The past two weeks have been a whirlwind of activity and Mike, Sophie and I are in the eye of the storm. We started the month of April by getting down to business. The surveys for the Army Corps of Engineers have been going swimmingly as the weather perked up and the people peeped out of their rainy-weather holes. We have all been working, planning out the rest of the spring program as we’ve all realized we have a little over a month before it’s over. With that, we three put our heads together and locked in our conservation projects, our volunteer opportunities, as well as solidifying the mundane, but necessary, tasks of everyday life.
Mike and I met up with Denise Weyer from Shelby Bottoms Park, who has been an incredible asset in getting our Conservation Project up and running. Then Mike met with an avid birder- Ed Schneider, a bird photographer who has traveled the world and is probably the only one more gung-ho about our workshop besides us. Since we both have an interest in birds and wanted to partner up with Shelby Park to facilitate a workshop focused on the impact of humans to birds and vice versa; as well as understanding that birds are integral to developing the richness and diversity of this earth. We have a workshop scheduled at the end of May where we will both be leading a group of homeschool students! I continued to meet with Denise, as Mike met with a man about “Saving the Cumberland”- an initiative to raise awareness surrounding the rising pollution in the Cumberland River through education and research. Mike also had his own volunteer adventure food sorting 7,000 lbs of food for family in needs for the Second Harvest Non-Profit in Nashville.
The other Conservation Project that I, Sophie and Mike all have been making moves on is our vermicomposting, or as it’s commonly known: “worm bins.” Worm bins are a self-sustaining composting system that we will be experimenting with as none of us have done it before. Although we have all had experiences in composting, we are interested to see how worm bins would work as it would be self-sustaining, more efficient for a shorter time period given to us, and we get to play with worms! As we are trying to do all of our projects on as little of a budget as possible, kind people, donations, gifts, and friends come in amazingly handy. I was able to scrounge up some a truck, shovel, buckets, a drill, and soil from my boyfriend, who is as manly as he gets. We all have been saving up our compost and once we get the worms, we’ll be all ready to go!
In preparation for getting up close and personal with worms, Mike, Sophie and I had the rewarding experience of volunteering with The Nashville Food Project (http://www.thenashvillefoodproject.org/)-. A very inspiring organization, this small group of people plant, harvest, cultivate, prepare and cook meals, then deliver them to various locations throughout Nashville to those in need. It was fun getting dirty in the ground: we helped gardening and stirring the compost. It was even more enjoyable knowing that the people who run The Nashville Food Project clearly care about the love that goes into growing and making healthy, fresh food for the people in need.
This gave us some ideas for our little house Garden. Our Garden came into fruition starting with me and Sophie trekking over to haul 50 cinderblocks into a truck and then from the truck to our back lawn. Needless to say we got a work out that day. After that, our kindly neighbor lent us his rotor-tiller, and I, having no prior experience of this strange contraption, researched and learned the ins and outs of the Mantis. I then started it, tilling the ground, at first having a momentary sense of panic rise in me when I realized I had a death machine in my hands. That quickly subsided as I tilled the earth, gaining control and creating a little plot where we will plant our food.
The two week whirlwind ended with a visit from our supervisor, Alex, where he was able to observe us in our survey skills and sit down with us to play a solid game of “Munchkin”- probably one of the most addicting, complex, and bizarre games out there (and for full disclosure: I won!). Mike and Sophie got to see Shawn Camp, a country artist who has captivated their hearts, and I got to dance to Elton John singing Tiny Dancer. All in all, the month of April is shaping up to be a promising one. Spring has officially arrived: and with that a fresh new excitement in rounding out our Conservation Projects and visitation surveys!
Written by Eva.
Greetings from the Army Corps of Engineers, Visitor Use Survey team here in Cumming Georgia. We have been hard at work these past two weeks with our surveys and gaining all sorts of insight into the public use of Army Corps Of Engineers’ recreation sites. In our off time and conservation work days we have been even harder at work, getting involved with the local community and parks.
