Since January of 2017 ACE California has had a crew working along the coast in Garrapata State Park. This ongoing project is the first in partnership with California State Parks, a relationship ACE hopes to continue to build in the years to come. The ACE crew has been lead by Kevin Magallanes since the start of the project and will continue to be lead by Kevin until its completion.
ACE corps members have been working on two different projects with the California State Parks crew. Half of the crew were building wooden steps along the trail. With the use of drills, saws, and the frequent double checking of measurements the crew constructed the wooden base for a staircase that will later be filled with small rocks. These steps make the hike more easily traversable by reducing the trail’s steepness.
The other half of the crew was building a multi-tier retaining wall which will be a lookout over the coast when it is completed. “Rock work is this strange meditative process,” explained Jesse Wherry who has been on the project for three months, “you can spend your entire day on something and in the end you just have to take it all down.” This extensive amount of rock building requires a lot of patience, skill, and experience from the crew members.
The crew brought on three new members during this project who got to learn about both rock work and step building. This lookout is one of two multiple week long projects that the crew will complete for the trail. ACE looks forward to the continuation of this project over the upcoming months in the best office anyone could ever ask for.
This past October 2016 an ACE Arizona crew, in partnership with the National Park Service, was working at Song Dog Native Plant Nursery in Lake Mead, Nevada. The scope of the project was to prepare the greenhouse and nursery to host new plants.
The crew was a compilation of corps members from ACE’s California and Arizona branches led by crew leader, Morgane Rigney
The goal is to get over 30,000 seedlings to a plantable size by next year for restoration projects. ACE’s efforts were focused on helping the nursery reach this goal by assisting with an array of different tasks.
The nursery salvages plants that have been saved from natural disaster or construction sites, as well as raising their own plants. The crew helped clean up plant storage areas, washed pots for new plants, recycled soil from plants that didn’t make it and sowed Joshua Tree seeds.
Crew members prepared the cartridges for the seeds, mixed the soil, and then placed the Joshua Tree seeds into the cartridges. The nursery has a goal of over 10,000 Joshua Trees for the future. In the past crews have also assisted in the cleaning and drying of plant seeds.
This project will continue into next year with crews weeding, planting and building fence for the nursery.
Starting November 1st ACE’s Utah branch had a crew lead by Troy Rudy working in Zion National Park at the Watchman’s Campground. The scope of the project was to reduce the fire hazards around the Watchman Campground loops.
The crew worked to reduce the campground’s sagebrush by roughly 80%, while strategically leaving desirable species to provide privacy between campsites. This technique should strike a balance between reducing the risk of wildfire and preserving the cultivated native plant aesthetic already present in the campground. The crews then reinforced the removal efforts with the use of herbicide on the remaining stumps to prevent regrowth.
Approximately ten years ago there was an effort to actually plant sagebrush at the Watchman’s campground to keep the campground rich with native plants. However, about a year ago there was an accidental fire close to the campsite area. Sagebrush is a highly flammable plant and with only one road leading in and out of the park the plants proved to be too dangerous to leave at the site.
The crews target species was Rabbitbrush, Big Basin Sagebrush, Sand Sagebrush. The slash was hauled out and piled in a manner that will make if safe to burn at a later date. Our ACE Utah crew is working in partnership with the National Parks Service, specifically with the Fire Management Department.
ACE has been working in partnership with Kanab, BLM Field Office (Bureau of Land Management) for nine hitches over the past several months on the Cottonwood Trail located west of the town of Kanab, UT. The planning, design, and approval of the Cottonwood Trail has been in the works for nearly 18 years and has culminated this year with ACE constructing 3.5 miles of brand new trail.
When complete the trail will connect the Cottonwood Trail to a road that will provide users access to local road that will create a 20-mile loop for trail users. The trail is being constructed to accommodate hikers and equestrian users and will establish a sustainable route for trail users to access the beauty of the red rock bluffs and distant views of the Kaibab Plateau.
This week the crew is being led by Brandon Lester. The crew is working to build a series of “check steps” on one section of the trail and complete the final stone wall on the final switchback of the trail. The check steps are being created to slow down the water and to reduce rutting along the trail by reducing the steep grade of the trail and providing areas where water can be diverted from the trail. On another section of the trail, the other half of the crew is building a stone retaining wall to support a switchback designed to elevate the trail to the top of a ridge.
[ACE]: Can you tell me a little bit about your background?
[LB]: I was born and raised in Tucson, AZ and I stayed there for undergrad at the University of Arizona where I studied Biology and Marine Science. I just graduated in May of 2016 and moved to Sedona,AZ to enjoy the awesome hiking in my gap year before graduate school. The job I had set up in Sedona fell through and so I scrambled and find any job I could quickly, I ended up working in a hardware store in Sedona for a little bit. In the meantime I kept looking for other opportunities and quickly found ACE!
