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Fuel Reduction in Zion National Park – Watchman’s Campground

dsc_5799Starting 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. dsc_5732

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. dsc_6089

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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.dsc_6039

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. 25375289019_e3fd9a8667_k-2

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Corps to Career – Kenneth De Jesus Graciani

We are so happy to be able to share another Corps to Career success story out of our ACE Puerto Rico program.
Former ACE Member Kenneth De Jesus Graciani worked as an ACE corps member from October 2015 – April 2016. Kenneth was able to take his experience and work ethic and transition to a position working for NPS at San Juan National Historic Site.
We sat down with Kenneth for a Q and A to find out about where he is with NPS, how he achieved his goal of working for an agency and how ACE was a small part of his journey.

kenneth-de-jesus-gracianiWhere are you from originally? I am from Arroyo, Puerto Rico.
What motivated you or inspired you to be in conservation? I wanted to get experience doing this kind of work. My father and Uncle both work in conservation for the National Park Service and so at a young age I was very interested in this type of work and I wanted to learn as much as I could.
How did you find out about ACE? My Uncle saw a flyer for the Conservation Corps at the NPS office and he told me about the opportunity.
What was your role with ACE? My role as a crew member with ACE was to carry out the daily projects that were assigned to us by NPS staff and our crew leaders. The work involved historic preservation, trail maintenance, new trail construction, and removing unwanted trees that were damaging the historic fortress.
kenneth-teamworkWhat was your favorite project and why? I loved the “outworks” trail project. It involved mixing cement and building a new network of trails for tourists to enjoy that were not there before. The work was very rewarding and both NPS staff and Park visitors were appreciative of our efforts.
What was one of your biggest challenges? When you have good training and leadership from NPS and ACE, all projects are possible and none were too challenging.
What was your favorite aspect of being an ACE corps member? Everything. I loved mixing concrete to building new trails. I learned new skills from the crew leaders that gave me the confidence to apply for an NPS job.
How did you attain the position with NPS? I attained this position by gaining skills, experience, and confidence with ACE and then applied to the NPS job at a time when they were hiring.
What are your job responsibilities with NPS? I am a maintenance worker for the National Park Service, San Juan Natl Historic Site. My main responsibilities include repairing historic structures, building concrete columns, welding, fencing, operating a circular saw and keeping up with maintenance of the park in a safe, efficient, manner. In the summer months I was the liaison between the NPS and the YCC crew.
Do you think ACE has helped prepare you for your future career? Definitely. ACE gave me the opportunity to work with them, learn new skills, gain valuable experience, and get exposure by working closely with NPS staff.
group-photoWhat are your future goals? I would like to continue learning as much as I can to grow and develop into a leader with the National Park Service. In 5 years I hope to be in a leadership position in the National Park Service. I would love to work with young adults and mentor them.
How has ACE helped to shape who you are personally and professionally? ACE helped me with everything. The crew leaders taught me technical skills, responsibility, leadership, and good work habits. I learned great teamwork. If it wasn’t for ACE, I would not be working with the National Park Service.
What advice can you offer to future corps members who are looking to get into the conservation field? Never say “no”. You need to be flexible and open to any type of work and any type of project. You need to be inspired to work for ACE and gain skills to have a good experience in ACE and be competitive for federal jobs.kenneth-prepping-for-new-trail

*If you are an ACE Alumni and are interested in sharing your Corps to Career story please contact Susie Jardine at susie@usaconservation.org

#IamACE | Dania Jordan

Cultural Resources Diversity Internship Program intern Dania Jordan.

[ACE]: What do you do here in your EPIC internship?

[DJ]: I am an intern for the Northeast Region Park Service’s History Program. The Park Service partnered with Groundwork Lawrence to begin a pilot program called Urban Archaeology Corps for high school students in Lawrence, MA. Therefore, as part as my internship I provide “expertise” on archaeological processes and methodology as well as support Groundwork Lawrence in the historical aspect of their program.

