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#IamACE | Lauren Bernas

[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.

Little Bear

Little Bear

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!

Little Bear

Little Bear

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!

Trail Maintenance | Tonto National Forest

Tonto National Forest comprises three million acres of diverse landscape located in Arizona, spanning from Phoenix in the south, the Mogollon Rim to the north and the San Carlos and Fort Apache Indian reservations to the east.

Crew Leaders Joel Marona and Josh Rosner, and Trails Trainer, Keean Ruane recently led a project on a six mile section of the Barnhardt Trail, which leads into the Arizona National Scenic Trail and the Mazatzal Wilderness. Due to the remoteness of this area it has seen very little maintenance in the past but now that the Arizona Trail leads to the Mazatzal Wilderness gaining better access to that trail has become very important.

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The Mazatzal Wilderness is a popular destination for equestrian users that require wider trails, with more brush removed, and fewer large obstacles such as rock ledge steps or off camber slick rock sections.

Two crews worked on this project, one crew starting from the top of a six mile section and the other crew towards the bottom. The main objective was to make the trail accessible to stock animals by brushing and tread widening, with the occasional step being built to accommodate stock animals in places where very large steps were present.

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In the future, ACE will have four more hitches in the backcountry area of this trail. By working on the Barnhardt trail we are hoping to re-establish this trail as one of the main access trails in the Mazatzal Wilderness that can be used by Arizona Trail through hikers for re-ups, day hikers, backpackers and equestrians.

#IamACE | Theadora ‘Thea’ Doyon

[ACE]: Tell me about your background.

[TD]: I’m from Connecticut. I went to school in LA for english actually, so I’m sort of out of my element here but in a good way. At school I just had this realization that I needed to get back out into the wilderness. Instead of getting an editing job after graduating like I had initially planned, I went to work for a nonprofit doing graphic design. I just wanted to get back to nature. I don’t have the normal background of a lot of ACE corps members–many have degrees in environmental science or something similar. It’s helped me to decide what I want to be in life. Before this I thought i’d just do an editing job and maybe work for a magazine or publishing company but then I came out here, and now I’m really focused on getting an environmental education job. I definitely feel like I can shape my experience here for my future.

What motivated you to get into the field of conservation?

When I was little I was always camping and hiking and I loved being outdoors. When I was living in Los Angeles I was really starved for contact with the wilderness and I just really didn’t feel fulfilled. On my days off I’d go on hikes and those always made me feel a little bit better. So I realized what makes me happiest is being outdoors. So when I was thinking about what to do after college, I talked to a career counselor. My counselor told me about his girlfriend who had done an Americorps conservation program and it just sounded so cool, like exactly what I wanted to do. So I looked into it because I knew I needed a change.

Can you tell me about one highlight and one challenge during your internship?

I think my challenges tend to also be highlights, because when you push through the difficult things you’re just so satisfied. For me, rock work has always been one of the greatest challenges but also one of the most fulfilling things I’ve done at ACE. I still carry around this photograph of this beautiful staircase we built on a project in Holbrook, so when people ask me “What do you do?” I hold that up and I’m like, “THIS is what I do!” I love seeing a finished rock work project. It makes you feel so good about what you’ve done. Because you’re moving tons of pounds of rock. Halfway through it you just wanna punch a boulder.

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

Yeah, I think it has. One of the great things about ACE is you have all these people who are recent college graduates and are just trying to figure out what to do with their lives. It’s fun because you’re not only doing this manual labor that teaches you hard skills, but you’re living in this community that’s really supportive and motivating. People will tell you about jobs they heard of, or you’ll do applications together, you can help each other out that way. I like that.

What do you think sets ACE apart from other organizations?

I would say it’s the passion of the people that I see every day. I’ve never had a bad crew leader or a leader who wasn’t excited about the work they were doing. I think that really helps, because even on your worst days the people around you are still there and still enthusiastic about getting you motivated. And you can always say, “Hey, I’m not feeling great,” or something and they’re there right away to help you and to excite you again.

