The past two months have been great! I started October on vacation in the northeast. Marah and I camped and hiked throughout the beautiful fall foliage in places such as Green Mountain National Forest, Acadia National Park, and Baxter State Park. Climbing Mount Katahdin, the highest peak in Maine, was a fantastic experience. I highly recommend it to everyone who has a chance to visit Maine.
Upon returning to work we had quite a few days in the field to get some things done before the weather got too cold. We were at Rices Landing to finish cleaning up the lock wall. It is now all weeded and swept up. Pt. Marion also needed some more work done at the park, so we finished up cleaning around the public docks.
I was on the radio for the first time in my life with Jeff on the Buy Local Radio Show. It was a pretty nerve-wracking experience to be live on the air, but I ended up having a blast. We talked about some of the projects we completed this year and some upcoming events that were happening in our towns.
There was a large amount of painting going on in October. We sanded down and painted the wooden fence and benches in Brownsville Central Park a dark red color. The RTOC crew also sanded down and started to paint the black cast iron fence at the park. Our group also painted the back of the Fredericktown borough building. It's amazing how just a couple coats of paint can really improve a fence or the side of a building and make the whole area look better.
The Pt. Marion public art project is now complete! We helped grout and clean the piece of art a couple days this month. While in Pt. Marion, we painted window displays to place in windows along the bike trail on our breaks from grouting.
Our Fall Paddle on the Mon at the end of the month was a fantastic time. We had around twenty paddlers join us for our final canoe/kayak trip of the year. The trip started in Pt. Marion, we had lunch at Two Rivers Restaurant and Marina in Dilliner, and our voyage ended at the boat ramp in Greensboro. We weathered a little bit of rain and chilly weather, but all enjoyed their time out on the water.
RTOC attended the Outdoor Nation Summit in Atlanta at the beginning of November. The summit consisted of several aspects including leadership training, grant writing, project planning, Leave No Trace principles, and professional development. We all had an amazing two days meeting new people and learning great tools that will be sure to benefit us in our careers in the future. After the summit, Sam, Marah, and I visited my parents in Georgia for a relaxing vacation.
Later in the month, we all went climbing on the rock wall at REI in Pittsburgh. This was a superb team building experience. We spent three hours together with our fellow Trail Town corps members climbing, having fun, and getting a great workout in the process.
Sam, Marah, and I attended the Water Test Interpretation Workshop put on by the Washington County Conservation District at the end of November. This presentation was very informative in teaching us how to interpret and understand the results of water testing that has been done by a lab whether for pre-gas well drilling or from routine testing of private water supplies.
Day one of Hitch 2 began with a delicious menu from our first Toco, and the motivation to bang out some pre-hitch duties, along with some giggles, naturally. Some members of the crew had already baked food in advance (bread, tortillas, veggie chili, cookies), so the tasks in the kitchen were minimal, thanks to the lovely Rands chefs. We were also able to stop by Home Depot to pick up lumber to install shelves in our trailer; hello organization! After getting to the field and setting up camp, we found time for some good ‘ol Rummy, never a dull moment in a crew Rummy game! Pre-Hitch day went off without hitch (no pun intended), although we did forget the hot sauce, to which many members of the crew were devastated. Although without Frank’s Hot Sauce, we still managed to enjoy a delicious hot meal after a long day.
Day two started by diving right into a long incursion, all of us excited to begin work again. Our first incursion included rock hard soil, a zombie lizard we named Randal, and 49 bushes. This was maybe one of our most physically and mentally draining incursions we’ve faced so far, but we still managed to kick butt and find times to goof around to keep everyone in light spirits. Every incursion after that seemed like a piece of cake compared to the first one, though there was one that we spent much longer on. During the longer incursions, we adopted a game called Virtual Hide-and-Seek, thanks to one of our crew members. Someone was found in the Derek Zoolander Center For Kids Who Can't Read Good And Wanna Learn To Do Other Stuff Good Too, and even in the tire of one of our trucks.
Along with restoration, we also found time to spend an afternoon monitoring and recording abandoned mines in the Rand area we were in. There were quite a few, but we did a systematic sweep of part of the area and recorded about half a dozen.
