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Secretary of the Interior Zinke visits ACE Asheville Crews

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Happy 101 National Park Service! 
Friday, August 25th, 2017 marked the National Park Service’s 101st Birthday.
To mark this momentous anniversary U.S. Secretary to the Interior, Ryan Zinke came to Great Smokey Mountains National Park to learn about back logged projects and meet NPS staff and AmeriCorps volunteers.

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ACE was deeply honored to be able to host Secretary Zinke at one of our worksites (Rainbow Falls Trail) where we were able to share with him what our AmeriCorps members are currently working on. ACE President and CEO, Christopher Baker was on site to meet Secretary Zinke and share with him a little about national conservation corps efforts on public lands.

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We’d like to thank Secretary Zinke and his team for coming out to meet with our corps members. And to our amazing partners at the National Park Service at Great Smokey Mountains National Park for supporting, training and mentoring our young people, we are forever grateful.

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About the project: The Rainbow Falls Trail Project is in the first year of a 2 year trail rehabilitation project. Rainbow Falls is one of the most popular trails in the park and receives high usage from the public. ACE is working alongside the NPS Trails Forever crew to ensure user safety, sustainability, erosion control, and improve user enjoyment. The work ACE is doing focuses on widening the tread in narrow places, excavating grade dips to improve drainage, outsloping the tread to prevent erosion, and building steps in steeper areas to aid in soil containment. All of these projects improve user safety and enjoyment.

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ACE Corps Members make this project possible by focusing on the fine details of the tread work while also collecting materials to aid in the construction of larger structures on the trail such as staircases and retaining walls. ACE Corps Members use rigging systems to maneuver large rocks into place, split them using drills and chisels, then set them in place with rock bars to provide long-lasting sustainable trail structures that will support high usage from the public on an incredibly scenic trail. ACE Corps Members work alongside NPS members to assist in these highly technical projects. This is truly a cooperative workforce as ACE helps Great Smoky Mountains National Park complete large scale trail restoration projects while gaining valuable career development skills and experience working on public lands in the field of land management.

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Courtesy of Secretary Zinke’s Twitter:

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

Invasive Species Removal at Chimney Rock State Park

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

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

ACE Asheville and the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy (CMLC) have been partnering on a variety of projects since 2014. Each year ACE provides approximately seven weeks of human power in the summer and seven weeks in the fall to the CMLC. Together we work to protect the natural communities and scenic beauty of the Hickory Nut Gorge by managing the establishment and spread of non-native invasive plants. (Fun fact: the area is located near Lake Lure, North Carolina, which was the film site for Dirty Dancing and Last of the Mohicans.)

The summer project was located at Chimney Rock State Park and was lead by ACE crew leader Jess Coffee-Johnson along with Weed Action Coalition of Hickory Nut Gorge’s (WACHNG) Natural Resource Manager, David Lee. We treated three priority invasive species: kudzu (Pueraria montana), princess tree (Paulownia tomentosa), and tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima). The crew treated the invasives by cutting the vines as well as using herbicide sprayers. Working in two groups, sprayers and brushers, the crew scaled the hillside in organized groups, each person in their designated section.

Kudzu spreads at approximately 150,000 acres per year, which is how it earned the nickname “the vine that ate the south.” This rapid spread is why ACE returns every year to treat and prevent the spread of these invasive species which compete for resources with native plants.

ACE will be returning to work with the CLMC in September to continue treatment.

 

 

 

Horseshoe Bend National Military Park – Alabama

ACE North Carolina has completed a 16 week project at Horseshoe Bend National Military Park. The park is located in Alabama, in Tallapoosa county, near Alexander city.

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

The park is run by the National Park Service and was marked as a national military park because it was the site of the Creek War on March 27, 1814. (For more information on the park and it’s history click here: https://www.nps.gov/hobe/learn/historyculture/index.htm )

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

The main objective of this project was to control exotic vegetation in a 450 acre area within the backcountry area of the park and to survey invasive species infestations along the Tallapoosa River within the park boundary. To monitor these areas along the river the crews took the Tallapoosa by canoe and marked the areas with GPS coordinates.

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

A second crew went back into those areas with herbicide to treat the marked locations. The removal of exotic species will improve the natural resources by eliminating competition from invasive species and helping native species thrive.

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

The crew was focusing on two main species, privet (Ligustrum spp.), cogongrass (Imperata cylindrica) as well as tree of heaven, mimosa tree, chinaberry, Japanese honeysuckle and kudzu. The ACE crew was lead by Nicole Macnamee, Chelesi White and Murphy Danko throughout various stages of the project.

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

Trail work at Navajo National Monument

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.

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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.

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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.

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Pinnacles National Park hosts the Pinnacles Ranger Corps Program

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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.

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“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.

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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.

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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.”

Conner Stephens explains the difference between condors and turkey vultures to the park's visitors while working the nature center desk.

Conner Stephens explains the difference between condors and turkey vultures to the park’s visitors while working the nature center desk.

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.

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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.

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First Encounter with the Pamet Cranberry Bog

First Encounter with the Pamet Cranberry Bog

by Clare Flynn

Last week, I made a new friend…and by friend, I mean the Pamet Cranberry Bog, the cultural landscape on Cape Cod National Seashore for which I am preparing a Cultural Landscape Inventory (CLI) during the first few weeks of my internship with the Olmsted Center.

