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Pecos Wilderness | Borrego Trail | Crosscut

Pecos Wilderness campsite as seen at night.

Pecos Wilderness campsite as seen at night.

Summer 2017 was a tremendously busy season for ACE’s Crew Program. ACE Southwest teams had the opportunity to work on a two-month project in the Pecos Wilderness just outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico, on the Borrego Trail. ACE is proud to offer our corps members a wide range of training on different types of equipment and a variety of of tools. This project called for our teams to use the classic crosscut saw.

A blue ribbon is tied to the fence on the corner of West Clay Avenue, Flagstaff March 22nd, 2017.

The use of crosscut saws dates back to the 15th century, and they are still in use today with very little change in their design. “It’s really cool to be using these saws that have been used for centuries”, explained crew member, Emily Merlo. These saws are used to cut against the wood grain of trees. The crew is using them to “buck up” already down trees. Bucking is a term that refers to the cutting up of already down trees.

Andrew Palomo removes the bark from the log before beginning the cut.

Andrew Palomo removes the bark from the log before beginning the cut.

A bucking saw generally has a straighter back and less of a pronounced curve on its cutting surface. Since bucking saws are more often used on trees that are already downed, the greater stiffness and weight aids swift cutting, and allows two-man saws to also be used by one person, pushing as well as pulling.

The crew enjoying a lunch break in the Pecos Wilderness.

The crew enjoying a lunch break in the Pecos Wilderness.

There are several reasons why crosscut saws are preferred over chainsaws, on certain projects. First, crosscut saws are lighter which makes it easier for crews to carry in to remote locations as most ACE crews backpack in all of their camping gear, food, and tools. This particular crew hiked over ten miles into the forest to reach the project site. The weight of chainsaws and fuel make crosscuts saws a better choice for these long hikes in. Additionally, many areas of the National Forests of the United States are designated as Wilderness Areas and as such the use of mechanized and motorized equipment is prohibited, except by special circumstance, as the noise chainsaws  have the potential to disturb wildlife.

Crew member, Emily Merlo completes the cut.

Crew member, Emily Merlo completes the cut.

ACE crew leader, Kaitlin Egan led the project for the entire duration. The primary objective of this project was to clear downed trees that blocked the trail. The crews worked in two-person teams with the crosscut saw requiring one person on each side. Prior to beginning the work the team starts by assessing each tree, then decides on an approach based on how the tree fell from flooding and wind, where there is tension on the tree, and which way the log will roll once it is cut. And last, the decision is made as to who will take the saw when the cut is complete. It’s a very calculated process to ensure the safety of our crews and that the proper technique is utilized.

A two-man team works to bring down a tree that has fallen from natural causes and was left suspended over the trail.

This project is the second year of work on the Borrego Trail for ACE.  On this particular project the crews cleared the first four miles of trail where they set up camp in the backcountry of the Pecos Wilderness. As they worked their way up the trail, they eventually made it to the campsite at mile ten. Within the first month the crew was able to clear fourteen miles of trail from fallen trees.

ACE corps member, Alexander Hesketh records the diameter of the tree he and his partner have just bucked.

ACE corps member, Alexander Hesketh records the diameter of the tree he and his partner have just bucked.

ACE is proud to be able to provide our teams with  backcountry and wilderness skills to allow our corps members to be a part of improving access to this beautiful trail. We’d like to thank our partners at Pecos Wilderness and the USFS for your guidance and partnership as well as our ACE Southwest Crew for your hard work and dedication on this project.


The Pecos Wilderness crosscut crew at sunset on the first day of the two-month long project.

Dry Lake Hills Forest Thinning

ACE Arizona is continuing work on an 18-week forest-thinning project in the Dry Lake Hills region of Coconino National Forest, just outside of Flagstaff, Arizona. ACE is partnering with the City of Flagstaff Fire Department and the US Forest Service to complete this hand-thinning project.

Fire is a natural part of the ecosystem in this region. Historically, wildfires would burn across the forest floor, clearing out the dead and lower branches of trees, making way for a diverse understory of grasses, sedges, and forbs. After a century of fire suppression, logging and grazing, thick ground fuels and a ladder of dead branches have resulted in increased risks of crown fires. Numerous studies based on Forest Service data show that 90% of the trees on Southwestern forests are 12 inches in diameter and smaller. It is the high density of these small trees that represents the greatest fire risk.

In 2010, the Schultz fire burned 15,000 acres and caused between $133 and $147 million in economic damages to the Flagstaff community. The Flagstaff Watershed Protection Project (FWPP) conducted a study that concluded that post-fire flood impacts in the Dry Lake Hills region have the potential to result in significant damage to downstream watersheds. Catastrophic wildfires cause severe floods when they burn the vegetation that would normally absorb the rainfall, leaving the ground charred, barren, and unable to absorb water.