On my drive down to Georgia from New York I stopped by a beautiful site known at Tallulah Gorge. The sites at the gorge took my breath away, as did all of the amazing rock climbing and bouldering available. My only problem with being trained in trail construction is you can never hike a trail without seeing work to be done and I sure saw a lot of work that needed to be done on the climbing trail at Tallulah Gorge. After gaining insight from the park and local climbing community, I got to work on a previously abandoned trail. It was in desperate need of re-blazing and when following the trail I found in many places social trails had developed due to obstructions from years ago. With a great deal of care I re-opened the original trail, covered social trails. I also blazed the trail carefully, and made sure to keep a primitive back country look to this spectacular climbing site’s approach.
Clayton was hard at work this week with the American Chestnut Tree restoration project at Allatoona Lake. They are working hard to protect the trees from viscous predators like the infamous white tail deer. Ok, so not the most dangerous of beasts, but they can sure chomp down on young trees. So Clayton worked hard at putting up nets to protect the programs young trees and the future of the American Chestnut Tree as a species. In other updates the garden is growing nicely and both Michael and Clayton have had an easy week of maintenance due to good design there are no weeds to pluck and lots of rain has made for little watering to need to be done.
Leah has been hard at work as our program manager, Alex Olsen, visited our site for mid program evaluations. While getting Alex up to speed about everything we have been doing, she also managed to set up a great conservation work day we could all do together. On the Chattahoochee River two enormous trees fell on a hiking and mountain biking trail. We came on site armed with chainsaws and rigging equipment ready for action. To our surprise the trees were much bigger than expected and suspended by a stump 10 feet in the air. Talk about safety hazards, we had to pull out all the tricks to make a safe area of this trail and not jeopardize our own safety in the process. With some fancy chainsaw work courtesy of Clayton’s experience in the desert restoration corps, and some unique rigging courtesy of Michael’s leader team experience in Lake Tahoe we were able to help the park staff and SCA intern Justin and very knowledgeable volunteer Lynn, drop cut and move those trees off the trail in just one day. We thank Justin and Lynn for the opportunity to help the community and all of the skills we learned from them about tree removal and poison ivy control (some of us are still a little itchy despite best efforts though).
We look forward to our next conservation projects and more surveys as the weather continues to improve here in Georgia, the recreation is increasing as well. Hot, busy, and getting rained down on by pollen… we will send another update soon on our adventures with The SCA.
We started this work week at the Audubon center where we learned how to do MIMS and the woody plant line transect. We then finished our day at Phoenix College like we usually do. On Tuesday morning we headed out to Agua Fria National Monument River Bend to collect data using the methods that we learned at Audubon. We also did the ripple to pool ratio on the river to find out more about the residual pools. The monitoring we did will help us find out the health of this riparian habitat which in turn will help management make decisions on this land. Finally, on Friday we went to Table Mesa to rehab some old roads. We restored 3 roads and even exceeded the quota for this project!
Well, March turned out to be quite a busy month for us here at Lake Berryessa. With our schedule packed full of awesome work projects and incredible trainings we brought the term “March Madness” to a whole new level. Not to mention four of us were rooting for our respective teams in the tourney, which fueled a fun, friendly bracket challenge amongst us. We even enjoyed the company and help of the Oakland Community crew for a day of collaboration between the Corps and Community programs.
To start things off, the crew jumped immediately into “trail weird” mode and finished the last of the re-routes on the Smittle Creek trail – a whopping 200 feet of hypothetical questions, “returning” items to customer service and Emilio Estevez jokes. We spent a day fixing/replacing a section of timber steps and doing some finishing touches to the trail before switching locales and making the daily commute to Markley Cove. Our focus for the rest of the week turned back to rigging and rock steps at the dreaded pullout #12, where we had begun staging rocks in the previous hitch. It was slow going, and at times very tedious and frustrating trying to get rocks to fit the right way in the holes or gargoyles to match up and have at least three points of contact. Tensions rose and fell like the waves lapping at the shore where we gathered our rocks. Thus is the nature of rock work and as such we grew to have better and more effective communication, increased patience and a greater awareness of our own personal responses to stress. The final result gave us sixteen beautiful rock steps that make the path from the pullout to the water safer, more user-friendly, and hopefully with minimal erosion.
