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Rock Work | Rogers Lake (Part III)

Part III of our photostory following the construction of a stone staircase to an overlook of Rogers Lake County Natural Area, just south of ACE Arizona’s home city of Flagstaff.

Feather Pitch

6. Rogers Lake

Sarah Komisar laughs as she strikes the feathers with the single-jack. Each feather has a different pitch when struck. “It’s so beautiful!” she exclaims.

Rock Chiseling

7a. Joel chiseling

After a team effort to crack the bedrock, Joel Bulthuis chisels away at the base.

Establishment of a rock staircase

8. Rogers Lake

Within just a few hours, the bedrock is mostly chiseled away, Caryn Ross and Nikki Andresen work on crushing rock beneath the third stair, for the foundation. This is Andresen’s last hitch. She said she’s most sad to be leaving her crew mates – her friends and newfound community, but that she’s grateful for her time at ACE.

“Feeling the public’s appreciation for what we do was probably the most rewarding part,” Andresen said. “In Yarnell [another ACE Arizona project], people would come up to us and say, ‘Thank you so much for building this memorial trail.’ In Apache [Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest], they’d come up and say they were so grateful for our help to save the Douglas Fir Trees. Here — I plan on coming back some day. And I know I’ll use these trails and see other people using them… I know I’ll be back.”

Drilling and crushing

9. Rogers Lake

The crew continues work on the staircase, facing Rogers Lake. We’ll revisit this story once again when the trail is finished!

Kochi Removal | Pecos National Historic Park

A crew of six Corps Members successfully finished a project at Pecos National Historic Park, a park unit that preserves the ruins of Pecos (Ciquique) Pueblo close to Santa Fe, New Mexico

The aim of the project was to mechanically remove Kochia scoria, often referred to as Kochia, a large annual herb native to Eurasia. Within the United States, Kochia is an invasive species, particularly in the desert plains of the south west. Kochia is able to rapidly spread and competes with native vegetation for nutrients, light, and soil moisture. Furthermore, Kochia releases chemicals into the soil that can suppress the growth other plants, preventing the native plants from germinating.

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While at Pecos NHS, the crew learned about the importance of restoring the park’s land in order to preserve the archaeological sites which included pottery shards and burial sites. To contribute to this restoration effort, the Corps Members used brush cutters to remove the Kochia. After 8 day of hard work the crew had covered 7.48 acres of the park, which had about 80% invasive coverage.

The crew’s favorite part of the week was working with the knowledgeable NPS staff who constantly provided them with information on the culture of the people who once inhabited the land we were working on, allowing us to put the restoration work into context.

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Where are they now | Chase Kane

In the first installment of ‘ACE Alums – Where are they now?’ we feature an interview with Chase Kane, a former AmeriCorps 450 hour Corpsmember who now works as a Facility Supervisor for Loudoun County Parks & Recreation.

[ACE] What is your background? Where are you from?
[I’m from Northern Virginia, and I go to Northern Virginia Community College. I’m an International Studies major. 


What motivated or inspired you to be in conservation?
I became interested in conservation and environmental work after I decided I didn’t want to be a computer science major. It’s my goal to find a career in which I will be able to travel, and work outdoors.


How did you find ACE?
I found ACE through a google search, I was seeking environmental internships/outdoor work.


What was your favorite aspect of being and ACE corpsmember?
My favorite aspect of being an ACE corps member was the travel. I had the fortune to do a lot of travel during my 450 hour term. I traveled to Arizona, Colorado, North Carolina, Kentucky, and Tennessee with ACE. Not only did I travel all across the U.S, but with ACE I was able to meet people in the National Park Service, Forest Service, and Bureau of Land Management. I was able to glean a wealth of knowledge from the connections ACE provided me with, and received multiple references.


