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trail maintenence

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#IamACE | Rory Patrick McLaughlin

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

[ACE]Can you tell me about your background?


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

What motivated you to get into conservation?


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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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#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.

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.

Maricopa Trail, Arizona

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

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

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

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

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

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

BLM – St George Trails

ACE crews in Utah have been hard at work since March on a project in partnership with the Bureau of Land Management restoring the Bearclaw Poppy Trail, a heavily used loop located just southwest of St. George, UT. The trail is primarily intended for mountain bikers.

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Although the trail is considered to be the most popular in St. George, the region is extremely ecologically sensitive and features a rare flower that the trail is named for–the Bearclaw Poppy. This flower is only found in the immediate surrounding of St. George because of the high amount of the gypsum in the cryptobiotic soil.

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Over time, bikers have created social trails–routes the divert from the original path–and this can damage the soil for decades, rendering it unsuitable for flower growth. In order to conserve the endangered flower, ACE crews have been installing fences and concealing the social trails to restore the area to as close to its natural state as possible.

ACE CA at Mount Hermon

ACE California often partners with Mount Hermon, a family-oriented camp, conference, and concert center located just outside of Santa Cruz, CA. Mount Hermon is nestled in the towering Santa Cruz mountains redwoods and it attracts more than 60,000 visitors each year, many of which are part of school groups.

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As a neighbor, ACE California helps out at Mount Hermon however it can. We often send crews to Mount Hermon to help with a variety of projects ranging from roadside brushing to fuel reduction, and trail work to ecological restoration.

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Last week Mount Hermon hosted a crew of 11 ACE California Corps Members and volunteers. Led by Crew Leader Jake Homovich, the crew completed a rock work project on a trail that circumnavigates the Mount Hermon Conference center.

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Mount Hermon is a popular project location among our crews; rather than preparing breakfast, packing lunch, and cooking dinner after work, crews at Mount Hermon are often served breakfast, lunch, and dinner by the camp’s kitchen.

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Later this week, from November 19, ACE California will be hosting a school group from Providence Day School in North Carolina at Mount Hermon. For 4 days the students will experience life at Mount Hermon and participate in a range of conservation-focused projects and educational sessions prepared by ACE Staff and AmeriCorps members. We’re very excited and look forward to bringing you more new of that project soon!

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.

Kingsbury Stinger Trail – Lake Tahoe, California

ACE is partnering with the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit (LTBMU), in Douglas County, Nevada, in the southeast portion of the Lake Tahoe Basin. Here, ACE California crews have been rerouting the Kingsbury Stinger Trail, a challenging OHV (off highway vehicle) and mountain bike trail, known locally as the “Stinger Trail”.

ACE California crews begin construction of the Stinger Trail

ACE California crews begin construction of the Stinger Trail

Although the Stinger Project, like the Mount Tallac Trail, involved a reroute, that is where the similarity ends. Instead of a 12-16″ wide wilderness trail, the Kingsbury Stinger Trail is 50″ wide and designed for motorcycles, ATV’s and mountain bikes. Consequently, ACE crews have adopted a different approach, skill set, and attitude.

Corps members drilled through large rocks in order to move them from the trail.

Corps members drilled through large rocks in order to move them from the trail.

The crew has used highline rigging and power drills in to maneuver the massive boulders required to create a sustainable, yet fun and challenging trail, which flows down Kingsbury Grade to Lake Tahoe. As they build, the crew need to remain mindful of the eventual users of the trail; mountain bikers and ATV users. These trail users will travel a lot quicker than hikers, and therefore the trail must be safe to travel yet still be enjoyable.

In order to move such large boulders, the crew used the grip hoist

In order to move such large boulders, the crew used the grip hoist

While the existing trail provided plenty of challenges, it also was built along the fall-line and as a consequence had become severely eroded. The Stinger Trail realignment will bring the trail further away from drainage’s, and contour along ridge lines, using the topography to provide a more sustainable and environmentally-friendly trail.

Over-sized tree stumps were removed by hand using pulaskis

Over-sized tree stumps were removed by hand using pulaskis

ACE California crews will be back to work, finishing The Stinger Trail, during the summer of 2016.

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.

Mount Tallac Trail Project – Lake Tahoe, California

It has been another successful summer in the Lake Tahoe Basin for ACE California. This marks the sixth summer that our crews have been working in partnership with the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, which commenced in 2009. This relationship was nationally recognized at the American Trails Conference in May, where both ACE and the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit received the Partnership Award. This year, the corps members have been eager to continue in the footsteps of the corps members that have come before them.

This year’s projects focused on two major trail re-routes in the Tahoe Basin, initiated to mitigate negative environmental impacts and improve the user experience. One of these projects was the iconic Mount Tallac Trail.