During the following hitch we quickly finished setting a final step and bid farewell to pullout #12 for bluer waters and shorter slopes right down the road at pullout #13. We took a quick detour back to Smittle for a day to replace a small bridge, and then shifted our attention to preparations for the arrival of the Oakland Community Crew to help with 2 rock projects: a retaining wall and more steps. We began figuring out the highline system and getting things into place and everything was going relatively smoothly. Perhaps a little too smoothly, so of course I found a way to shake things up which is how my finger ended up caught between a rock and a hard place, or more specifically, a rock bar. This led to a whirlwind afternoon trip to the ER, 7 stitches, a splint, and a bit of perspective to remind us of the dangers of our work. This also gave the crew a chance to practice their WFR (Wilderness First Responder) skills in the field and made for a great teachable moment for the Community Crew when they arrived 2 days later, I did not catch a single member without gloves on the whole time we were working. It was fun having fresh faces at the work site and I know we all enjoyed the chance to put the leadership skills we’ve been developing to the test.
We were fortunate to be able to spend our off time with not one, but two wonderful trainings with the infamous and masterful Dolly Chapman, learning all the ins and outs of crosscut saws. (I knew I could work a pun into this post if I tried.) The first break we headed to Pollock Pines Ranger District in the Eldorado National Forest and spent 3 days in the lap of luxury staying at the fire barracks, complete with big screen T.V. and all manner of ridiculous movies. (Big Trouble in Little China, anyone?) We learned the proper way to use crosscuts and got lots of practice bucking and clearing downed trees with a variety of different saws and implements. The second break was another journey, this time north to Calpine, CA where we disperse camped on Tahoe National Forest land with only the smallest remnants of snow still left on the ground. Here we were bestowed with all the knowledge and tools necessary to properly sharpen and tune crosscut saws. This has fueled once again the desire of some folks on the crew to become “a slave to an age old trade,” and this may now actually provide them with a feasible opportunity.
When all is said and done, the hard work, frustration and lack of sleep was well worth it to see the completion of structures that will be here for decades, gain knowledge and skills that are becoming a lost art and be rejuvenated by the spark in the high-schoolers who are well on their way to being some of the next great conservation leaders.
Memories of howling, hissing winds, frigid nights, and evenings without daylight are but a cracked film reel in our mind’s eye. The images collected over the past ten days conjure only the warm spectrum of sevenfold color seen at sunrise and sunset.
Spring has sprung in the Mojave Desert marking a shift not only in our exposure to the sun, but also in our season of restoration; we are entering the home stretch. With but three full hitches remaining, the Rands crew strapped on their worn work boots and headed back to the field. Inspired by calm nights that asked us to listen to the soft musings of swaying creosote limbs we embraced the rising temperatures and hit our stride doing what we do best: camouflage restoration. Vertical mulch flourished along incursions like tulips stroked into a watercolor painting. Our breaths-although sometimes labored as we re-acclimated to the aridity and heat of the warming desert-seemed to release fresh air into the Rand Mountain Management Area. Hailing from the Northeast, much of the crew had previously shroud spring not in symbols of perennial growth and rejuvenation but rather in recollections of salt-stained stretches of road and trees still sagging beneath snow. Here, in California, however the equinox excited the senses; bustling bugs (sometimes sadly stationed in our humble tent homes), flowering Joshua trees, and sprouting stands of native plants provided subtle inspiration and helped us to focus our efforts on the dynamic desert that we occasionally find droning.
Blues-infused guitar tabs with a BLM botany intern, a relaxed visit from our beloved contact, Dana, and an educational field trip to the otherworldly tufa towers at the Trona Pinnacles kept our spirits lifted as the hitch progressed.
Longer days of light and carefree demeanors, however could not keep conversations constantly buoyant. Despite our best efforts to remain present, we are not akin to the hearty creosote bush; we cannot simply wait for the next desert rain. Our best defense against the drought is to pick up our roots and find a home that can better support our thirst. We have all found ourselves with our minds focused on which cardinal direction our feet will be pointed on that final day of this desert experience. For one of our own, that day has come early. We wish Ryan the best of luck as he turns east to Ohio to complete bat fatality surveys as a biological science technician. Thank you for your work and the laughs!
By: Bridget Tevnan