ACE SouthEast Alum Cave Trail Crew (2)

What was your favorite hitch and why?
My favorite hitch was the Great Smoky Mountains trail crew. The hitch was rewarding in every regard. On that crew, I learned the basics of building trail. I know how to cross cut, level tread, outslope, build Czech steps and stairs, and use a chisel and power chisel. Additionally, we performed a two-mile hike in uphill and our progress was very visible. Every day on our way to work we walked past all of our previous progress, and the progress our other crews had made before us. That alone was encouraging and inspiring.

What tasks did you train for and participate in while on projects? Which was your favorite and why?
To be fair, I didn’t undergo much training. I was trained in herbicide, but I was never sent on a herbicide project. Also, because I was on a 450 hour term; I was not trained in chainsaw usage.


What was one of the biggest challenges?
The most challenging part of working with ACE was keeping a positive mental attitude and going without technology for extended periods of time. The work days could be long and the work demanding, but it was a very valuable experience. ACE really helped strengthen my patience and furthered my teambuilding skills.


What are your future goals?
My future goals are to land a position with a nonprofit or government agency in the field of community outreach. It’s my desire to bring communities together, and do a bit of traveling while doing it. I’m also considering a pursuing a career in environmental advocacy.


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Please expand on what NPS Academy is, where it’s located, how long you will attend, and any info pertinent to this new phase of your life?
The NPS Academy is an internship program which seeks to reach underrepresented communities and integrate them into the NPS to promote diversity. Orientation for this program was held in two locations Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming and Kenai Fjords National Park in Alaska. Approximately 20 students were selected to attend orientation. The Orientation is a weeklong event. During the orientation we were introduced to all of the major depertments in Grand Teton National Park including: Emergency Medical Services, Interpretation, Wildlife Management, Public Affairs, and Human Resources. Furthermore, once accepted I was assisted by the Student Conservation Association in finding my next summer internship.


Where do you see yourself in 5 years? Goals in Conservation for the future?
In five years I see myself holding a bachelor’s degree in International Affairs and most likely continuing my service work with the Peace Corps. If I’m not in the Peace Corps., I’ll most likely be working in a Visitor Services Center within the National Park Service. 


Do you think this position has helped prepare you for your future career?

My experience with ACE has significantly bolstered my resume, and made me more qualified for jobs. Thanks in part to ACE, I currently work as a Facility Supervisor for Loudoun County Parks & Recreation. The experience I have gained from ACE has provided me insight, qualifications and direction for my career aspirations. I was honestly surprised at how many government organizations and nonprofits expressed how they valued my affiliation with AmeriCorps.

What do you feel sets ACE apart from other organizations? How has ACE helped to shape who you are personally and professionally?
What sets ACE aside from other organizations is how they value you. It sounds cheesy, but ACE places a lot of consideration into the lives of each corps. member. If a corps. member is dissatisfied with the projects they’ve been assigned, ACE will be earnest in making accommodations based on performance. Additionally, the majority of crew leaders appear to have been promoted from within. Which means the leadership is familiar with the majority of challenges each crew member might face.
Personally, ACE gave me newfound confidence. With ACE I performed grueling work in a number of outdoor environments. Not only did the work strengthen my determination, but now no task seems impossible. When performing trail work an individual can quickly learn that the majority of difficult problems can be solved by reconsidering your perspective. It’s refreshing to be able to confidently explain in job interviews how you performed with a crew to confront and resolve difficult problems. 


What advice can you offer to future corps members who are looking to get into the conservation field?
To get into the conservation field I’d suggest making a plan, and having direction. Find your dream job and work to acquire its qualifications. I sincerely believe ACE is a great place to get started. You’ll meet your potential employers, and potentially be offered a job. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and do research. Utilize your resources.

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#IamACE | Rory Patrick McLaughlin

When we met up with Rory for this post he was working on the Meder Canyon Trails Project in the City of Santa Cruz.

[ACE]Can you tell me about your background?


[RPM] I’m from Wilmington, Delaware. I grew up there and have lived there my whole life until now. I went to school at the University of Delaware, and I studied psychology and Spanish.

