The Student Conservation Association is mounting a largescale, collaborative, youth-fueled recovery program to repair storm-damaged public lands throughout the New York-New Jersey area. SCA restoration teams will address urgent ecological needs at a range of sites, from national parks to local waterfronts, employing the organization’s considerable institutional experience and expertise. Current plans call for the engagement of more than 200 primarily local youth and young adults this spring and summer and as many as 1,000 students over the next three years.
Sandy’s environmental damage is substantial. In addition to damaging historic structures, visitor centers and park offices, the storm destroyed wildlife habitats, dumped tons of sand and debris, and wiped out trails and campgrounds. “Our immediate objective is to help ready these parks for the summer season,” states SCA Director of Program Innovation Laura Herrin. “This region has proven its resilience time and again and our young people here are ready to do whatever it takes.”
Among the largest projects, SCA is partnering with The National Parks of New York Harbor to coordinate a comprehensive youth engagement effort at Gateway National Recreation Area, one of the region’s hardest hit sites. SCA will remove massive piles of wreckage, uprooted trees and beach sand. In addition, members will conduct environmental impact studies, reforest and replant washed out areas, restore damaged habitats and coordinate other volunteer groups. SCA is reaching out to potential partners including the Jamaica Bay Conservation Corps and The Corps Network to add hands and speed to the recovery effort.
An SCA advance team will soon assess Gateway’s Jamaica Bay and Staten Island units and work with park managers to develop a restoration plan for refuge islands, Jacob Riis Park, Fort Wadsworth, Miller Field and more. “These sites are rich in heritage and personal meaning for the people of New York-New Jersey,” notes Herrin. “As we help these landmarks heal and restore public access to them, local residents may visit to aid their own healing process.”
SCA’s own history has come into play at The National Parks of New York Harbor. Giles Parker, the chief of staff, began his park career as an SCA intern in 1994. Carol Whipple, on assignment at New York Harbor from the NPS Denver operations center, is an alumna. Tim Hudson, Gateway’s newly appointed hurricane recovery coordinator, worked with SCA 25 years ago when he was chief of maintenance at Yellowstone and SCA conducted a far-reaching wildfire recovery project. More recently, SCA led flood-restoration efforts at Mount Rainier National Park and assisted in the Gulf oil spill environmental response.
Part of the SCA response at Gateway will be a special team funded by American Eagle Outfitters. “We’re very excited to support the National Parks of New York Harbor because we know the need there is so critical,” says American Eagle Outfitters Foundation Director Marcie Eberhart.
Other SCA volunteers will continue to aid Hudson River Park, an estuarine sanctuary on Manhattan’s west side that was battered by Sandy. An additional SCA team will restore portions of Morristown National Historical Park in New Jersey. Still other SCA crews will serve in New Jersey state parks, including Cheesquake and Voorhees, where SCA earlier volunteers assisted in the initial storm clean-up.
Beyond specific recovery projects, SCA members will conduct public outreach and provide environmental education throughout the restoration effort, relying on social media to tap into recreational, birding and other networks.
Their morning commute is a 35 minute hike past colossal cacti and under constant sun. Not a Starbucks or a donut shop in sight. Once they arrive, they use some admittedly silly routines to ensure everyone is stretched before they pick up their tools and go to work.
This is how every day has started for nearly the past two weeks. When the Alternative Spring Break team from Vermont Academy arrived at Saguaro National Park on March 6, is was still cold and wintery. A massive hail storm marked their first day, and even last night wicked winds snapped two tent poles and ripped a rainfly. Today, however, temperatures will reach into the upper 80s but the crew cannot afford to slowdown.
They have to finish a reroute of Garwood Trail, worn down to some places more than three feet below the rest of the terrain by constant equestrain use. It's hard work but not without its rewards. Student Mike Reilly says "This is definitely one of the most challenging things I've ever done. But it's fun to challenge yourself."
Shelby Johnson adds the ASB has changed her entire perspective on parks. "When you walk the trails you don't really think about what it takes to maintain them. You just think, 'oh, this is a nice trail.' But when you're here doing the work you discover just how hard it can be."
I just posted dozens of new pix on Flickr that illustrate a Day in the Life of this ASB crew. Take a look...