Can you tell me about your background?

I received a bachelor’s degree in Anthropology and Sociology at the University of Nevada, Reno in 2015 and now I am attending UMass Boston to obtain a Master’s in Historical Archaeology.

How did you find out about ACE, and what attracted you to this position?

I found out about ACE by through google. I was looking for internships in “history,” I believe and the website came up so I began to browse at the potential internships that I potentially qualified for. The original internship I applied for was doing research on African American site associated with the Park Service in the Northeast Region, which I am still doing and developing a product that is accessible to the public. I was attracted to this internship because I am interested in African American experiences in the North (which has not been well documented). However, the internship came with a bonus that allowed me to also teach and mentor high school students in archaeological methods and processes. Thus, this internship has allowed me to engage in all my interests as well as give back to the youth.

Can you tell me a highlight and a challenge that you’ve had so far during your internship?

Highlight: being able to teach the youth about archaeological processes and methods, why archaeologists do what they do, and why archaeology is important, and them being receptive to the information I am providing to them.

Challenge: Creating outlines for the activities that include the objectives of the activity and teaching the students about archaeological methods and processes. I find it quite difficult sometimes to write and present in a way that high school students can understand the content.

Any goals for when you complete your internship?

Yes, I plan to continue to work on my Master’s degree and the Park Service has hired me on for another project. In the fall I will be working with the Northeast Museum Services Center on rehousing and analyzing the Abiel Smith School archaeological collection. I also hope to continue my education and get my PhD in historical archaeology as well.

Do you have any advice you’d give to someone looking to join EPIC or get into this field?

For whatever internship you plan to apply for make sure you have passion for it and express that passion during your interview process. Your resume may be able to list your achievements and experiences, but that means nothing when you cannot share your passion for a field and person can see and hear your enthusiasm.

#IamACE | Rachel Stewart

ACE Cultural Resources Diversity Internship Program (CRDIP) Intern Rachel Stewart

[ACE]: Tell us about your CRDIP internship.

I am an intern at Dry Tortugas National Park, about 70 miles off the coast of Key West. I have been working with other interns to find and capture lionfish in the park. I am also working a little with the Submerged Resources Center of the National Park Service to locate and map a shipwreck in the park.

Can you tell me about your background?

I was born and raised in Nashville, TN. I grew up loving the water, so it only seemed right I start SCUBA diving. Through diving, I have been exposed to many new opportunities, one of which is underwater archaeology. I am currently a junior at Tennessee Technological University studying civil engineering with a concentration in the environment and water resources.

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How did you find out about ACE, and what attracted you to this position?

I found out about ACE through my participation in Youth Diving With a Purpose (YDWP), a program that teaches the basics of underwater archaeology. The Submerged Resources center offered diving internships to three participants in parks throughout the country. I knew this position at Dry Tortugas would be an amazing once in a lifetime experience.

Can you tell me a highlight and a challenge that you’ve had so far during your internship?

The most obvious highlight of my internship is the diving. It is amazing! I’ve never had the chance to dive as often at gorgeous sites like those in the park. The main challenge I have had during my internship is adjusting to the lifestyle at the park so far away from the conveniences I’m used to.

Any goals for when you complete your internship?

Upon completing the internship, I hope to have made a good impression at the park. I also hope to have helped in mapping a shipwreck and remove as many lionfish as possible.

Do you have any advice you’d give to someone looking to join EPIC or get into this field?

To anyone looking to join EPIC or get into this field, I would say be open to all opportunities. I have had many experiences that don’t necessarily match exactly what I want to do in my career, but through these experiences I have picked up varied skills that will help me in the future. I would also say be sure to make good first impressions with everyone you meet. Networking is really what has helped me the most.

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#IamACE | Katherine Giraldo

Katherine Giraldo, Museum Curator’s Assistant at Boston National Historical Park

[ACE]: As a Cultural Resources Diversity Internship Program (CRDIP) intern, what is your role?