What motivated you to get into conservation?


I took a few trips when I was younger out west. I worked at a camp in Colorado and I got acquainted with the outdoors. I’ve always really loved nature and I figured I should do something to help preserve it so that others can experience it as well.

How did you find ACE?
I found it through a very good friend of mine who is crew leading for ACE right now. I was taking some time off from school and he turned me on to the program.

Can you tell me about a highlight and a challenge you’ve had during your term?
ACE attracts a lot of different people. You’ve got people who are younger than you, who may have just graduated high school; some are from another country. So it can be difficult to work with so many different people sometimes.

A highlight has been being able to work outside every day. There are negatives and positives in ACE of course, but everything balances out.

What goals do you have for the future when you’re done working with ACE?


Well, ACE has a way of kind of sucking you in. I might extend my term. My next goal is to teach English in Chile.

Do you think this position has helped you prepare for the future?


Absolutely. If I decide to keep working in the field of conservation or with a government agency at some point, I’ve made so many contacts within the USFS and the BLM that would help me to pursue that. It’s also taught me to be flexible and easily adapt to new things.

What do you think sets ACE apart?
Well it’s very different from other jobs. Spending so much time with the same people, everything’s on the table. Working, cooking, eating, with these people all the time changes things a lot. You know everything about everyone. That can be tough sometimes, but I think it’s also positive. If there are any problems they’ll come to light pretty quickly, but I think in a healthy way. They can be dealt with quickly. I’ve worked doing manual labor before. I worked as a roofer for 5 years. ACE beats that for sure. The environment and the people you work with here are much better.

Do you have any advice you’d give to people who are thinking of joining ACE or thinking about getting involved in conservation?
If you’re not afraid of hard work, this is position is attainable for anyone. But you’ve got to be flexible and you’ve got to work hard.

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Bark Beetle Pheromone Installation | Apache-Sitgreaves NF

Two ACE crews are currently working on a project to protect Douglas-fir trees from Bark Beetle infestations in the Apache- Sitgreaves National Forest. The crew’s mission is to install pheromone bubble capsules to large Douglas-fir trees in campgrounds and recreation areas in the Alpine and Springerville Ranger Districts – areas affected by The Wallow Fire, a wildfire in eastern Arizona and western New Mexico that occurred in 2011.

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Preparing the MCH pheromone bubble capsules for installation

The MCH pheromone is a naturally occurring anti-aggregation pheromone of the Douglas-fir & Spruce beetles. MCH works by replicating the beetle pheromone that tells other beetles the tree is full and that the food supply is insufficient for additional beetles. Arriving beetles receive the ‘message’ that they should look elsewhere for a suitable host, thus preventing beetle infestations. The approach is environmentally safe and non-toxic to humans, pets, birds and even the beetles themselves.

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Tree identification

In past years the crews have used the grid treatment, creating a pheromone buffer around valued sites. This year the crew has switched methods to individual tree treatment.

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MCH capsule installation

Prior to starting the project, Corps Members completed a full week of training with Forest Service staff covering tree identification, compass and GPS use, pacing, tree Diameter at Breast Height (DBH), and proper capsule installation. Due to the complexity of the project crew members have learned how to fill out paperwork which captures the data for this project​.

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Feedback from the project has been extremely positive. Corps Members said that they have really enjoyed the project and all the technical skills that they have learned. They enjoy working with our project partner Monica Boehning, and appreciate her passion for the project. The crew has also enjoyed the amazing camping at Big Lake Campground and East Fork.

Restoration Work | Lake Mead NRA

ACE Arizona Corps Members have recently been working at Lake Mead National Recreation Area on a variety of restoration projects that have sought to restore native desert habitats to the surrounding shoreline.

