An ACE crew led by Andrew Moignard, started working at the south rim of the Grand Canyon on October 4th in partnership with the National Parks Service. The Bright Angel Trail is one of the most heavily trafficked trails in the Grand Canyon leading down to Phantom Ranch. The previous week saw heavy rains which washed out parts of the trail, caused erosion, and brought obstacles down onto the trail.
The crew worked from the trail-head down with a three mile goal for their nine day project into the park. ACE has been working in the Grand Canyon for several years doing cyclical maintenance on the canyon trails. The purpose of this project was to clear the trails of debris from the previous weeks storm and general trail maintenance for hikers, packers, and mule riders.
ACE crew and corps members worked to clear debris and mid sized rocks from the trail, digging and clearing drains, reinforcing water bars, and creating dams within the drains to slow down the water flow. The crew was also filling in parts of the trail which had been eroded over time and creating a more even surface to make the trail safe for hikers and visitors to Grand Canyon National Park.
A crew of 6 just finished a month long hitch doing restoration work at the Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge. The Bitter Lake Refuge sits above an aquifer, running down from the Capitan Mountains to the west of Roswell NM, and eventually feeds into the Pecos River. ACE Corps member Peter Schaffer was part of the project and shared his experiences of the project.
Being monsoon season in the south west, the crew would watch storms form over the solitary peak outside of Roswell. Sadly, the rain rarely reached the refuge to cool the crew. However even though the rain was not always there to cool the crew, they did get to witness firsthand how the water falling in the northern range would be absorbed into the system, before being pushed up towards the surface forming brackish sinkholes and leached through spring-like vents and feeding creeks and rivers throughout the refuge. ACE Corps member Peter Schaffer stated that this refuge is “truly an unsuspecting place, and, as the refuge’s visitor center tour heavily emphasized, it really is an oasis in the desert. It may seem cliche, but a closer examination of the geographical properties of this place helped put this project’s importance in perspective for me.”
The ACE crew worked with US Fish and Wildlife (USFWS) refuge staff on many of the projects and began to understand how complex restoration work is. Peter explained: “Bitter Lake struck me as a great demonstration of how uniquely balanced the desert (or any ecosystem for that matter) can be for creating a plethora of life that has evolved in congruence with the terrain. The flora in the area love the brackish water; the bugs certainly don’t mind either. There are 5 endangered species on the [Bitter Lake] refuge, most of which live in and around these vents and sinkholes. They are dependent on the land and water with which they are so uniquely intertwined, and ACE’s efforts in the past few years have been within these areas, which had been heavily affected by invasive flora. While I have worked on other restoration projects that were in the early or middle stages of treatment, I began to see how this multi-year process of hard work can pay off in truly restoring and balancing these incredibly unique area around the refuge.”
During the final days of the project, Corps members were able to plant native grasses along one of the creeks, and within the next year or two these species to proliferate. “It’s a good example of that tortoise/hare (or jack-rabbit) mentality, which has been hard for me to learn how to accomplish and improve upon while being in ACE. It seems that good restoration work requires an innately slow, careful touch in order to be successful. Missing a plant that can pollinate and spread seed over an area means that the end goal gets pushed back further. Treating ten miles of river in a day may sound good on a project report, but it may mean that the true goal of these kinds of projects was missed. I could see how ACE had fulfilled that necessity at Bitter Lake, and I hope that our crew continued in producing that high quality of work and diligence”, Peter added.
Thanks to the crew for their hard work on the project, and to Peter for taking the time to share his experiences.
A crew of six Corps Members successfully finished a project at Pecos National Historic Park, a park unit that preserves the ruins of Pecos (Ciquique) Pueblo close to Santa Fe, New Mexico
The aim of the project was to mechanically remove Kochia scoria, often referred to as Kochia, a large annual herb native to Eurasia. Within the United States, Kochia is an invasive species, particularly in the desert plains of the south west. Kochia is able to rapidly spread and competes with native vegetation for nutrients, light, and soil moisture. Furthermore, Kochia releases chemicals into the soil that can suppress the growth other plants, preventing the native plants from germinating.
While at Pecos NHS, the crew learned about the importance of restoring the park’s land in order to preserve the archaeological sites which included pottery shards and burial sites. To contribute to this restoration effort, the Corps Members used brush cutters to remove the Kochia. After 8 day of hard work the crew had covered 7.48 acres of the park, which had about 80% invasive coverage.
The crew’s favorite part of the week was working with the knowledgeable NPS staff who constantly provided them with information on the culture of the people who once inhabited the land we were working on, allowing us to put the restoration work into context.
ACE Arizona Corps Members have recently been working at Lake Mead National Recreation Area on a variety of restoration projects that have sought to restore native desert habitats to the surrounding shoreline.