Do you have any advice you’d give to someone who’s looking to join ACE?

I’d say don’t doubt yourself. I came in worried that I’d be the least prepared person in ACE. I thought everyone would have all this experience and be really physically fit, like backpacking huge distances every weekend or something. I thought I’d be so exhausted I wouldn’t be able to swing a pick. And yeah…The first few days it’s a little hard. But you see pretty quickly how easy it is to get into the rhythm of things. One of the biggest problems I had was worrying if I would be ready for ACE. But I’d say just give it a shot!

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#IamACE | Mercy Iyere

This week’s IamACE features Mercy Iyere, ACE Arizona Corps Member. Mercy had very little outdoor experience before coming to ACE and now she has learned so much during her time at ACE.

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

[MI]: I’m from Atlanta, Georgia. I spent a good chunk of my life in the metro Atlanta area. Right before I came to ACE I graduated with a degree in geology from Georgia State University. I’m 23 and I’ve been with ACE since October, so about 5 months.

What motivated you to get into conservation?

Right after high school I considered doing Americorps NCCC for a while, but for various reasons decided against it. Having completed college, this is my next chance to do something like that, but I didn’t want to do NCC anymore, I wanted to do something more specifically related to the environment. And that’s when I found ACE, through the corps network.

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Can you tell me about one highlight and one challenge of your term so far?

My challenge was my first physically demanding hitch. My first few projects were seed-collecting and we didn’t use that many tools. But my third hitch was a fencing project in Saguaro. It was the first hitch I’d been one where we needed to use tools, we had a lot of hiking, it was very physical. The beginning was definitely a struggle because I wasn’t used to doing that kind of work. Before ACE, I wasn’t very outdoorsy. I’d only ever gone hiking a few times.

A highlight was when I was working on the Pinal County trails project. It was the first night that I made a fire 100% on my own. It was like, “Oh my gosh! I’ve learned so much about being outdoors and being independent and proactive.”

Any plans for the future when you’re done with ACE?

No concrete plans right now. Hopefully I’ll get a job in environmental geology.

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

Absolutely, because a lot of entry-level geology jobs are outside doing fieldwork. I think after ACE I can definitely handle working with equipment outside.

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What do you think sets ACE apart from other organizations?

From other jobs that I’ve had and from other corps that I see, the thing that sets ACE apart is the variety. Not just the fact that there are new people coming in every single day, but we’re not limited to projects just in Arizona—we can work on projects all over the southwest. It’s unpredictable. That makes it pretty exciting.

Do you have any advice to people looking to join ACE or who are interested in conservation?

I’d say be adaptable, and be prepared to look on the bright side. For example, sometimes you have to wake up early in the morning and it’s cold and you’re annoyed. But if you’re focused on being annoyed, you’re not going to notice how beautiful the sky looks.

Rock work | Rogers Lake (Part I)

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

1. Rogers Lake

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

2. Rogers Lake

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.

Rock work | Rogers Lake (Part II)

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

3. Rogers Lake

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

4. Rogers Lake

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

5. Rogers Lake

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 1 of this photostory can be found here and Part 3 here.

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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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

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.

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.

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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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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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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Rock work at Wupatki National Monument

An ACE Arizona crew has just returned from a four day hitch working at Wupatki National Monument. The crew worked alongside NPS staff to repair numerous bollards (small stone structures) in the Citadel Ruin area of the monument. The structures were created to prevent ATV/UTV users from driving on the protected area.

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The crews were not completely removing the structures, instead they focused on chipping off and replacing old mortar and removing and replacing rocks that were unstable — a process known as repointing. For the time being, this task is the primary project for the crew, but when they complete repairs to the bollards they will move on to trail maintenance in another area of the park.

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ACE crews work at the local Flagstaff monuments all year round on various types of restoration and conservation projects. The work can be challenging at times, but as ACE Crew Leader Nicole Cuaz put it, “…our work here will help to free up NPS staff to focus on other important projects. It’s an awesome opportunity to get to work in and help protect the monument.”