[KG]: I am the Museum Curator’s assistant at Boston National Historical Park. Along with conducting the annual inventory for museum objects, I help organize research appointments, help researchers find whatever they need during their appointment so they can use in their research projects, I help plan, set up and make signs for exhibits, as well as write articles about our museum collections for the park newsletter.

Can you tell me about your background?

I have a Bachelor’s degree in Anthropology from the University of Massachusetts Boston. My concentration was in Archaeology so I was able to attend a Field School in Central America during my time at the university. There, I was able to work on a few of about 50 Maya sites. The sites varied from small settlements to large cities that contained some really cool artifacts like obsidian blades, jewelry, etc. I also had the opportunity to work alongside a number of experienced Archaeologists from a variety of universities. Working on these sites gave me an insight into what it actually takes to find, analyze and preserve the materials needed to tell the history of humanity.

How did you find out about ACE, and what attracted you to this position?

While I was doing some online research about graduate programs, I came across ACE and their CRDIP program. Having a background in Anthropology and Archaeology, I was immediately interested in their cultural resource internships. I was drawn because they offered great benefits; travelling and exploring new places, an opportunity to get my hand dirty in the field, and, most importantly, a chance to keep learning about a field that I am very passionate about.

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Can you tell me a highlight and a challenge that you’ve had so far during your internship?

There are many highlights during the time of my internship. I have enjoyed very much going through the museum collection while conducting the annual inventory. I have been able to see objects that date back to the American Revolution! The biggest highlight, however, is setting up an exhibit at the Bunker Hill Monument. I was able to be part of the culmination of three years of conservation work on “ The Adams” cannon, which is believed to be one of the British field pieces possessed by the British colonies at the outset of the American Revolution in April 1775. The cannon is now on display and it is very exciting to think that I helped put it there for thousands of people to see. One of the biggest challenges, however, is when I am tasked to find a museum object for the annual inventory, and it is nowhere to be found. It’s frustrating but you eventually realize that out of thousands of objects, some are bound to be misplaced.

Any goals for when you complete your internship?

After completing my internship, I will be starting my Master’s degree in Preservation Studies at Boston University. My main goal is to graduate and hopefully get employment through the National Park Service.

Do you have any advice you’d give to someone looking to join EPIC or get into this field?

My advice to someone looking to join EPIC is not to be afraid and go for it! This program has taught me things that I never learned in a classroom. It gave me an insight into what it actually takes to work in cultural resource management, and, when I was having doubts about my professional life in Archaeology, it made my passion for the field even stronger. So if you’re a recent college graduate or emerging professional and are not sure what your degree in History, Archaeology, Biology, etc. will bring to your professional life, ACE, EPIC, and CRDIP will definitely help guide you. There has not been a day in which I don’t learn something new and valuable through this program.

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Where are they now | Chase Kane

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

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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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


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

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Restoration Work | Lake Mead NRA

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

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Seed Collection

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

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Corps Members treat invasive plant species.

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

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Desert Restoration

#IamACE | Stephany Ninette Gonzalez

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

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


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

What motivated you to get into conservation?




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

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




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

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




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

What do you think sets ACE apart from other organizations?



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

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


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

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.

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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Zion NP revegetation

On November 13th, an ACE Utah crew completed a re-vegetation project in Zion National Park. The crew worked alongside NPS staff repairing areas where heavy equipment and major road construction activities had removed or damaged vegetation on a section of the scenic Kolob Terrace Road.

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Roadsides in this area of the park are very susceptible to erosion, and in order to stabilize the sediment in this vulnerable area, crews planted a collection of native grasses, shrubs, and cacti. The attention to detail, and careful consideration of each plant will be key to the long term success of each planting.