After months of wondering what project I would be working on and a week of intensively trying to get to know as much about the landscape as I possibly could through written documents (but no maps or photos), I finally had the chance to see the Pamet Cranberry Bog in person when we spent five glorious days on the Cape last week, along with an amazing group of NPS staff, interns, and volunteers from SUNY ESF, Gateway National Recreation Area, Minute Man National Historical Park, and Salem Maritime National Historical Park (Miss you guys!).

It was like finally meeting someone face-to-face with whom you’ve only previously corresponded through letters or emails: I had a general sense of what the Pamet Cranberry Bog was before going to Cape Cod and a distant fondness for it, but I had no images or real emotions to attach to it.

“But wait!” you may say. “What is a ‘cranberry bog?’ and what in the world is a ‘pamet?’” Having grown up in a part of the country (the Central Valley of California) where cranberry cultivation is not the norm, trust me, I had the same questions.

Roughly put, the Pamet Cranberry Bog consists of three small freshwater bogs, a modified two-story “bog house,” sand pits, and a system of drains, culverts, and other hydrological features that all together were used to produce cranberries for commercial use during the late 19th to mid-20th century. It’s fascinating once you start to understand how they all worked together and can visually put them all together in space.

The Pamet River Valley. The red marker is the Pamet Cranberry Bog!

The Pamet River Valley. The red marker is the Pamet Cranberry Bog!

“Pamet,” meanwhile, is a term that has several layers of meaning. First, the cranberry bogs are located in the Pamet River Valley, appropriately named after the Pamet River near the town of Truro on Cape Cod. The river and valley were in turn named after the Pamet tribe of Wampanoag Indians who called this part of the Cape home. The term also has geological significance. The Pamet River Valley was formed when the glacier covering Cape Cod during the Ice Age began to melt, eroding the glacial deposits it left behind and forming a massive outwash channel of meltwater that stretched from Cape Cod Bay to the Atlantic Ocean. Because of the unusual way in which this river valley was created, the term “pamet” can be used to describe similar geological features formed in this way.

As you can see, I was pretty thrilled to be visiting the bog for the first time.

As you can see, I was pretty thrilled to be visiting the bog for the first time.

 

The Bog House!

The Bog House!

Armed with this information, off to the Pamet Cranbery Bog we went. After pulling our crammed minivan into the grassy road that leads up to the Bog House and dousing ourselves with enough bug spray to ward off any malicious critters in the vicinity (I’m convinced there’s still a cloud of DEET hovering somewhere in the airspace over the bogs), we trudged down a path so overgrown that only the roof of the bog house was visible. At the end of the path, we were presented with a bucolic scene: a deteriorating but beautiful, wood shingle clad Cape Cod house surrounded by cherry trees, pitch pines, oak trees, and—our absolute favorite—a thick and ever-present undergrowth of poison ivy.

We split up into four groups with varying specialties (plant identification, drafting) spread out evenly amongst each and began documenting the landscape with photos, measurements, and handwritten notes, making sure to pick up any significant features along the way. I was particularly and pleasantly surprised to discover a small outbuilding a short distance from the bog house that had been previously unknown to me!

Jenny measures a cherry tree.

Jenny measures a cherry tree.

Blake, Jenny, and Jill busily taking notes.

Blake, Jenny, and Jill busily taking notes.

Lars and the group document one side of the house

Lars and the group document one side of the house

After this, Park Historian Bill Burke gave us an introduction to the Pamet Cranberry Bog and its history with the National Parks Service, before leading us on a short hike up Bearberry Hill to a viewpoint overlooking the bogs. From there, the severity of the site’s neglected and overgrown condition became depressingly clear: all that was discernible of the Pamet Cranberry Bog was the roof of the Bog House, poking through a sea of thick trees and shrubs. There was little or no sign of the cranberry bogs, themselves, and if Bill hadn’t pointed out their location to us, we would have had a very difficult time trying to figure out where they were.

On the bright side, we did get to take some pretty sweet group photos, using our arms to mimic the shape of Cape Cod and point out our location…

Did you know your arm can also function as a map of Cape Cod?

Did you know your arm can also function as a map of Cape Cod?

On our way back down to the vans, we experienced a lot of the mixed emotions that must be all too common among NPS staff members and anyone with a passion for cultural resources. On the one hand, we were struck by the truly beautiful and peaceful setting of the bogs—an experience very different from the tick and poison ivy-infested image we’d expected—and were filled with a desire to do something to share this amazing place with others. But on the other hand, we were saddened by its severely deteriorated condition and the lack of public access to a site that seems to have so much potential and also frustrated by the reality that the NPS simply doesn’t have the resources or funding to adequately maintain all of the sites in its care.

One of the most memorable concepts that came up repeatedly on our trip to Cape Cod was the idea of “preservation through use:” that when people use a cultural landscape, maintenance and preservation often occur naturally. Many of us interns came away from the Pamet Cranberry Bogs wishing there was a way to bring people back to the site. We’d been told about previous attempts to rehabilitate portions of the bogs for educational purposes in the 1970s, restore the bogs by leasing them to a private cranberry grower in the 1990s, or turn the Bog House into a youth hostel more recently. We even began brainstorming our own ideas (Our half-joking favorite was the idea of creating a “CranBrewery.” Cranberry-infused ciders and sour beers, anyone?).

Having fallen in love with the Pamet Cranberry Bog in just two weeks of getting to know it, I still hold out hope that the bog will not be lost entirely and that, someday, it will be restored or rehabilitated for others to appreciate. Perhaps, my CLI will be the first step.

Until next time,

Clare

Carriage Trail Restoration at Moses Cone Memorial Park

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.

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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.

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