The Forest Service silviculturist has written prescriptions for five sections of the 100-acre area being thinned by the eight person ACE crew. The crew will be felling trees that are 9 inch diameter and smaller. After felling and bucking up the trees, the crew will be building piles for future prescribed fire operations. City of Flagstaff Fire Department Operations Specialist, Matt Millar, and ACE crew leader, Katherine Dickey, are overseeing this project. ACE is honored to participate in this effort to create a healthier ponderosa pine forest for the residents of Flagstaff.

Mount Mitchell Trail Restoration

Over the course of seven weeks, ACE Asheville worked with the North Carolina High Peaks Trail Association, Mount Mitchell State Park and Pisgah National Forest to repair and restore Mount Mitchell Trail. At 6,684 feet, Mount Mitchell is the highest point east of the Mississippi River. The vegetation varies greatly along the 5 ½ miles to the dramatic summit and features spectacular stands of Red Spruce old-growth.


The ACE trail crew was led by Zak Beyersdoerfer for the duration of the project. The work involved repairing tread, structures and the overall sustainability of the Mount Mitchell Trail by improving drainage, repairing switchbacks and removing obtrusive rocks where necessary. The crew reconstructed multiple wooden staircases along the trail, carrying the large, heavy wooden steps up the steep trail with a backpack.


Using grip hoists and rockbars the crew also moved boulders from the trail and to flagged areas to prevent the creation of new social trails. “Trail work is a lot of psychology,” explained Josh Burt, ACE Southeast Fields Operation Manager. “It’s not enough to make a physical obstacle to prevent social trails, you also have to make visual barriers.” Josh explained that having a rock in place to prevent a hiker from going off trail is not enough; the hiker is always looking ahead and planning their route beforehand.  Following this advice, the crew also put in place eye level barriers such as dead branches to deter hikers from cutting across a switchback.


The work completed by the ACE crew and its partners will certainly help to make this trail, in one of our nation’s first state parks, capable of supporting many more visitors for years to come.






Timber Marking in Coconino National Forest

ACE Arizona is assisting with an important effort to thin the fire-prone forest in northern Arizona’s Coconino National Forest. The ACE crew is being led by Matt Donaldson and is working in partnership with the Flagstaff Ranger District.


A century of fire suppression has resulted in dangerously overstocked forests, leaving ­­the forests across the Southwest in a very vulnerable state. Increasing temperatures and decreasing water availability due to climate change has exacerbated this even further.

dsc_7381Fire disturbance is a critical part of the natural cycle and plays a vital role in supporting a diverse complement of plant species and structure. Under ideal conditions forest fires clear the dead and lower branches in the forest allowing sunlight to reach the forest floor. In contrast, historic fire suppression has resulted in a surplus of fuels at the lower levels of the forest, which quickly spreads to the canopy, destroying entire forests.

The goal of this project is to manage the overgrown areas in the Coconino National Forest to prevent these fires from turning catastrophic. The crew is working with the Forest Service’s silviculturist who is writing prescriptions for each area of the forest. The prescriptions are written based on tree size, health and grouping. Part of the work entails remarking previously marked trees as well as marking by these new prescriptions. If you are out hiking in these areas, please note that the trees that are marked are the ones that will not be cut during the forest thinning.

timber3ACE corps members are gaining a thorough understanding of a variety of resource objectives related to wildlife, fire and fuels, timber, recreation, archeology, and soil hydrology. They are also learning how these multifaceted issues all play into the development of prescriptions and the layout of cutting unit boundaries. This project will be continuing though the end of the summer.


Oak Creek Canyon – Sedona, AZ – A.B. Young Trail – Trail Maintenance

A blue ribbon is tied to the fence on the corner of West Clay Avenue, Flagstaff March 22nd, 2017.

Late March our ACE Arizona crews continued trail maintenance in Sedona, AZ in Oak Creek Canyon. The crew was working with the Red Rocks Ranger District branch of the US Forest Service. The crew that was lead by senior crew leader John Donovan was working on the A.B Young Trail. The trail was reconstructed in the 1930’s by the Civilian Conservation Corps under the supervision of A.B. Young. “The trail was once a cattle trail that was used to transport produce up to the main wagon roads”, explained John Donovan.

ACE crew member is using a McCloed to widen an existing trail.

The goal of this project was general trail maintenance. The crew was primarily brushing the trail. They also spent time building a small retaining wall and they cleared debris to provide proper trail drainage. 


ACE has been working with the Red Rocks Ranger District since the beginning of the year and our corps members are very fortunate to be apart of the conservation efforts of the area. This is the first of two projects that will be working on the AB Young trail.