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Working alongside NPS staff provided a great opportunity for crew members to learn from the staff’s experience and knowlege and provided opportunities for crew members to show off ACE’s work ethic and culture. “The NPS staff said this was one of the best crews they have worked with,” affirmed field operations manager David ‘Skip’ Siesel, “and the area was really beautiful.” Although the project was short, the work will allow park visitors to witness the gorgeous plant species native to Utah.

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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.”

Zephyr Cove Boardwalk & Fallen Leaf Lake Projects – Lake Tahoe, California

ACE is in the business of amazing locations. Day in, day out, our crews are at work in some of the most stunning locations in the United States. But we are also fortunate in that our regional offices are located in amazing locations, too. Take our Lake Tahoe branch in California. Here, our lucky corps members get to live and work at one of the most beautiful lakes in the country. We are proud that our crews are able to partner with agencies such as the Forest Service and National Park Service close to Lake Tahoe, and work to restore and maintain the beauty of the surrounding area. And when our crews are not working, Lake Tahoe is an outdoor enthusiast’s playground and a prime vacation destination.

ACE crews measuring and constructing the boardwalk at Zephyr Cove

ACE crews measuring and constructing the boardwalk at Zephyr Cove

In addition to working on the Mount Tallac Trail and the Kingsbury Stinger Trail, projects that we have featured on our blog this week, ACE California crews based out of Lake Tahoe have also spent the summer completing two projects that focused on protecting the gorgeous meadows around Lake Tahoe. One project was the construction of a boardwalk near Zephyr Cove that will be part of a bike path providing access to the eastern shore of the lake. The other project was helping with the construction of a causeway near Fallen Leaf Lake that will reduce the damage to a meadow from high equestrian use.

Corps members work to clear the Fallen Leaf Lake Causeway

Corps members work to clear the Fallen Leaf Lake Causeway

ACE California would like to thank the many corps members who participated in projects in the Lake Tahoe region this summer.

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Sunset Crater National Monument

An ACE Arizona crew has just completed a four day hitch working at Sunset Crater National Monument in Flagstaff. Crews have been working alongside National Park Service employees at the Flagstaff Area Monuments throughout the summer. This particular project at Sunset Crater has been ongoing for the past few months. Crews have been creating a new trail on Lenox Crater, a smaller crater that lies just east of the monument’s main attraction, Sunset Crater.

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The previous Lennox Crater trail was very wide, steep, and unsustainable. Its replacement was necessary to minimize the number of social trails that visitors were creating to make the hike easier.

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The crew recently completed the trail, and moved on to conceal and restore the original path. They used a grip hoist to tension a highline rope in order to move buckets of volcanic cinders up the steep slope. This process began with several ACE corps members filling buckets with cinders. These buckets were then loaded into a nylon sling which was attached to a snatch block, basically a large hook. One corps member operated the grip hoist downslope, while three others corps members utilized a ‘fireline’ technique to haul the load uphill. They deposited the cinders over the old path to conceal it and match it to the surrounding landscape.

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Finally, a corps member would drag the snatch block back downhill and the process would start over. The ACE crew worked directly with NPS employees, including Dale Thomas, who is a member of the ACE alumni. The project will be beneficial to visitors of the monument, creating a more pleasant trail, but it will also help to preserve the landscape for years to come.

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Congaree National Park

We recently posted about our ACE Southeast crew that were busy clearing 14 miles of the popular Cedar Creek Canoe Trail in Congaree National Park. We’re delighted to announce that due to the hard work of corps members the crew completed Phase I of the project after just 6 weeks.

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As a result, the crew found themselves back on land, assisting NPS staff with maintenance of the park’s 30+ miles of trails. The first task was to remove unwanted vegetation from campgrounds and roads with hand tools and brush cutters.

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Next up, the crew tackled a huge fallen log that was blocking a hiking trail. Here they used the grip hoist and crosscut saw to remove the obstruction.

