ever ask for.
In Pinnacles National Park ACE currently has two EPIC interns working the with the park’s Vegetation and Restoration team. The park’s restoration team is lead by Park Ranger Mike Shelley with the main objective to restore and protect native plant species and to maintain the landscape.
Joshua Mosebach and Karina Garcia (ACE EPIC Interns) of the restoration team take part in native seed collecting, planting, monitoring and research. The internship is currently six weeks into a twenty-one week program in the park. “I’ve learned a lot about working in the federal government and the park service during the last few weeks,” explained Karina, “I didn’t know that the park conducts research and works with native american tribes.” While Karina is still determining what path she would like to pursue, she explained that she has been able to explore a variety of different career paths within the National Parks Service during her time in the park.
During the week of April 24th, 2017 the team was working in Jawbone Canyon on the west side of Pinnacles National Park. A new trail has been slated to go through the canyon and through a section of Italian thistle, an invasive species. It is crucial for the invasive plants to be removed from the trails, as “the seeds will attach to hikers boots and pant legs and spread to other areas of the park,” Mike Shelley explained during his introduction to invasive species removal with a local Native American tribe.
The park has been working with the Amah Mutsun Land Trust since 2009 on various local projects. The Amah Mutsun Land Trust group came out with the team to work on the removal of this area of Italian Thistle. There are two areas in the park that have cultural significance to the tribe because the areas contain deer grass and white root sage. These are plants that are used for weaving by the tribe. The park and tribe worked together to have the first prescribed burn of deer sage since the mission period.
ACE Arizona had a crew working in Grand Canyon National Park this past February. This was a two part project for our corps members. For the first part of the week the crew worked on clearing a rock slide on the Bright Angel Trail Project.
Upon completion of the rock slide clean up efforts, the crew then hiked down to Phantom Ranch via the South Kaibab Trail where they stayed for the remainder of the project to do cyclical maintenance on the trail. The crew had the special opportunity to camp along the Colorado River with the NPS crew.
The South Kaibab Trail is one of the main access routes to Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the canyon and frequently used by the parks mule teams. The crew worked on the lower half mile section of trail leading up to the Black Bridge.
The crew was lead by David Vayhinger, who has worked on approximately eight different Grand Canyon projects in the past. David taught the crew how to clear water bars on the trail. Water bars are pertinent to the longevity of the trail because they direct water down the trail to the drainage points. Water bars and drains prevent the trail from becoming eroded which is crucial in the canyon because it is constantly being shaped by these natural forces.
At the end of the week the crew worked on clearing the River Trail which runs along the Colorado River and hiked up to the rim on the second to last day to assist with general grounds maintenance along the rim of the canyon.
For some of the crew members it was their first time seeing and working in the Grand Canyon. Many thanks to our friends at the National Parks Service for allowing us to serve in this natural wonder of the world.
This past February ACE Arizona had a crew working in the Grand Canyon with the National Parks Service. The crew was led by ACE crew leader David Vayhinger. The crew spent the first two days of the project working a mile and a half down the Bright Angel Trail.
The Bright Angel Trail is one of the most popular trails in the canyon with multiple checkpoints and camping sites along the way as it winds it way down to the Colorado River. The Bright Angel Trail is one of the main access trails to Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the canyon.
The warming temperatures and ice melt cause rock slides to be more frequent during this time of year. The crew was assisting the Park Service rangers in removing one rock slide in particular that made the trail impassable to the park’s mules. Half of the crew assisted with the rock slide while the other half of the crew made their way down to three mile point, clearing the trail from smaller rock slides and repairing check dams.
The main rock slide at the mile and a half checkpoint was one large rock that covered the width of the trail. The crew assisted by directing hiking traffic and helped break apart this large rock with steel rods and drills. The rock needed to be taken apart in sections and then the crew used the rock fragments to build a rock wall along the trail. This work is particularly challenging in the canyon because the trail contains many switch backs. This means that the crew needed to use extreme caution to not lose any rocks into the canyon because the trail continuously loops back underneath the work site.
With the assistance of ACE, the National Parks Service crew was able to clear the trail and the parks’ mules were able to continue canyon tours as well as packing in supplies to Phantom Ranch. It is an honor for ACE corps members and staff to be able to contribute to the conservation of this incredible national park.