Trail Maintenance in Prescott National Forest, AZ

ACE Arizona crews recently completed a trail project in Prescott National Forest. The project involved annual light maintenance of several high volume, multi-use trails located on the outskirts of Prescott, in an area known as the Prescott Basin.

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Crews focused on brushing — opening the trail corridor to 6 ft wide and 10 ft tall, and clearing out existing drains. “In a few spots we also installed features to make the trail more sustainable,” explained crew leader Jimmy Gregson. “We put in an armored drain pan and a retaining wall, and created a few new drains along the trails as well.”

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The two crews completed 20.7 miles of maintenance during the project. Each crew was provided with a ranked list of 7 priority areas to work in, and they therefore used maps of the area to plan their time effectively.

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The highest priorities for both crews were sections of the popular Prescott Circle Trail, which circumnavigates the city and lies on lands managed by the City of Prescott, Prescott National Forest, and Arizona State Land Department. Since ACE partnered with the US Forest Service for this project, they worked on sections of the trails that were within the Prescott National Forest boundary.

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A majority of the work was completed within the Thumb Butte and Granite Mountain areas. “I’ve never done any work like this before,” said Kaitlin Eagan, an ACE corps member of two months. “It feels great to use my body for hard work that really means a lot.”

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The crews efforts will ensure that the trails can be safely used by hikers, bikers, and equestrians so they can access the gorgeous scenery that is available to them just outside of town.

Arizona Trail Association Seeds of Stewardship

ACE staff and Corps Members recently attended a local community service project in Flagstaff, where they partnered with the Arizona Trails Association and the Coconino National Forest to teach a large group of 75 students from the local Mount Elden Middle School about the importance of trail work.

ACE were awarded a plaque recognizing their exceptional commitment to the community and continued support of the Coconino National Forest Trails Program

ACE were awarded a plaque recognizing their exceptional commitment to the community and continued support of the Coconino National Forest Trails Program

The students arrived in the morning and gathered at the Little Elden trail head for an introduction from Coconino National Forest’s Trails and Wilderness Coordinator Sean Murphy. At this time, ACE was presented with a plaque recognizing our exceptional commitment to the community and continued support of the Coconino National Forest Trails Program. Sean also conducted a safety briefing, and demonstrated the tools that the students would be using which included Mcleods, shovels, and pick mattocks.

Tools in hand, the students hike to work led by an ACE leader

Tools in hand, the students hike to work led by an ACE leader

Th​e ​students were split up into groups of four and assigned a leader, either an ACE​ Corps Member or an Arizona Trail Steward. The groups began digging drains and check dams to direct the flow of rainwater off the trail and to make it more sustainable. “It’s important to get kids invested in the structures that they use for fun, and to teach them that trails don’t just happen–it takes a lot of hard work,” said Sean Murphy. “They will feel a little more ownership for the trails they use after this project.” The students spent a half day (about 4 hours including a lunch break) at the Little Elden Trail, alternating between working and participating in educational hikes in the area.

A.J. Conrad demonstrates techniques to the students

A.J. Conrad demonstrates techniques to the students

The event was part of the Arizona Trail Association’s Seeds of Stewardship initiative, a youth outreach, education, and stewardship program that aims to encourage youth participation in the Arizona Trail through experience, education, and service learning. “I think it’s important for younger people like myself and other ACE Corps Member to help teach these kids because we can relate to them and connect with them on a more personal level,” explained Gavin Monson, ACE Crew Leader. “I think it’s crucial to instill these conservation goals in the minds of these children. They’ll be in charge someday. If we can show them that this kind of work is important, we can help make a difference for the future.”

Students learn about tool use

Students learn about tool use

The students were enthusiastic about the work, and it was evident that they truly cared about the impression they were making on the land. “I like this kind of work because I like being outdoors,” said student Corbin Cuff. “I think it’s important because we can help the environment.” Corbin went on to explain that he would certainly be interested in doing more trail work in his future. It has been said that we will conserve only what we love, and we love only what we understand.