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Field Operations Manager Josh Burt explained some of the differences of working in the East, compared to ACE’s desert heartlands: “Working in the East has positive and negative aspects. From an invasive species management perspective, there is a lot of work to do, a lot to combat. But, in doing trail work, we have some advantages…For example, we’re removing this log from the trail by dragging it over the land. In this environment the marks made by this movement will soon be unnoticeable, whereas wouldn’t do that in the deserts of Arizona; the marks on the landscape would last for many years. So although some challenges are much greater there are more options available for how to deal with them.”

The ACE Southeast crew will continue to assist NPS staff and will return to work on Cedar Creek in the weeks to come.

ACE Southeast – Alum Cave Trail Restoration

Earlier in the month we spent some time with ACE Southeast in North Carolina where we visited 3 ongoing projects. Over the coming weeks we will share photos and stories from these projects. First up is the Alum Cave Trail, a popular hiking trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, that is currently subject of a restoration project.

Views from the Alum Cave Trail, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Views from the Alum Cave Trail, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Alum Cave Trail is a popular trail hiking trail within Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The trail features breathtaking views, a variety of flora and fauna, and its namesake Alum Cave, which isn’t actually a cave but a concave bluff that rises about 80 feet high. The trail leads to other iconic areas including Arch Rock, Inspiration Point, and Mt. Le Conte. However, in several narrow areas erosion and landslides have damaged sections of the trail, making it difficult to safely travel through the areas during inclement weather or to pass hikers coming from the opposite direction. By restoring these fragile trail sections, the long-term sustainability and safety of the trail can be ensured. ACE, alongside the NPS Trails Forever Crew, are working on this restoration project. Recently we have had two ACE Southeast crews were out working at separate locations of the trail.

ACE Crews working alongside the NPS

ACE Crews working alongside the NPS

The first of these crews was assisting NPS staff in building a stone staircase. Crew members moved rocks with a grip hoist, and split them into usable sizes with rock drills and doublejacks. They also utilized masonry techniques to shape the rocks.

Alum Cave Trail, Great Smoky Mountains NP - Rock Splitting

The second crew was working farther up the trail on a major trail reconstruction project that involved moving lots of dirt, re-grading the tread, and removing roots and rocks.

Alum Cave Trail, Great Smoky Mountains NP - Drilling

The environment in North Carolina is unique when compared to the other locations in ACE’s Intermountain Region, which lie in the Southwest. “We’re working in a temperate rainforest, which is very different from most of the locations that other ACE crews work in which tend to be desert environments,” said corps member Madison McClaren. The Alum Cave Trail is lined with rhododendron and hemlock, and fog was a prominent feature. “This particular project is cool because it’s such a heavily used trail. After we finish, a thousand people will step over our work every weekend,” said McClaren. “That makes the work much more gratifying.” added fellow corps member Chelsie Stetcher.

This is the first year of a 2 year reconstruction plan of the Alum Cave Trail that ACE crews will continue to participate in.

Canoe Trail Restoration, Congaree National Park

News of a very unique and interesting project from ACE Southeast. Crews there are actively involved in the restoration of over 14 miles of popular canoe trails in Congaree National Park, near Hopkins, South Carolina.

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That’s right, canoe trails. ACE has become somewhat synonymous with trail building and trail maintenance in the deserts of the Southwest, but this is a first, conducting canoe trail maintenance. As we geographically expand so does the scope of our expertise.

ACE corps members suited up for canoe trail restoration

ACE corps members suited up for canoe trail restoration

The ACE crew, led by its fearless leader Isabel Grattan, is using primitive hand tools to clear the popular Cedar Creek Canoe Trail that travels through the heart of Congaree National Park. Cedar Creek is a major part of the dynamic floodplain wilderness area of the park and passes through a primeval old-growth forest which contains some of the tallest trees in eastern North America. The marked trail winds approximately 15 miles through the Congaree Wilderness, starting at Bannister’s Bridge and going all the way to the Congaree River.