During the midst of our restoration, one of our crew members had to be brought back to camp because he wasn’t feeling well. After a day in the quaran-tent, some rest, and delicious sweet potato soup, he was feeling back to normal and able to join us the next day for work. Although another one of our members wasn’t as lucky. He had to be brought to the hospital in the middle of the night with the stomach flu and spent the next day and night at the crew house with our project leader, Patrick. During their absence, the rest of the crew worked really hard and finished two incursions, despite there only being five of us. Our crew member who had fallen ill was given medicine and got well quickly and was able to join us the day after, although we think it was our lunch-time conference call that did the trick. With no other illnesses in the crew, we all finished the work plan, and some, in good spirits and good health.
During our last work day, our BLM contact Dana came out to help out with some restoration work in the beautiful Rand. She greeted us that morning bearing muffins, tangerines, and granola bars… WE LOVE YOU DANA! It was a fun day, filled with interesting conversations, a delicious lunch, and the enjoyment of our first visitor. Her presence was a great way to close out the last day of restoration, but the hitch wasn’t over yet…
On the very last day of hitch we spent a few hours with the other crews and the BLM for plant identification! We learned how to better identify the plants in the area for our data collection, while also being reunited again for the first time since the BBQ, also with the BLM. The day was cut short when it started to drizzle, a beautiful anomaly in the Mojave Desert. Overall, the hitch was very productive and satisfying. As we always say on the Rands… Keep calm and restore the desert.
By Alyssa Beck
Howdy, and welcome to the Rands! Whew, two months have swept by as quickly as the desert breeze. We have a lot of catching up to do. The Rands crew shared these past months in the desert, a place quite alien to most of us, training for this year’s work and learning how to live in the desert. We have finally incorporated our sixth member into the crew bringing both new personality and a refreshed identity to this small community we have all thrust ourselves into quite head-on.
There is much to consider for what to think about the desert. A favorite quote I recently came across goes a little something like this:
This is the desert
There’s nothing out here
Certainly the desert does upon initial survey appear to be a rugged, vast expanse as far as the eye can glean. Coming from the East Coast and growing up in the woods, it is admittedly an altogether different “wilderness” experience. The desert does ooze the majesty, the wisdom, and the palpable passing of days in the seasons. The desert is discreet, it remembers a history much too long to recount but shows no sign of age or time. The desert has a rough edge, drawing in and catching some unprepared for its needles, sun, wind. The desert, if given enough time, can evoke an other-worldly enchantment.
The patch of desert we call home in the Rand Mountain Management Area has a very different story than other groups in the DRC. According to Roberta Starry’s “Exploring the Ghost Town Desert: A Guide to the Rand Mining Area, its Natural and Historic Points of Interest” the Rands was the veritable pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and the site of substantial precious metal and mineral extraction. However, like most natural resource extraction sagas; the frenzy waned, the wagon was packed, and people moved on leaving behind the house, mine and all, to be reclaimed and consumed by the desert. Our first hitch placed us at ground zero, and the effect of such extensive mining was visceral with abandoned mines dotting the landscape and relics of the food cans scattered nearby. With arsenic in the soil and considerable bulldozing and digging crisscrossing the desert, vegetation was brown and the ground scarred with mine reclamation and restoration. Nevertheless, the Rands had quite a surprise for us on this hitch – the sighting of four Desert Tortoise hatchlings right in the midst of our first work-plan polygon.
After fearlessly tackling several small incursions the crew was finally tested with a four-hundred meter incursion cutting clear across the desert, a shortcut to somewhere for OHV riders. The length tested the resolve, the muscle, and the eyes to continually come back and stare down a formidable restoration project. Sure enough, Rands completed planned projects for the first hitch and worked well into the second and third hitch, successfully tackling seven incursions for our first stint at desert restoration.
In what appears to be an evolving theme among group conversations and meetings, food is at the forefront of the crews mind. When, how, what we eat – “How good does _____ sound right now?”- cue “Oooo (mouthwatering)”. Nonetheless, there is a shared passion for food which makes meal time a congenial experience, gathering in the cooking tent taking shelter from the ever-chilling temperatures.
By Noah Creany
Early morning, September 25, 2012- The Rand Mountains crew of the SCA Desert Restoration Corps has just finished its simple, but satisfying breakfast of oatmeal, coffee, and toast. Soon after, the trailer was loaded with all of the necessary gear and we were headed to the Jawbone region of the Mojave Desert for 17 days of SCA training. Upon our arrival, we were introduced to the other four crews that were to be doing desert restoration work this season. That night, the groups came together and had our first meal together; there were close to 40 of us, project leaders and cooking staff included. We had gathered in the desert to learn everything from restoration theory to wilderness medicine - “Septoberfest” was upon us.