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Seed Collection

Lake Mead is technically the largest reservoir in the United States, measured by water capacity. Lake Mead traverses the Arizona-Nevada state line, southeast of the city of Las Vegas. Formed by the Hoover Dam, Lake Mead is 112 miles (180 km) long when the lake is full, and has 759 miles (1,221 km) of shoreline. Lake Mead was named after Elwood Mead (January 16, 1858 – January 26, 1936), who was the commissioner of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation at the time when the planning and construction of the Boulder Canyon Project led to the creation of Hoover Dam, and subsequently Lake Mead itself.

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Corps Members treat invasive plant species.

The work of the ACE Corps Members Project has included native plant salvage and seed collection, native plant propagation and planting, and removal or treatment of invasive plant species that form monocultures in and around native plant locations. As part of the project, the Corps Members have learned native plant identification and a variety of desert restoration techniques.

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Desert Restoration

#IamACE | Stephany Ninette Gonzalez

Our latest installment of IamACE brings us back to our headquarters in Flagstaff, Arizona. When we caught up with her, new Corps member Stephany Ninette Gonzalez was working in one of the most magnificent parks, Grand Canyon, National Park.

[ACE]: Can you tell me about your background?


[SNG]:I’m from California. I went to school at the university of La Verne. I graduated this past January with a bachelor’s in biology. I have a concentration in pre-health, but towards the end of my studies I decided to focus more on the environment, because my senior thesis was about environmental work. Since I really didn’t take too many environmental classes during my studies, I decided when I graduated to just experience a lot of different environmental work. I’m 22, and I just started with ACE—this is my first hitch.

What motivated you to get into conservation?




I was looking for jobs and found this one through usajobs.org. It sounded really cool, it seemed like I’d be able to get opportunities in experiencing a wide variety of projects. That’s what I wanted, so I could figure out what path I want to take for my career.

Any goals for the future when you’re done with this position?




It depends on what type of work I fall in love with here. We’ll see!

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Do you think this position is helping you prepare for the future?




Yeah, definitely! Experience is a big thing in the workforce. So after ACE when I’m looking for a job, I can say, “look at all the projects I’ve worked on!” It’ll give me a foot in the door.

What do you think sets ACE apart from other organizations?



Other organizations that I applied for had a specific objective that you’d work on for a few months to a year, and that’s all you would learn. But with ACE, it gives you this big variety of things you can learn.

Do you have any advice for people looking to join ACE or get into conservation?


Have an open mind. You’re going to meet a lot of different people with a lot of different opinions. Be flexible.

#IamACE | Jennifer Rose Diamond

In this installment of #IamACE, we are proud to introduce Jennifer Rose Diamond of ACE California! At the time we caught up with Jennifer she was the Assistant Crew Leader on the Ventana Wilderness Alliance – Silver Peaks Wilderness Trails Project.

[ACE] Can you tell me about your background?

[JRD] I’m from Maryland. I went to the State University of New York. I started off undeclared but ended up majoring in anthropology, focusing more on biological anthropology.

What got you motivated to get into conservation?

Well I’ve always loved being outside. I’ve always done a lot of hiking with my family. They really ingrained that in me growing up—valuing nature and doing outdoor activities. One of my best friends from back home found ACE and we ended up joining together. We made a cross-country road trip out of it. We were signed up for 3 months, but then I found out about Americorps and decided to stay on longer.

Can you tell me about one highlight and one challenge that you’ve had during your term so far?

I loved the project I did over the summer. I worked for the USFS in the Sierra Nevada’s at Hilton Lake. It was a pretty long-term project. There were only six of us, and we were there for 4 months. We worked directly with this USFS ranger and it was really hands-on, tough rockwork, rerouting trails, crosscutting logs, it felt like real trail work. It was really cool to experience something that felt so professional.

A challenge has been not having a lot of alone time except for when you’re in your tent.

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Can you tell me about the transition from crewmember to assistant crew leader?