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Downed trees and log jams are a common occurrence on Cedar Creek. The ACE corps members paddle 2-4 miles a day in their two-person canoes and use cross-cut saws, hand saws, and loppers to clear away large trees and debris that have fallen over the creek during the previous late summer and winter storms. This work is vital in improving the conditions for park visitors who would otherwise need to portage around these obstacles.

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Congaree National Park was established in 2003 and is home to many champion trees (largest of their species) and a wide variety of reptiles, amphibians, as well as fish-eating spiders. Paddling the Cedar Creek trail is arguably the best way to experience the Park.

Views from the canoe

Views from the canoe

Swedish students visit ACE

For the past few weeks, we have had a group of 6 Swedish students visiting and documenting the work of the crews in both our Flagstaff and Utah branches. The students are gathering content for a presentation on social entrepreneurship as part of the requirements for their environmental science major. They have been interviewing corps and staff members to learn more about ACE.

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Interviewing ACE Crew LEader

Interviewing ACE Crew Leader

The leader of the group was Marie Olssen, who served a 3-month term with ACE 9 years ago as an international volunteer. “It was the time of my life. I grew so much as a person, and became a lot more optimistic, independent and adventurous. My passion for the environment began with ACE, so I think I can credit my experience working for the organization for at least part of the inspiration for the continuation of my education in this field,” said Olssen.

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Interviewing NPS staff member

Interviewing NPS staff member

The students fly back to Sweden on Friday August 28th, and we will miss them!

Mesa Verde Crew

Today we welcome back a crew returning from Mesa Verde National Park in Southwest Colorado who for the past week the crew has focused on eliminating the highly invasive species Russian Knapweed from along the Mancos River within the park.

The Mesa Verde crew

The Mesa Verde crew

On the first day of the hitch, however, the river was swollen with monsoon rains. Since it was therefore unsafe to work by the river the crew worked with NPS staff to eradicate invasive musk thistle in a different location in the park.

Removing Musk Thistle

Removing Musk Thistle

Corps members removed the blooms from the musk thistle plants by either pulling them by hand or snipping with pruners. They cut the stalks to waist level height so other corps members came through and sprayed the stalks with Milestone herbicide to prevent the regrowth of the invasive.

Pruning the musk thistle

Pruning the musk thistle

The musk thistle can spread extremely rapidly because of the high seed production–almost 120,000 per plant!

Spraying the musk thistle

Spraying the musk thistle

Ecological restoration is something ACE corps members dedicate themselves to during their term of service. Part of restoring a native plant community to its original state is the removal of invasive, destructive species followed by the planting of native species.

The fruits of labor

The fruits of labor

Corps to Career: Veteran and ACE Alum Dale Thomas

American Conservation Experience is proud to showcase a former AmeriCorps member, Crew Leader, and United States Veteran, Dale Thomas.

Dale has had a long history of service. Not only in serving his community through volunteerism, but also serving his country. For 7 years Dale served with the Arizona Army National Guard, 819th Engineer Company. Joining the National Guard was the way he was going to help pay for his college tuition and do something meaningful with his life.

Dale Thomas serving military

Dale Thomas serving in the military

Serving our country while attending college at Northern Arizona University showed Dale’s dedication not only to the homeland but also to his education. While studying Parks and Recreation Management and Park Protection he was deployed to Afghanistan for a year. School was put on hold while he served.

“Our mission was Route Clearance, where we helped a lot of people by clearing IED’s (improvised explosive devices) from both paved and dirt roads to allow our own NATO forces, Afghan army and police, and local public to safely travel the roads. After this year long adventure, I returned to finish out school.”

After he returned from his deployment in Afghanistan Dale completed a final internship and a Wilderness First Responder course in order to receive his degree. Through NAU Dale found American Conservation Experience. Although Dale would have to travel with ACE, and be away from his wife and family, he decided it would help him meet his goal of working towards improving our natural resources.