Starting November 1st ACE’s Utah branch had a crew lead by Troy Rudy working in Zion National Park at the Watchman’s Campground. The scope of the project was to reduce the fire hazards around the Watchman Campground loops.
The crew worked to reduce the campground’s sagebrush by roughly 80%, while strategically leaving desirable species to provide privacy between campsites. This technique should strike a balance between reducing the risk of wildfire and preserving the cultivated native plant aesthetic already present in the campground. The crews then reinforced the removal efforts with the use of herbicide on the remaining stumps to prevent regrowth.
Approximately ten years ago there was an effort to actually plant sagebrush at the Watchman’s campground to keep the campground rich with native plants. However, about a year ago there was an accidental fire close to the campsite area. Sagebrush is a highly flammable plant and with only one road leading in and out of the park the plants proved to be too dangerous to leave at the site.
The crews target species was Rabbitbrush, Big Basin Sagebrush, Sand Sagebrush. The slash was hauled out and piled in a manner that will make if safe to burn at a later date. Our ACE Utah crew is working in partnership with the National Parks Service, specifically with the Fire Management Department.
We are so happy to be able to share another Corps to Career success story out of our ACE Puerto Rico program.
Former ACE Member Kenneth De Jesus Graciani worked as an ACE corps member from October 2015 – April 2016. Kenneth was able to take his experience and work ethic and transition to a position working for NPS at San Juan National Historic Site.
We sat down with Kenneth for a Q and A to find out about where he is with NPS, how he achieved his goal of working for an agency and how ACE was a small part of his journey.
Where are you from originally? I am from Arroyo, Puerto Rico.
What motivated you or inspired you to be in conservation? I wanted to get experience doing this kind of work. My father and Uncle both work in conservation for the National Park Service and so at a young age I was very interested in this type of work and I wanted to learn as much as I could.
How did you find out about ACE? My Uncle saw a flyer for the Conservation Corps at the NPS office and he told me about the opportunity.
What was your role with ACE? My role as a crew member with ACE was to carry out the daily projects that were assigned to us by NPS staff and our crew leaders. The work involved historic preservation, trail maintenance, new trail construction, and removing unwanted trees that were damaging the historic fortress.
What was your favorite project and why? I loved the “outworks” trail project. It involved mixing cement and building a new network of trails for tourists to enjoy that were not there before. The work was very rewarding and both NPS staff and Park visitors were appreciative of our efforts.
What was one of your biggest challenges? When you have good training and leadership from NPS and ACE, all projects are possible and none were too challenging.
What was your favorite aspect of being an ACE corps member? Everything. I loved mixing concrete to building new trails. I learned new skills from the crew leaders that gave me the confidence to apply for an NPS job.
How did you attain the position with NPS? I attained this position by gaining skills, experience, and confidence with ACE and then applied to the NPS job at a time when they were hiring.
What are your job responsibilities with NPS? I am a maintenance worker for the National Park Service, San Juan Natl Historic Site. My main responsibilities include repairing historic structures, building concrete columns, welding, fencing, operating a circular saw and keeping up with maintenance of the park in a safe, efficient, manner. In the summer months I was the liaison between the NPS and the YCC crew.
Do you think ACE has helped prepare you for your future career? Definitely. ACE gave me the opportunity to work with them, learn new skills, gain valuable experience, and get exposure by working closely with NPS staff.
What are your future goals? I would like to continue learning as much as I can to grow and develop into a leader with the National Park Service. In 5 years I hope to be in a leadership position in the National Park Service. I would love to work with young adults and mentor them.
How has ACE helped to shape who you are personally and professionally? ACE helped me with everything. The crew leaders taught me technical skills, responsibility, leadership, and good work habits. I learned great teamwork. If it wasn’t for ACE, I would not be working with the National Park Service.
What advice can you offer to future corps members who are looking to get into the conservation field? Never say “no”. You need to be flexible and open to any type of work and any type of project. You need to be inspired to work for ACE and gain skills to have a good experience in ACE and be competitive for federal jobs.
*If you are an ACE Alumni and are interested in sharing your Corps to Career story please contact Susie Jardine at firstname.lastname@example.org