This is the first project I’ve been on where I’m an ACL. When I came here, from the beginning people would ask, “Do you want to stick with ACE?” I realized pretty quickly that it is really doable to move up from being a crewmember to more of a leader because there are so many opportunities when you’re a crewmember to take on more responsibility. The first crew leader I ever had told me “ACE is what you make of it.” If you want to use it as a tool to begin your career, or if you want to use ACE as a way to experience leadership roles, it can definitely be that kind of a job for you. That’s what I decided I wanted to take on. Because now that I’ve had the experience as a crewmember and I’ve had the chance to become more professional and learn a lot of new things, I want to pass that on.

Do you have any plans for the future when you’re done with ACE?

I would really like to move up to become an official crew leader within ACE. I think I’d like that challenge. I think it’d be a great way to make some good connections. I’ve definitely thought about going to work with NPS or USFS. I’m not sure yet if I want to do federal or work for another nonprofit. But I do want to stick with conservation or just general outdoors type of work.

Do you think that ACE has helped you prepare for the future?

I do! You can enjoy this program regardless of your background. Like I said earlier, it’s what you make of it. If you come here and you want to make connections and start building you career, you can. You just have to put yourself out there.

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What sets ACE apart from other organizations?

It’s not just a job; it’s a whole lifestyle. It’s not a 9 to 5. But I really like the change. And I feel like this is the time in my life to really experience this kind of thing. I’m pretty flexible and I don’t have a lot tying me down anywhere and I like the opportunity to travel around California and see all these cool places and camp. It’s really awesome.

Do you have any advice for someone thinking about joining ACE or considering getting into conservation?

I’d say do it! If anything, just try it out as a 3-month volunteer term and go from there. It’s a great way to get the experience and get out in the field.

ACE CA AmeriCorps Training Week 2016

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

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

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

breaking rocks down

breaking rocks down

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

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

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

moving rocks with rock bars

moving rocks with rock bars

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

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Restorative Trail Maintenance | Grand Canyon National Park

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

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

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

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

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

#IamACE | Cristobal Castaneda

Can you tell me about your background?

I was born in Mexico. I lived there until I was 9 years old. At that point my family moved to the United States and we’ve been living here in Martinez California ever since. I’m 23 years old and I’m currently attending Diablo Valley Community College in a nearby city.

In my high school they had a program called A New Leaf—A sustainable living collaborative. It’s kind of a combination of typical high school classes and also hands-on experiential learning. That program is actually what got me interested in outdoor fields and careers, and it’s what got me my internship with the National Park Service.

What got you interested in conservation initially?

There’s always been something inside of me that’s been drawn to the outdoors. I think that moving from Mexico to Martinez, CA plays a big part as well. In Mexico, I was only familiar with the urban environment: streets and stone houses, not much scenery. So coming here and being surrounded by undeveloped open hills and spaces is what got me interested in the outdoors. It made me think, “Wow! The world is so much different than what I’m used to!” Now I love going on bike rides to the marina downtown, going to parks, learning about new plants, birds, and insects, those sorts of things.

Can you tell me about a highlight and a challenge you’ve had during your internship?

The challenge has been getting used to working with a federal agency. Also, this is one of the first jobs I’ve had—before this I had just worked for family, or done side jobs here and there but I had never really had an official job. So getting used to all the aspects of a job like time management, being organized with all the paperwork, that’s been difficult.

As part of the work I do for this internship I get to work with high school students who are trying to figure out what they want to do in life. For me undoubtedly the biggest highlight is when I get to see people having fun in our National Parks and being outside and enjoying themselves. To be able to give that experience to other young people is by far one of the best things I’m able to do. I feel very lucky to be able to be a mentor.

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What other tasks are part of your internship?

A few examples are the photo point monitoring project and the phenology project. For the photo point monitoring project, we take specific snapshots of a landscape and track how it changes over time. We photograph an area and record whether there is erosion or if invasive plants are growing.