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Tahoe tallac reroute

For four summers, ACE corps members have worked tirelessly to improve this hugely popular Mount Tallac Trail. Under the leadership of Ryan Kuehn, the ACE crew spent the summer camping in the back country of the Desolation Wilderness, building a 3,600ft long re-route. This has realigned the trail onto a more south-facing aspect of the mountain to ensure that the snow will melt in advance of the busy summer season. Additionally, the new trail crosses through a talus field, providing a more sustainable path than that of the old trail, which traversed fragile alpine vegetation and was severely eroded. The crew moved over 15,000 cubic feet of rock during the construction phase of this trail, which is equal to over 1,260 tons or 2.5 million pounds of rock!

As this trail is within a designated wilderness boundary, all work was completed using rock bars or by hand. After the completion of the new trail it was opened to the public and the crew turned their attention to decommissioning and restoring the route of the old trail.

Arizona National Scenic Trail Repair

This Wednesday, an ACE crew returns from a project on the Arizona National Scenic Trail (ANST). The project is a partnership between Tonto National Forest, Mesa Ranger District, the Arizona Trail Association, and ACE. The goal of the project is to renovate 4.6 miles of the ANST, which has suffered from decades of neglect exacerbated by significant erosion as a result of the 2012 Sunflower Fire.

After the fire, the monsoon rains ripped the original trail to pieces, and flooding caused significant sloughing from the steep slopes that are a prominent feature in the area. The initial trail is nearly indistinguishable, and hikers frequently have gotten lost in the area, making it unsafe. When renovation is complete, a portion of the ANST will be redirected from the current unsustainable trail to a new route. The new route will connect to the Cornucopia Trail, an old mining trail that is part of the state trails system in the area.

Mount Peely Trail before trail dozer

Mount Peely Trail before trail dozer

The project featured the use of one of ACE’s trail bulldozers (SWECO), which cut the initial tread of the new route and significantly lessened the work for the hand crews that followed behind. The dozer was an essential machine in the creation of the reroute because of the excessive sloughing of soil and the prodigious plant growth that had all but destroyed the old path.

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The SWECO cuts the initial tread of the new route.

Corps members work on the trail after the trail dozer

Corps members work on the trail after the trail dozer

The project has required two years of logistical planning, mapping, site visits, and permit acquisition. Crews can only work at the site at certain times of the year, weather permitting. The types of work that the crew focused on were trail stabilization, water, and erosion control. They used hand tools to smooth out the tread, establish the critical edge and a stable backslope, and to brush back encroaching vegetation. This work will ensure that the trail corridor is wide enough to accommodate the intended user groups and conform to USFS standards.

The trail after corps members

The trail after corps members have smoothed out the surface and repaired the critical edge

Corps member brushing the trail corridor

Corps member brushing the trail corridor

The crew camped just off the trail in a very remote backcountry setting, which lacked facilities but included gorgeous views of craggy mountain peaks and narrow canyons. This project will take seven weeks to complete, and afterwards the trail will be restored to a sustainable condition and will be accessible so that the public can safely enjoy the beautiful scenery and appreciate the rugged landscapes.

Crew Campsite

The crew camped just off the trail in a very remote backcountry setting, which lacked facilities but included gorgeous views of craggy mountain peaks and narrow canyons

Daniel Boone National Forest, Kentucky.

Rounding up our recent visit to ACE Southeast we feature a project in Daniel Boone National Forest, Kentucky, where ACE has just completed work in four of the Forest’s Ranger Districts: Redbird, Sterns, London, and Cumberland. Within each Ranger District, the ACE crew worked alongside Forest Service employees on trail projects of various complexity.

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In the Redbird and Stearns Ranger Districts the general focus of the work was to repair and build drains, and brushing the trail to increase the width of the trail corridor.

Over in the London and Cumberland Ranger districts, the crew undertook more technical work including staircase construction, rock work, and new trail construction. Furthermore, the crew assisted the Forest Service with a cleanup project after a spate of recent tornadoes and severe thunderstorms.

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Our photojournalist met up with the crew that was completing work on a trail in the Stearns Ranger District. Brushing the trail was the top priority, but corps members also worked to repair the trail tread. These efforts will increase trail accessibility to visitors.

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During the 14 week project the crew completed more than 50 miles of trail maintenance and new tread construction. The majority of these trail projects are in economically depressed areas, and the Forest Service is hopeful that new trails will reinvigorate tourism in those areas.

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Daniel Boone National Forest is the only national forest completely within the boundary of Kentucky. The forest is geologically very interesting, with numerous arches and rock formations that make it relatively unique in the Southeast. The forest’s namesake, Daniel Boone, was a frontiersman and explorer in the late 18th century who contributed to the exploration and settlement of the state of Kentucky.

Arizona Trail Association Receives Top Honors

On Saturday, September 12 ACE’s Intermountain Regional Director Matt Roberts was invited to a prestigious event to celebrate the Arizona Trail Association receiving top honors at Arizona Forward’s 35th Annual Environmental Excellence Awards ceremony in Phoenix.