What got you interested in conservation? Can you think of a specific moment in your childhood that inspired this path?
My earliest conservation related memory is a “Donate Now to Save the Pandas” commercial presented by WWF. I was probably about 7 years old when I saw it on television and my little sister and I were horrified that the pandas could be in danger. We set up a lemonade stand in our neighborhood and mailed the couple dollars we made to WWF.
I became really interested in marine science when I was a little older and a visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium opened my eyes to the problems our oceans face. Ocean conservation is something I am really passionate about today and I am so glad I got to study it as part of my undergrad minor even living in the Arizona desert.
Can you tell me about one highlight and one challenged you faced so far?
The very first day of my first hitch I was in Yarnell, AZ. The rain seemed to be coming at us sideways all day due to extremely strong winds that were sending our hard hats flying and nearly knocking us over. During all of this we were benching out brand new trail on the side of a mountain. For a second I thought, what in the world did I sign up for? But then the next day the sun came out and I got to hear the story behind the trail we were making. It was being built in memory of the 19 hotshots who died while fighting a huge fire on the mountain a few years prior. Being able to look down and see their memorial site, and think about all of their family and friends to whom this trail will mean so much made me so excited to keep working on it.
The food on hitch gets an A++ rating in my book and is honestly a big highlight. My family doesn’t like to cook when we camp, we stick to a strict diet of hot dogs on a stick and cliff bars, so I get so psyched about the awesome meals we cook on hitch!
Where are you hoping that this experience leads you in the future?
Being a part of ACE, surrounded by so many like minded people who care about helping conserve our environment just as much as I do is an awesome feeling. Often it seems like so few people care about what happens to our planet so it is refreshing to work with lots of people who actively care enough to do something like volunteer in this corps. After ACE I want to go for my Masters in Sustainability, I am interested in outreach and education, specifically how to get sustainable habits to be common place in the average household. Although I am still relatively new to ACE I have already learned so much. It’s one thing to talk and learn about conservation tactics and another to go out and put them into action. ACE makes me so appreciative of all the people who have come before me and done the hard work it takes to help conserve our beautiful outdoors. I am so grateful for the opportunity to help as much as I can!
An ACE crew led by Andrew Moignard, started working at the south rim of the Grand Canyon on October 4th in partnership with the National Parks Service. The Bright Angel Trail is one of the most heavily trafficked trails in the Grand Canyon leading down to Phantom Ranch. The previous week saw heavy rains which washed out parts of the trail, caused erosion, and brought obstacles down onto the trail.
The crew worked from the trail-head down with a three mile goal for their nine day project into the park. ACE has been working in the Grand Canyon for several years doing cyclical maintenance on the canyon trails. The purpose of this project was to clear the trails of debris from the previous weeks storm and general trail maintenance for hikers, packers, and mule riders.
ACE crew and corps members worked to clear debris and mid sized rocks from the trail, digging and clearing drains, reinforcing water bars, and creating dams within the drains to slow down the water flow. The crew was also filling in parts of the trail which had been eroded over time and creating a more even surface to make the trail safe for hikers and visitors to Grand Canyon National Park.
An ACE California crew of 4 just completed a 7 day project creating erosion control structures in an area impacted by the King and Power Fire just east of the Hell Hole Reservoir in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, CA.
The aim of this project was to improve hydrologic function within the King Fire and Power Fire burn areas by increasing ground cover with burned trees or other natural material, and by removing ground disturbances that affected hydrologic conductivity. Activities include falling dead trees to increase in-stream coarse wood, and some stream bank reconstruction.
Sawyers strategically felled trees across slopes where structures were needed. Rounds were cut and placed where water had already began to erode the stream bank, and in areas where a lack of vegetation would lead to a high possibility of erosion during winter months.
Jack Colpitt explained that his favorite part of this project was the opportunity to learn more about the complex process of felling trees, and also the tree identification exercise.
The King and Power Fire was a human-caused fire that started on September 18, 2014. The fire burned 97,000 acres and caused hundreds of people to evacuate their homes.
ACE staff would like to extend a special thanks to Wade Frisbey for joining us on this project to assist with the technical cutting.
ACE EPIC Intern Alvin Rosa, San Francisco Maritime Exhibit and Interpretation Intern, tells us about his internship, and how that will contribute to his career in anthropology.
[ACE]: What do you do here in your EPIC internship?
[AR]: I arrange artifacts for display, and maintain and repair all the displays throughout the park. It’s my job to help keep the park running in that way.