Everyone at ACE thoroughly enjoyed the event and we hope to participate in future events.

EPIC Intern Nick Steel

This past week we met up with ACE EPIC intern Nick Steel on the final day of his four-month internship as a biological science technician.

Originally from Rockland County, just outside of New York City, Nick was in for a bit of a shock relocating to the relatively remote Mogollon Rim Ranger District in Northern Arizona. “It’s just me and one other staff member doing this work,” Nick explained. “We treated 195 acres this summer, which included hand spraying, the use of backpack sprayers, and bio control treatments.”

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Nick packs away a backpack herbicide sprayer which has been thoroughly cleaned and sanitized for the end of the season

The internship centered on the mitigation and control of invasive species in the area, and Nick’s time was split between working in the field to remove and treat the different plants, and working in the office contributing to a database of invasive species that can be accessed by all USFS employees. “It’s a good balance. I like having the two different types of work to alternate between.” The position relied heavily on plant identification, and Nick had to be able to differentiate between the native flora and the invasive ones that are problem-causers in the area, such as buffelgrass, cheatgrass, and scotch thistle.

Nick explains about the database he contributes to, showing the map that lists the locations of the invasive species in the area.

Nick explains about the database he contributes to, showing the map that lists the locations of the invasive species in the area.

Nick went on to explain; “Through my internship with ACE I got a lot of certifications—wilderness first aid, blood borne pathogens, S212 wild land fire chain saw, and pesticide handler. These make my resume stronger and increase my chances in the job market.” As part of this position, Nick had to complete a certain amount of volunteer service hours. He chose to volunteer with the recreation crew, fire prevention patrol, and timber sales, and developed an interest in wildfire ecology that he hadn’t considered previously. “I don’t think I would have been able to get this experience anywhere else. I’m really happy I came to work here,” Nick remarked, “My internship shined a light onto different jobs I would have never have thought of before.”

The Youth Conservation Corps

ACE Arizona is currently hosting Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) crews out of its Flagstaff office. YCC is a summer employment program for young adults aged 15 to 18. The program encourages youth from all backgrounds to work and learn together by completing projects to help protect public lands. The program provides youth the opportunity to work alongside government employees with the National Park Service and the Forest Service.

YCC training

YCC training

An ACE crew leader supervises and motivates the YCC group throughout the project. This past week we had two different groups of YCC volunteers – one was working in Navajo National Monument just south of the Utah border, and the other at Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument in Flagstaff.

YCC @ Sunset Crater

YCC @ Sunset Crater

The crew at Navajo National monument was doing a variety of work to assist Park Service employees, including building picnic tables and maintaining a popular, scenic trail in a backcountry area of the park. “It’s been a lot of fun working with these guys because they work really hard and each bring something different and positive to the group” explained crew leader Allie Devor while helping her crew to clean drains along the Keet Seel trail in Navajo National Monument. The crew is made up of local high school students who all live outside the monument on the Navajo Reservation. “I learn something new every day from this group, from hearing about their culture to problem solving about work on a project” she said.

YCC crew at work @Navajo National Monument

YCC crew at work @Navajo National Monument

The second YCC crew was maintaining a new trail in Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument and also assisting Park Service employees with a high line rigging system in Walnut Canyon National Monument. Both teens in the crew had worked for YCC in the summer of 2014 and returned again this year. “I wanted to do YCC again because I really like this kind of work. It gets me out of the house,” laughed Tori Cibitello, while taking a break from repairing the out slope of the new trail in Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument. “It’s cool to make something that lasts—I can come back in the future and say, “I did this!”

YCC Crew working @Sunset Crater National Monument

YCC Crew working @Sunset Crater National Monument

The YCC program is imperative for several reasons; it helps to involve kids in meaningful, engaging conservation projects that benefit their community as well as the environment, and it gives young adults the chance to start building their work experience to prepare for a job in the future.

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