The Arizona Trail Association was awarded The Crescordia, Arizona Forward’s highest accolade, for its “unique approach to fostering long-term environmental sustainability throughout the state”. This award is well deserved: The Arizona Trail Association is behind a range of innovative programs such as the Seeds of Stewardship program, which encourages youth engagement, environmental education and stewardship; the Gateway Community program, which seeks to increase tourism and business development within the Arizona Trail’s 33 gateway communities; health and wellness challenges for the business community; and supporting Warrior Hikers to “walk off the war” along the Arizona Trail.

ACE is a strong supporter and partner of the Arizona Trail Association, and has contributed to the Arizona National Scenic Trail’s construction and maintenance for many years with thousands of hours of trail crew time dedicated to the task. On a personal level, Matt Roberts also serves as a volunteer Arizona Trail Steward for Segment 27c (Highline), volunteers with the Seeds of Stewardship program, and contributes, as an instructor, to the ATA Trail Work Training series.

Arizona Forward initiated the Environmental Excellence Awards in 1980 to recognize outstanding contributions to the physical environment of Arizona’s communities. The awards serve as a benchmark for promoting sustainability, conserving natural resources and preserving the unique desert environment for future generations. Over 120 entries were received in 2015, and 17 Crescordia Awards were given. To learn more, please visit arizonforward.org.

Pictured above are (left to right) Steve Seleznow, President & CEO, Arizona Community Foundation; Larry Snead, ATA Vice President of Board Development; Paul Burghard, Tonto National Forest; Lyn Harry White, former ATA Board Member; Eric Hiser, ATA Board President; Jan Hancock, ATA Board Secretary; Matt Roberts, Intermountain Region Director, American Conservation Experience; Dawn Collins, Chief of Resources & Public Programs, Arizona State Parks; and Robert Foster, ATA Supporter.

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

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.

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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: Ventana Wilderness Alliance

This week we feature our partnership with the Ventana Wilderness Alliance (VWA), a non-profit grass roots organization dedicated to the protection, preservation, and restoration of the wilderness areas within California’s northern Santa Lucia Mountains and the Big Sur Coast (Featured header image. Photo credit: Brandon. Used under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0. Generic License).

ACE Crew working on the Ventana Wilderness Trail System

ACE Crew working on the Ventana Wilderness Trail System

ACE’s partnership with the VWA began with the opening of ACE California in 2007. Since then ACE corps members and volunteers have contributed tens of thousands of hours of work to the protection of the Ventana Wilderness, and to the maintenance of public trails within the Ventana back country. One of the stated purposes of the VWA is to nurture effective and cooperative relationships with similarly concerned organizations, and ACE is proud to find itself within this category.

The Ford F150 truck which ACE donated to the VWA in December 2014

The Ford F150 truck which ACE donated to the VWA in December 2014

In December 2014, ACE donated a Ford F150 truck to the VWA. The vehicle is of particular benefit to Youth In Wilderness, VWA Trail Crews, and Volunteer Wilderness Rangers as they continue their efforts to preserve, protect, and restore the Ventana Wilderness. Rich Popchak, Communications and Development Director at the VWA, expressed his gratitude to ACE President Chris Baker:

“The Ventana Wilderness Alliance greatly appreciates the 4-wheel drive pickup that the American Conservation Experience donated to our nonprofit organization. Not only will this vehicle simplify the administration of our stewardship activities, it will also improve employee happiness and retention since our staffers will not have to use their personal vehicles nearly as much as in the past. This is a win-win for our organization and our education partners in the Youth in Wilderness program. The VWA is very thankful to ACE for this donation and we look forward to working together to improve trail access in the Ventana and Silver Peak Wilderness areas in 2015.”

At the time of writing, ACE Crews are at work on the network of trails in the Silver Peak Wilderness (just south of the Ventana Wilderness). The crews are performing maintenance on the Cruikshank and Buckeye Trails. In April efforts will focus on the Black Cone Trail, part of the Tassajara Trail network.

ACE would like to thank the Ventana Wilderness Alliance for their continued support and partnership!

To read more about the Ventana Wilderness Alliance please visit their website, and check them out on Facebook.

ACE in the news!

On Thursday, Feb. 19, ACE was involved in a trail maintenance and improvement project organized by Southwest Utah National Conservation Lands Friends (SUNCLF) at the Halfway Wash Trail in Paradise Canyon. The project was a collaboration of the Dixie Mountain Bike Trail Association, Red Cliffs Desert Reserve, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and Paradise Canyon Homeowners Association.

According to the BLM, the Paradise Canyon trail system had an estimated 21,288 visitors between October 2013 and September 2014. The system connects with the network of trails north of Paradise Canyon, including Paradise Rim, Turtle Wall, Chuckwalla, and Beck Hill. You can read the full story in the Southern Utah Independent.

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