I've seen some worn trails but never one like this before.
You might think I was still at Grand Canyon but look closely. This is the Garwood Trail at Saguaro National Park East near Tucson. Heavy equestrian use has turned the trail into a trench.
This SCA ASB crew -- all volunteers from Vermont Academy -- has been working for the past week and a half to restore the hazardous trail. In some cases they've re-routed it, and revegged and refilled old sections to discourage continued use.
Where do they get the plants they stick in the ground? From anywhere nearby, usually from right along the trail where they may pose a hazard. It took four students to transplant this thorny ocotillo.
By the time they were done, the team from V.A. had performed their camouflage and removed any trace of the old route.
Great work, everybody. Next post, we'll spend the whole day with this hard working team!
I'm sitting here in a park cafeteria that won't open for another hour, the lights down low and a couple of staffers puttering about. Five for Fighting's "What Kind of World Do You Want?" is coming out of the ceiling speakers. Seems entirely appropriate.
Day 2 of SCA's Grand Canyon ASB was pretty spectacular, especially considering it wouldn't have happened if not for heavy snow cover at the planned reveg site. The team -- 29 in all with another 30 due the week after next -- split into thirds. One squad returned to Kaibab to continue snow removal; another ventured a mile and a half down the trail to remove graffiti, while another graffiti group hiked three miles down Bright Angel Trail. I hung with them.
The first mile was insane. Whereas Kaibab's first quarter mile or so had been covered with hard packed snow, Angel's entire first mile was slick with thick ice, compacted over a winter of mule and hiker traffic and largely shielded from sunlight. It was slow, careful going for the first hour.
Eventually, we reached a small pavilion where visitors tend to take a break on their way to Indian Garden or Phantom Ranch. Of course, this wilderness experience can only be enhanced by carving your name into a rock. So the SCA team -- about eight in all -- began roaming around, on the lookout for unauthorized messages.
To be honest, I was expecting we'd find bulletin boards worth of hand scratched text but we discovered only a few Mike's and Ashley's. The team, using water, wire brushes, sandpaper and elbow grease, quickly relegated these misguided bids for immortality to obscurity. The work done, there's was only one thing left to do: head back up. And that's where we found The Motherload.
About halfway to the rim, a rock outcrop simply begged for attention. It offered plenty of room to stretch out, the renewing warmth of the sun, and a particularly awesome view. Kerry White, a UNH Conservation major, and Geoff Toy, a history major from Kenyon, strolled over and found the site had been turned into a billboard. Mostly names and dates, though one witty scribe etched "Turn Back Now!"
Geoff later told me that after visiting numerous national parks, he began to think about how many people it takes to maintain them. "You know: staff, rangers, search and recue teams," he said. "And I thought I get so much enjoyment from the places they support, it was time for me to give back. So, here I am."
That is clearly the outlook of this entire ASB team. They're unphased by the change in work plan, happy to be here and eager to do anything that needs doing.
What kind of world do you want? Think anything. Let's start at the start. Build a masterpiece. Or, given that this is already a masterpiece, let's just all chip in and help take care of it.
Dawn had hardly broken and two hikers had broken their wrists on icy South Kaibab Trail at Grand Canyon NP. At the same time, the one-time parking lot SCA's Alternative Spring Break team was to reveg was still covered in snow, so: activate Plan B. The crew would remove some 18" of ice and snow from the popular South Rim trail -- but not until the afternoon.
The crew started their first full day in the park with an orientation. Restoration Biologist and SCA alumna Kassy Theobald briefed the 29 volunteers on the invasive threat and efforts to salvage and propagate native species at Grand Canyon.
SCA intern Emily Douglas, a rare plant specialist, then lead the team on a tour of the park's greenhouses, and from there it was on to the South Kaibab Trail head. In a previous post, I mentioned my own harrowing experience with this icy route; if only I'd waited.
Hikers who'd descended while uttering prayers to their Maker effusively thanked the SCA volunteers for making their return trek safer. Those who only began their explorations in the afternoon had no idea what they'd been spared. Other ASBers removed graffiti (what are these inscribers thinking?) from nearby overlooks. See the latest pix at http://www.flickr.com/photos/the-sca.
Also, the Phoenix NBC affiliate broadcast a nice report.