Dale in ACE

Dale when serving as a Crew Leader with ACE

“ACE sounded like a really cool opportunity so I went for it. It was definitely worth it! In the beginning of my term I had fairly minimal experience in any of the tasks I performed in ACE. Through the service learning model I was trained in trail design, layout, construction, and maintenance; dry and wet stone masonry; archaeological ruin preservation, fencing construction and repair, and greatly improved my knowledge and skills with a chainsaw. Dry masonry and fencing turned out to be my favorite projects along with sawing. I also made quite a few connections. Once I was a crew leader, I had a lot of contact with different project partners. Many of them gave me their information and offered to be references and even offered some jobs. Which is how I got where I am now. Working for the National Park Service”

Dale spent quite a bit of his time with ACE working at the National Park Service, Flagstaff Area Monuments (Walnut Canyon National Monument, Sunset Crater National Monument, and Wupatki National Monument) and was able to make professional connections with the staff and management at these parks. Securing a position with NPS, Flagstaff Area Monuments, Dale is now a Maintenance Worker at the park. His tasks include working on trails such as the new Lenox Crater Trail at Sunset Crater NM, and doing general maintenance work such as repairing the Walnut Canyon visitor center.

When asked to speak to the next generation of corps members who may be interested in volunteerism and the conservation corps movement, Dale has some great advice:

“Be diligent and keep a good eye out for opportunities. Seek and utilize opportunities for training. These will improve your skill and knowledge base. Practice being calm, cool, and collected and rely upon your training as this is what your mind will revert to in split second decisions. Don’t give up on what you want. Finally, learn and employ techniques of resiliency; don’t let setbacks keep you down. ACE was a great place to do these things and I felt like I was fulfilling those goals of mine.”

We are proud to feature ACE Alumnus, Dale Thomas. We feel honored that ACE played a role in his service-learning experience, and helped him achieve his goal of turning his corps experience into the career of his dreams.

For more information on ACE Alumni
Contact susie@usaconservation.org

Meet an ACE Intern

Meet Cristobal Castaneda, Youth Programs Assistant Intern at John Muir National Historic Site

Cristobal Castaneda is an incredible ACE intern at the John Muir National Historic Site in the San Francisco Bay Area. He first began as a youth volunteer for John Muir National Historic Site before starting as the ACE Youth Program Assistant Intern in January 2015. While gathering and cataloging phenology data, supporting high school volunteers with the New Leaf Program, and reaching out to the public, he plays an instrumental role at the site.

Cristobal Castaneda

Part of his role includes working with under-represented teenage groups in order to promote jobs working with public lands, and whilst undertaking this he has demonstrated his amazing skillset. To date Cristobal’s projects have included leading tours, conducting interviews with park guests, working directly with youth volunteers, managing restoration teams, and advocating for National Parks.

Cristobal is a stellar example of how passion and dedication to the ACE and National Park Service mission contributes to personal success, professional development, and a really good time!

Catching up with EPIC Interns

Although our conservation corps is centralized in the intermountain region of Utah, Arizona, and North Carolina, and in California, ACE also has an Emerging Professional Internship Corps (EPIC) whose geographic scope spans across the entire country. This past week our photojournalist caught up with the three interpretation interns who work between the National Monuments in the Verde Valley of Arizona: Montezuma Castle, Montezuma Well, and Tuzigoot.

ACE EPIC Interns at Northern Arizona's National Monuments

ACE EPIC Interns at Montezuma Well National Monument

The ACE interns work alongside National Park Service employees each day. They act as the front line representatives of the National Monuments by interacting one-on-one with visitors; answering questions, selling park passes, and roving the trails. During their internship each individual is required to develop a unique personal program to deliver to visitors.