Lake Mead is technically the largest reservoir in the United States, measured by water capacity. Lake Mead traverses the Arizona-Nevada state line, southeast of the city of Las Vegas. Formed by the Hoover Dam, Lake Mead is 112 miles (180 km) long when the lake is full, and has 759 miles (1,221 km) of shoreline. Lake Mead was named after Elwood Mead (January 16, 1858 – January 26, 1936), who was the commissioner of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation at the time when the planning and construction of the Boulder Canyon Project led to the creation of Hoover Dam, and subsequently Lake Mead itself.
Corps Members treat invasive plant species.
The work of the ACE Corps Members Project has included native plant salvage and seed collection, native plant propagation and planting, and removal or treatment of invasive plant species that form monocultures in and around native plant locations. As part of the project, the Corps Members have learned native plant identification and a variety of desert restoration techniques.
ACE recently attended an event titled “Concert for the Birds,” celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Las Vegas, NM Wildlife Refuge. The ACE crew assisted in several ways: weeding the educational ADA trail that surrounds the Wildlife Refuge headquarters of Musk Thistle, setting up the tents for the event, and managing educational games for the children attending the event.
The whole festival was a means of showing appreciation to the public for their continuous love and support of the Las Vegas National Wildlife Refuge, as well as to promote the importance and necessity of National Wildlife Refuges around the country. The festival highlighted the importance of the refuge in welcoming an influx of migratory birds that stop by to recharge while on their journey south for the winter. The continued good health of this and all refuges is crucial in maintaining a steady ecological balance, perpetuating the lives of migrating birds, mammals, fish, waterfowl, and native grasses.
ACE crews also tagged Monarch butterflies as part of their hitch. Monarch butterflies are endangered due to lack of habitat. They depend on milkweeds which provide nectar for migration, and are one of the only plants where they will lay their eggs.
Once ACE corps members had distinguished between a male or female Monarch butterflies they placed a thin round sticker–a third the size of a penny–on the discal cell of the under wing of the butterfly and recorded the “tag number” of the sticker, the gender of the butterfly and the date it was tagged. There was a flowering bush nearby that the corps members placed them on once the tagging was complete. From here, the butterflies will travel south to Mexico for the winter, heading back north during the spring.
This past week ACE Arizona crews headed back out to Picture Canyon in Flagstaff with a focus on invasive removal and restoration work. Specifically, the crew were treating and removing Scotch thistle (Onopordum acanthium) and Russian/Diffuse knapweed (Centaurea diffusa).
Knapweeds are invasive plants which can impair wildlife habitats by reducing forage, decreasing native plant diversity, and increasing the potential of soil erosion. Scotch thistle is known to invade disturbed areas near roadsides, riparian banks, heavily grazed pastures, and burned areas. Its grows in dense stands which can outcompete native plants and create monocultures. This is common behavior of invasive plants in general.
In riparian areas like Picture Canyon, dense thistle stands can grown into a physical barriers. To help mitigate these effects, a majority of the work involved corps members clipping the flower heads from the Scotch Thistle and spraying the plant, and hand pulling the knapweeds. The crew treated several areas along the Rio de Flag in this manner.
Picture Canyon Preserve a is located just outside of Flagstaff, Arizona, along the Rio de Flag. Picture Canyon is so called because of the hundreds of petroglyphs, pictographs and other archaeological remains of the Northern Sinagua that were discovered in the area. The Arizona Trail runs through this area, and attracts those interesting in recreational activities such as hiking, mountain biking, equestrian, photography, wildlife watching. Picture Canyon is also a great place to witness the changing of the leaves during fall.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
ACE is currently at work in the state of New Jersey, restoring a wetland area along the Mullica River. The project is a collaboration of for-profit and non-profit organizations: GreenVest LLC is the sponsor and experienced leader in ecosystem restoration projects; Trout Headwaters Inc is a Montana-based industry leader in sustainable stream, wetland, and habitat restoration; and the New Jersey Youth Corps, a ‘second-chance’ program which offers youth aged between 16-25 the opportunity to both earn a high school-equivalent qualification, and gain work skills, through meaningful community service.
ACE AZ Director Jordan Rolfe, ACE Southeast Director Adam Scherm, and ACE volunteer Bhriana Malcolm complete an ‘H’ brace
ACE is working with GreenVest to install over 4,000 ft of perimeter fencing to protect future plantings in a restored wetlands area at the headwaters of the Mullica River, in the heart of the Pinelands of southern New Jersey, just west of Wharton State Forest. On March 19, the crew will complete the perimeter fence which stands 8 feet tall, which will prevent deer from eating future plantings, and restrict the access of UTV traffic that would otherwise disturb the area.
The ACE Crew secure the fence to the posts. ACE is installing 4,000ft of perimeter fence in the Murrica River headlands.
Trout Headwaters was instrumental to this project by providing ACE Corps Members with ‘Waders in the Water’ training. The nationally recognized Waders in the Water training provides corps members with the skills and capacity to professionally complete acquatic restoration projects while preparing them for careers in the private restoration industry.
In April, after the perimeter fencing is complete, ACE crews will work alongside youth from the New Jersey Youth Corps to plant native species in and around the wetlands. After 5 years, the fencing will be removed and the restored wetlands habitat will be a thriving ecosystem.