Can you tell me about your background?
I’m from Southern California. I went to school there and graduated from University of California, Riverside with a degree in Anthropology, specifically Mesoamerican Archeology.
How did you find out about ACE, and what attracted you to this position?
I was looking for a position that was related to my major of Archeology and Anthropology and relevant to that field. I found the listing for this position as an Exhibit Curator Intern and thought it fell within that realm. I thought it would allow me to gain a different perspective on Anthropology by adding the aspects of preservation and conservation.
Can you tell me a highlight and a challenge that you’ve had so far during your internship?
A highlight is that I’ve been working with some great people. The NPS staff makes it easy for an intern like myself who came in without knowing anything about curatorship, or exhibits, or the park itself. They have guided me and have fueled my interest in what goes on here behind the scenes at the museum. I’ve always had a fascination with ships and the sea itself. Through my internship here I have gained a newfound respect for the people who maintain and repair these historic vessels.
However, learning all this new information has also been a challenge. Everything that’s done here is done in a very specific way, and all the exhibits relate to each other, so it can be difficult to keep everything cohesive.
Any goals for when you complete your internship?
I have begun applying for graduate school. I want to pursue a doctorate degree in Anthropology. The experience I’ve gained during this internship will definitely play a big role in my future. Not just during my studies, but afterwards if I seek out a museum related job.
Why exactly has the internship been beneficial for you?
I’ve had experience with archeology as far as the excavation of artifacts, but this position allows me to see the next step of the process, when the artifacts are displayed to the public. This has been the first step towards building my career in Anthropology.
What do you think sets ACE apart from other organizations?
I like that this opportunity is offered to students finishing their undergraduate studies. It’s definitely a career builder. These internships give you an edge and a framework to find a job. The ACE staff is some of the best people I’ve interacted with. They set the guidelines of the position and make it easy for anyone to follow. That’s what I like about the EPIC program.
Do you have any advice you’d give to someone looking to join EPIC or get into this field?
This is the first step. If you want to get into this field, this is a great place to get perspective. It definitely gave me an idea of what it’s like to work for a government organization.
A crew of 6 just finished a month long hitch doing restoration work at the Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge. The Bitter Lake Refuge sits above an aquifer, running down from the Capitan Mountains to the west of Roswell NM, and eventually feeds into the Pecos River. ACE Corps member Peter Schaffer was part of the project and shared his experiences of the project.
Being monsoon season in the south west, the crew would watch storms form over the solitary peak outside of Roswell. Sadly, the rain rarely reached the refuge to cool the crew. However even though the rain was not always there to cool the crew, they did get to witness firsthand how the water falling in the northern range would be absorbed into the system, before being pushed up towards the surface forming brackish sinkholes and leached through spring-like vents and feeding creeks and rivers throughout the refuge. ACE Corps member Peter Schaffer stated that this refuge is “truly an unsuspecting place, and, as the refuge’s visitor center tour heavily emphasized, it really is an oasis in the desert. It may seem cliche, but a closer examination of the geographical properties of this place helped put this project’s importance in perspective for me.”
The ACE crew worked with US Fish and Wildlife (USFWS) refuge staff on many of the projects and began to understand how complex restoration work is. Peter explained: “Bitter Lake struck me as a great demonstration of how uniquely balanced the desert (or any ecosystem for that matter) can be for creating a plethora of life that has evolved in congruence with the terrain. The flora in the area love the brackish water; the bugs certainly don’t mind either. There are 5 endangered species on the [Bitter Lake] refuge, most of which live in and around these vents and sinkholes. They are dependent on the land and water with which they are so uniquely intertwined, and ACE’s efforts in the past few years have been within these areas, which had been heavily affected by invasive flora. While I have worked on other restoration projects that were in the early or middle stages of treatment, I began to see how this multi-year process of hard work can pay off in truly restoring and balancing these incredibly unique area around the refuge.”
During the final days of the project, Corps members were able to plant native grasses along one of the creeks, and within the next year or two these species to proliferate. “It’s a good example of that tortoise/hare (or jack-rabbit) mentality, which has been hard for me to learn how to accomplish and improve upon while being in ACE. It seems that good restoration work requires an innately slow, careful touch in order to be successful. Missing a plant that can pollinate and spread seed over an area means that the end goal gets pushed back further. Treating ten miles of river in a day may sound good on a project report, but it may mean that the true goal of these kinds of projects was missed. I could see how ACE had fulfilled that necessity at Bitter Lake, and I hope that our crew continued in producing that high quality of work and diligence”, Peter added.
Thanks to the crew for their hard work on the project, and to Peter for taking the time to share his experiences.