EPIC Intern engages the monument's visitors

EPIC Intern Dana Henze engages the monument’s visitors

“There’s so much history here,” said Dana Henze, who has been an intern at the monuments for 2 months. “And it’s a great learning opportunity. It is a great way to get a foot in the door and learn about the ins and outs of the Park Service. I hope to become a wildlife biologist for the National Park Service someday, and I feel that this internship is helping to prepare me for that career,” she explained.

Dana Henze

EPIC Intern Dana Henze

The EPIC internship program allows youth to explore, connect, and preserve America’s natural and cultural resources as they gain professional skills and cultivate their careers in the resource management field. For further details, including how to apply, visit EPIC’s dedicated program pages.

ACE Crews @ Grand Canyon National Park

Every year, ACE crews have the privilege to work in arguably one of the most beautiful National Parks in the country—the Grand Canyon. ACE’s summer work season always begins with work on the north rim of the canyon, and once complete, crews move to the south rim.

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They perform routine maintenance including cleaning water bars and check steps, re-dirting the trail where necessary, and clearing out irrigation ditches. They focus on the three main historic corridor trails: North and South Kaibab, and Bright Angel.

Grand Canyon Blog Post Before After

These trails are the most popular in the park, and have a very high volume of pedestrian and mule traffic. “Trails at the Grand Canyon are so different,” explained crew leader Evan Thibodeau. “The trails drainages are on the inslope, which is opposite of most trails. The work we are doing is an effort to help prevent erosion from the outside of the trail.”

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The work that ACE crews do in Grand Canyon National Park is imperative to prepare the trails for the onslaught of traffic and monsoon rains that they will sustain this summer.

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Partner Showcase: National Park of American Samoa

Ricky Misa'alefua plays the role of ricky the Crab as the 'turtle' students of Olosega Elementary School dash from their nest to the ocean. This game aims to demonstrate the benefits of synchronized hatching and predetor swarming.

Ricky Misa’alefua plays the role of ricky the Crab as the ‘turtle’ students of Olosega Elementary School dash from their nest to the ocean. This game aims to demonstrate the benefits of synchronized hatching and predetor swarming.

ACE is proud to serve as a convergence of cultures, where American youth and their international counterparts contribute equally to important restoration projects. When the National Park of American Samoa (NPSA) asked ACE staff to visit the US territory to help develop an American Samoan corps creating jobs and promoting economic self-sufficiency for local village youth, we were honored and excited. The resulting partnership, launched in October of 2011, engaged 25 American Samoan youth who were trained under the mentorship of NPSA biologists and deployed in NPSA’s longstanding efforts to purge American Samoa’s verdant native paleotropic rainforests from the ravenous invasion of exotic Tamaligi and Red Seed Trees. ACE’s American Samoan corps members accomplished 21,000 hours of restoration work during 2012 alone.

DNA testing is conducted to increase the understanding of the population structure of the sea turtles, and how the sea turtles of the Ofu region fit into that structure

DNA testing is conducted to increase the understanding of the population structure of the sea turtles, and how the sea turtles of the Ofu region fit into that structure

Since then this partnership with the NPSA has continued to flourish. ACE has more recently been involved in further efforts to eradicate the Tamaligi trees, and also in a project which aims to mitigate further decline of the endangered Green and Hawksbill sea turtle populations in the Ofu region of the park. The sea turtle project is featured in our winter edition of ACEbook which can be read here.

The common theme of all the projects in which ACE is involved in on American Samoa is the recruitment, training, and continued mentoring of local American Samoan youth. Through ACE’s partnership with NPSA, unemployed local youth are converted into conservationalists, working to protect their native environment. To this day ACE is honored to be a partner of the NPSA, and to be involved in efforts to conserve American Samoa.

For more information about NPSA and their valuable contribution to conservation on American Samoa, please visit their social media outlets on Facebook, Instagram, the blog sphere, and the NPS website.

Installation of informational billboards such of these play a vital role in educating the public about the scarcity of native sea turtle populations

Installation of informational billboards such of these play a vital role in educating the public about the scarcity of native sea turtle populations

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