The phenology project involves the study of living organisms and how they interact with the changing seasons. Birds migrating and plants blooming are some examples. We are studying the life cycle of different organisms. There is a California Phenlogy Project that monitors the native California plants and environmental changes. We use data sheets and smartphone apps to record any changes in the life cycles of the plant. For example: whether it has new flowers, leaves, or fruit. We observe the plant as it grows. All of our research goes to the database online, which is analyzed by scientists at the University of Santa Barbara. That data is passed on to other scientists and they publish newsletters and articles about what we’re finding. The most consistent discovery is that spring is coming 2 or 3 weeks earlier now. It’s a very hands-on project.

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Do you have any goals for the future when you’re done with this internship?

Absolutely! I want to work on as many public lands as possible. I’d love to work at Point Reyes or Golden Gate, Pinnacles or Yosemite. I think Yosemite would be my dream job. I’d like to become an NPS ranger. I want to be involved in the natural resource conservation. Aside from teaching young people my passion is protecting the environment and protecting these resources for the benefit of everyone.

Do you think this position has helped you prepare for those goals?

Yes, without a doubt. My supervisor, who is an NPS ranger, has given me so many opportunities to explore different parks and to become more familiar with the structure of the National Park Service. He’s given me the opportunity to be out in the field and to try all these new things even if I don’t yet have the background in it. He’s been kind enough to allow me to learn from him and practice these skills and really start to get my foot in the door by allowing me to experience what it’s actually like to work in this field. Everything I’ve done in this job so far has contributed to my personal development. I’ve improved in so many ways thanks to this internship.

What do you think sets ACE apart from other organizations?

The staff is really flexible, understanding, and supportive. Even though their headquarters are in Utah, they still do everything they can to make sure my immediate problems are addressed.

Do you have any advice you’d give to someone who’s interested in EPIC or looking to get into conservation?

I’d say don’t be hesitant to try new things. I had never worked in the field of conservation or with a federal agency, but I took the opportunity to try it. If you’re thinking about ACE or other programs like this, don’t feel like you necessarily have to have the experience or the degrees, the most important thing is your commitment to the program, and your willingness to learn and apply yourself.

Upper Raptor Trail, Red Rock Ranger District, Coconino NF

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

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

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

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

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

#IamACE | Mark Gestwicki

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

ACE at The Corps Network Conference

Six ACE staff members are currently in Washington D.C. attending The Corps Network Conference. Representing ACE this year are Director of Utah, Jake Powell; Southeast Director, Adam Scherm; Director of California Operations, Eric Robertson; AmeriCorps Program Coordinator-California, Carolyn Getschow; National AmeriCorps Program Coordinator, Bradley Hunter; and National Restoration Program Manager, Afton Mckusick.The Corps Network National Conference is an annual gathering of national, state, and local leaders in the fields of youth development, community service, and the environment. Attendees include approximately 200 Directors and senior staff from Service and Conservation Corps across the country; officials from federal agencies; representatives from philanthropic foundations; and friends and supporters of the Corps movement.

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ACE is a proud partner of The Corps Network and a member of the 21CSC.

Maricopa Trail, Arizona

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

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

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

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

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

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

The first crew of 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ranch Trail, Prescott National Forest

Yesterday, a crew began a project in Prescott National Forest brushing the corridor for a re-route of the Ranch Trail, which lies just 20 minutes outside of Prescott. ACE partnered with USFS for this project. The original trail alignment runs along a ridge and drops down in several areas in an un-sustainable fashion, and because of the steepness, normal drains cannot be installed–thus the need for the reroute.

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After the crews clear the corridor, Forest Service employees will then follow with a trail dozer to cut the tread. The plan for this 8 day hitch is to complete 3 miles of clearing, establishing a corridor 6 to 8 feet wide. The work involves multiple sawyers cutting scrub oak and other vegetation that is growing in the path of the proposed trail, and then several corps members following behind and moving the slash (cut vegetation) off trail and out of sight.

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The creation of this reroute will ensure that the trail is sustainable and can be used by the public for years to come.

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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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We're busy conserving the environment