ACE Utah’s crosscut sawyers recently teamed up to complete a complex log-out project on the Pine Valley Ranger District of Dixie National Forest. The project site was a wilderness trail that had been covered by dead and downed trees caused by an avalanche slide. The avalanche debris covered the trail and water tributary.
Due to the sheer volume of debris, the Forest Service was considering the use of explosive to clear the way. This is not without complications, however, and therefore the Forest Service turned to ACE for help.
The ACE crew worked very hard to manually cut and remove all the logs, and the then rebuild the trail tread. Being in a wilderness area the use of chainsaws was prohibited and thus the crew used crosscut saws to complete the project.
The crew was led by David Frye who now heads off to work for ACE California in the Inyo National Forest. AmeriCorps member Brice Koach commented that his favorite part of the project was “practicing his crosscut and axe skills all while spending time with a great crew.”
A crew from ACE Arizona partnered with Coconino County to build a stone staircase to an overlook of Rogers Lake County Natural Area, just south of ACE Arizona’s home city of Flagstaff. This crew is also responsible for the maintenance of two trails leading to the lake: the 2-Spot Trail and the Gold Digger Trail. The latter trail is named after 1890s folklore in which outlaws, on the run from the local sheriff, dug a hole in the then-frozen Rogers Lake and deposited their barrels of gold. To this day, people come treasure hunting — some even come from out of state — according to Geoffrey Gross, Natural Resource Supervisor for Coconino County Parks & Recreation.
Coconino County purchased the Rogers Lake County Natural Area in 2010 and began trail work to improve access for visitors in 2013. Although the lake often fills with water in the spring, it remains dry most of the year. “I think the goal is to make the area more accessible destination,” said Joel Marona, an ACE Governor’s Office of Youth, Faith and Family (GOYFF) intern.
Geoffrey Gross said Coconino County Parks & Recreation is planning to have a grand opening of the overlook by the end of summer. Over the coming days we will feature a 3 part photostory on the progress of the project to construct the stone staircase at Rogers Lake.
Crew Strategizes leverage points with rock bar
The Rogers Lake project includes a variety of responsibilities, but the top priority is to construct a five-step staircase, providing an overlook to Lake Rogers, its wildlife, and a view of the San Francisco Peaks north of Flagstaff. In this photos, the ACE Corps members strategize the best leverage points for adjusting the top stair with their rock bars.
Communicating with Project Partners
Project partner Geoffrey Gross, Natural Resource Supervisor at Coconino County Parks & Recreation, visits the ACE crew to check on the progress.
“This crew has been great to work with and has already accomplished a lot. We already knew ACE crews are really good at stonework – they’re our go-to for stonework — and thats important as want this staircase and overlook to be a showpiece of the area.”
Gross said the overlook will have interpretative signage and spotting scopes for wildlife viewing. Elk, deer, antelope and migrating waterfowl are frequently spotted in the area, Gross said.
Look out for Part II and Part III of this photostory on Friday June 17 and Monday June 20 – links will be posted on our Facebook page.
Part II 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.
Breaking new ground
Sarah Komisar begins drilling the first of five holes, the initial stage of several in a process to crack the large bedrock that’s inhibiting the placement of anchors for the staircase. Komisar said this staircase is especially challenging because it needs to be aesthetically pleasing. Komisar described searching distant rock piles for potential steps — four feet wide and two feet back — as “shopping at the rock store.”
“I’ve done a lot of rock work since being at ACE” Komisar said. “It definitely tests my patience, cause it’s so time-consuming and it’s just problem-solving all day. But I think it’s the most rewarding type of trail work, because there’s such a massive result. It’s pretty satisfying.”
Placing the feathers
Joel Bulthuis places feathers into the holes drilled by Sarah Komisar. Once the feathers are securely wedged into the rock, the crew will repeatedly hammer them with a single-jack, gradually stressing, and eventually cracking the bedrock.
Checking on Progress
ACE Corps member Joel Marona assesses the headway made on the rock staircase. Marona said that for him, this project has been a “dream hitch,” requiring technical rock work, tread work and even some chain-sawing. “I started conservation work so young, and I idolized the culture and crew leaders, but I thought it was just seasonal. Coming to ACE and being able to work in conservation year-round — it’s a dream come true.”
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.
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.
After a team effort to crack the bedrock, Joel Bulthuis chisels away at the base.
Establishment of a rock staircase
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
The crew continues work on the staircase, facing Rogers Lake. We’ll revisit this story once again when the trail is finished!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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…
…and here that good technique always trumps raw power while they practice using a rockbar to move large boulders.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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!”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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!
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.”