Hitch 7 - Out With a Bang!

As the last day of surveying brought the surveying season to an end, this amazing SCA crew didn’t slow down. We jumped into a few conservation projects as soon as surveying ended, one of which was completely new. We took advantage of this week, worked hard, and enjoy our last bit of time together as a team. We literally could not fit more into this week (well, almost). In any case, it was a whirlwind of a week.

9/2/2012 – Surveying Finale:
It finally arrived. The last official day of surveying was today. It was a long time coming, but we made it through the season alive. Though, surveying didn’t end quietly. Being the day before Labor Day, we had many visitors pass through. We got a few unsavory people, but it didn’t break our stride as we crossed the finish line.

9/3/2012 to 9/4/2012 – TNC Tallgrass Prairie Preserve:
We had such a great time here at the beginning of the season that it was a no-brainer to return to the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve for a bit of conservation work and relaxing. Yes, it is possible to do both at once. Bob Hamilton, the Research Director at the preserve, was kind enough to set us up at the Foreman’s House, a bunkhouse where visitors to the preserve can stay while working, studying, or researching. Kevin, one of the full-time cowboys at the preserve, took us out to remove old barbed-wire fence the first day. With the bison and cattle free to roam across the preserve, fences within the preserve are largely unnecessary. After the acquisition of some new property, an old fence needed removing, and we six young, healthy, strong, conservation-minded individuals were up for the task. We removed two different fences, one along a treed road and the other in the middle of the prairie. Fence removal is never easy, especially when it has been overgrown by vines and trees, but we made quick work of it. We took out one-half mile of posts and fence, leaving no trace. The second day, we gave a new section of steel fence two lovely coats of paint. We learned that using old (clean) socks is the best way to paint the fence. By lunch, we had completed the entire 100 yards of the fence and called it a day, spending the afternoon relaxing and enjoying our surroundings before heading back home. To complete our visit, a large heard of bison decided to hang out on the road, showing us their best side for some photos on the way out.

9/5/2012 – Surveying?:
Well, although we are awesome, we are not perfect. A couple of mistakes were made during the survey season. To clean up the mistakes, two of us surveyed early today, collecting the needed data. In all, we had few mistakes. Three survey periods required resurveying, two were completed today and the other earlier last week. With the surveys completed early in the day, we started cleaning and packing things before we headed to Tulsa for one more night out on the town.

9/6/2012 – A Day Off?:
A conservation project scheduled for today fell through. Instead of completing trail work, we slept in and spent the rest of the day playing and cooking out at one of our survey sites. It was the first time we had all gone together to one of our survey sites and not surveyed. It was about time, too. It was a beautiful day. Even the thunderstorms that rolled through didn’t dampen our spirits.

9/7/2012 – Trail Building:
After a long time away, we finally returned to a project we started early in the season, constructing a trail at the Overlook of the Fort Gibson Lake Dam. Our first visit here was spent flagging the path of half of the trail and removing old fence. The work was difficult since no trail yet existed, the slope was steep, and we were largely on our own to figure things out. However, our return today was quite a contrary experience. Since our first visit, the lead ranger for the lake had seen our work and become excited about it. Also, our point of contact for the lake had organized a small band of rangers and equipment to tackle the heavy lifting and mechanical work. We found six rangers had beaten us to the trail that morning and were already working! We started brushing the trail when we arrived, and, once we were done with that, headed over to the last section that required flagging. By lunch, we had flagged the entire trail, brushed it completely, and cleared all of the groundcover. Now, the significant amount of rock work and bridge installation required can take place. We were surprised and happy to see the rangers out working with us, just as they were happy with and motivated by our earlier work. It felt as if we did little today, but as one ranger put it, “you all are what motivated us to get out here and do this.” We know their schedules usually prevented working together on a project like that, so we were truly thankful for the help and happy to provide a little inspiration.

9/8/2012 – Interpretive Signs:
We couldn’t stop at completely rehabilitating the Overlook Trail of Tenkiller Ferry Lake, we needed to add value. Even on our last Saturday together, when sitting idle was completely acceptable, everyone volunteered to give up free time to finish a project we had proposed a few weeks ago, had been working on since, and were ready to complete. After first seeing the Overlook Trail, Alaina realized it would be the perfect place for interpretive signs. The trail was an easy course, used regularly, and near the ranger offices making sign upkeep easy. Alaina organized everyone and oversaw the design of six signs that teach about 12 species likely to be seen in the area. Today we constructed the posts and placed them on the trail, the guys digging postholes and the girls helping the rangers put the signs together. We even saw hikers enjoying the sings, a family with two young children.

9/9/2012 to 9/10/2012 – Bittersweet:
Our last two days together were really only one, since everyone flying home had to be at the airport early Monday morning. Final preparations were made and cleaning took place. Most furniture was sold. What remained would be moved, the few housing items obtained during the season going to new homes. The houses, now nice and shiny for their next families, lost their feeling of home as each member emptied a room. We took a few moments before heading to bed to talk about the season. There was much each of us had learned about the ACE, about each other, and about ourselves. We each have a favorite place or a favorite experience from the season. There are also things we will miss about our temporary home here in Muskogee, but we all agreed that what will be missed most is what we had come to rely on this season, each other, our little community, our team. Abby’s mom flew in so that she and Abby could take the road trip home together. Christa dove the short distance to her home. Alaina, Jeff, and Ryne flew away early Monday. Josh will leave soon. We had reached the end of our time together, excited for what the future holds but sad to part ways.