Grand Canyon South Rim Trail and Campground Stewardship and Maintenance

Project Location: Grand Canyon National Park

Project Partner:  National Park Service (NPS)

Hitch Accomplishments:  Collected and disposed of 61.4 lbs. of microtrash; Cleaned 174 campsites/firepits.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018:

This week, the Phoenix Field School headed northward to Grand Canyon National Park, one of the seven wonders of the natural world, to assist the National Park Service (NPS) with completing vital annual site stewardship efforts in the Park’s campground, visitor areas, and trails on the South Rim. Through completion of these projects, the Field School members directly aided the NPS with critical habitat management in high visitor use areas by removing micro-trash and litter that may endanger the health of the Park’s wildlife, such as the endangered California Condor which often mistake micro-trash as food which they cannot digest. The crew also completed routine maintenance of campground sites  by removing excess ash from fire pits at the popular Mather Ground helping keep the sites clean and enhancing the park experience for visitors. The Field School crew arrived at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon by 8:00 am on Tuesday morning after spending the night in Flagstaff Monday night to ensure an early arrival to the park for the start of the week’s project. After checking into the Park’s volunteer cabins, the crew’s homestead for the week, the students performed a stretch and safety circle, team building activity, and headed to the South Rim while waiting to meet with the project sponsor for the day’s work project. For Tuesday’s project, the crew worked around the South Rim Visitor Center and the famous Mather Point, collecting and removing 28.5 lbs of micro trash, while getting to enjoy the beautiful scenery of the Grand Canyon.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018:

On Wednesday morning, the Field School crew headed to the Park’s Headquarters at 8:30 am for an hour long presentation regarding the impacts of micro-trash in the park as well as the impact of lead toxicity and bioaccumulation in wildlife due to micro-trash consumption, particularly in California condors who often end of dying of starvation or impaction as they cannot digest micro trash. Afterwards, the crew traveled to Desert View and hiked around with the NPS project sponsors learning more about the Park’s diverse resources before breaking for an early lunch. After lunch, the crew jumped into project mode and picked up micro-trash for several hours around the Desert View visitor center, parking lot and Watchtower enjoying the views of the canyon despite the cold temperature. On the way back to Park Headquarters for the close of the day, the crew stopped at Grandview Point, site of the first place on the rim to be developed for tourists, including a hotel, back in 1895, though now it is home to the trailhead of the Grandview Trail. After scouring the area for microtrash, properly disposed of the day’s collected 32.9 lbs. of micro trash.

Thursday, March 1, 2018:  

On Thursday morning, the Field School crew headed to the Park Headquarters for an hour long educational presentation on how the park is making efforts to reduce their carbon footprint (Park received over 6 million visitors in 2017!) by improving their trash disposal practices by transitioning to a single stream waste disposal system that would be sorted and processed at the park. After the presentation, the crew met with NPS Park Maintenance Staff, Dwayne and Mary, and followed them to the Mather Campground. After conducting the day’s safety circle,  the students paired up to remove limestone and excess ash from campsites and fire pits. Park visitors often throw limestone into the fire pits under the assumption that the heat may intensify or last longer or will also bury their fires with rocks thinking the flames will be extinguished. However, limestone does not hold much heat and rather will crack, crumble, and create excess matter that needs to be removed. Throughout the day’s project, the crew had the opportunity to observe several members of one of the Park’s most famous inhabitants, Rocky Mountain Elk (nonnative to Grand Canyon, introduced in the early 20th Century for game). The crew kept a safe distance from the present elk as they removed limestone and excess ash  from 174 campsite fire pits of the total of 184 sites within three of the campground’s main loops (Aspen, Fir, and Juniper). Ten sites were skipped as they were either occupied by campers or elk. By completing maintenance ad stewardship of three of the seven loops (a total of 326 campsites), the Field School crew helped save the Park’s maintenance staff nearly a week and a half of labor, helping ensure that the campground sites were maintained and safe for upcoming visitor use.

Friday, March  2, 2018:

On Friday morning, the Field School crew started the day by “breaking down camp,” conducting a thorough cleaning of the cabins generously provided by the NPS before heading over to the park’s Emergency Response Center at 9:30am. Here the crew participated in an hour long educational presentation learning about the requirements necessary to conduct search and response and how the NPS responds to medical emergencies in the park throughout the year. Also, the students were able to see and learn more about the rescue equipment used by the Park.  The students, with their WFA training, were able to be fully engaged in the tour and lessons. Additionally, the students learned more about how to begin a career with the NPS, highlighting volunteering and internships as opportunities to gain practical work experience and networking with the agency. After bidding goodbye to the Grand Canyon NP and the week’s project sponsor’s, the crew stopped by the South Rim Visitor Center to participate in an educational lesson led by Field School member, Jeff regarding animal tracking before beginning the long drive back to Phoenix for the close of the week.

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