First on the agenda for Septoberfest was a variety of community building and conflict resolution skill workshops. These first few days were spent practicing inter-crew confrontation techniques and perfecting our “community contract” (rules that we, as a crew, agreed to live by for the coming eight months). We closed this portion of Septoberfest by sharing some of our personal life stories with our fellow DRC members. As we began to know more about each other, our desert community seemed to grow closer, and we quickly became quite comfortable with one another.
Following the community building portion of Septoberfest, we dove into the actual meat and potatoes of our training. We split into three groups (each led by two project leaders), and began to discuss the theory and methods behind the restoration work to come. We were taught that, although vertical mulching (our primary restoration method) may seem like no more than the planting of dead sticks in the ground, it actually serves several purposes in the restoration process. Primarily, and perhaps most obviously, it disguises the incursion (a name given to illegal OHV routes) and thereby keeps riders from continuing to ride on it. Additionally, vertical mulch bushes provide habitat and shade for all kinds of desert wildlife, and work to reduce the habitat fragmentation caused by the creation and use of illegal routes. Finally, the vertical mulching process allows for the breaking up of soil which has been ultra-compacted by years of OHV use; this allows seeds to take hold and promotes new growth of local plant life. After being lectured on the science behind restoration theory, each group was assigned an incursion near camp. We put our new-found knowledge into practice by spending the next two days vertical mulching our assigned incursions.
After restoring our incursions, we were all given one day off before our week long Wilderness First Responder course. On this day, several groups went on hikes and attended a variety of environmental education programs headed by the project leaders. The following day Aerie’s instructors arrived at our camp and we began our Wilderness First Responder training. This training lasted a week and covered everything from CPR to anaphylaxis, from arterial bleeds to hypothermia, from hypoglycemia to head injuries. We became well versed on splints, and practiced our assessment skills in a variety of hands on scenarios. We were tested in adverse environmental conditions in the cold and dark of night. We were tested with the daunting task of managing a multiple casualty incident (MCI) in which we were required to care for a group of 7 injured campers. At the end of the week all of us were subjected to a final test, after which we all became certified Wilderness First Responders.
Following our WFR course, our training was complete - the crews prepared to depart to their off-hitch housing. We had spent 17 days in the Jawbone region of the Mojave Desert and had been trained on everything from restoration theory to wilderness medicine. As we set off in anticipation of the coming 8 months, we were prepared with not only a solid foundation of work and wilderness skills, but also a sense of community amongst our fellow DRC members that would carry us through the season.
By Ryan Ledden
Since our last update, we have completed one of our greatest hitches to date and it was right in our own backyards! We came to the Rio Salado Habitat Restoration Area located just South of downtown Phoenix. Our goal was to improve the waterfall (which was only a fast-flowing trickle down a steep hill at this point) by digging out 90-degree steps and inserting flatten rocks or slabs of concrete, causing the water to make a number of aesthetically appealing drops. We arrived at the "waterfall" while there was water still flowing, so while we waited for it to be shut off manually, we put logs on a hillside with burlap sacks and stakes. This method prevents erosion of the bank by holding up the rows of logs to create terraces, which slows down the flow of water and organic material.
The next day with the water shut off, we started working on the waterfall. We starting digging out the drainage and strategically placing slabs of conrete and smooth river rocks to create a rock staircase. We were particularly careful to place the concrete slabs in locations that would stand up to the constant flow of water without eroding, even during the numerous spring flood events. In addition to the functional pieces of the waterfall, a vast number of river rocks were needed to both line the bottom of the stream and build retaining walls. One unique feature of the the completed waterfall was an improvised "infinity pool" devised by placing a single concrete slab vertically at the mouth of a small basin.
While we were working, locals would often come by and visit this popular site near downtown Phoenix. The first reaction of the public was always awe followed by appreciation of our hard work. We were amazed at how much a difference we were making to the people who visit these places on a daily basis. It motivated all of us by helping us realize we truly are making a difference. As a great cap to our project, on the final day of work a gigantic red-tailed hawk flew swooped right over our heads and sat in a nearby tree for over an hour before catching a squirrel and flying away.