Completion of Hitch #1: Written by the glorious Clayton Buffer
Our second hitch has already come and gone. The Georgia crew has been busy! This hitch began with ACE/VUS training in Nashville. Sunday was our first day of ACE Survey Training. We watched several helpful instructional videos and learned the ins and outs of a visitor use survey, for instance the difference between a recreational and non-recreational visitor. We also became acquainted with some of our ACE contacts that are all most excellent people. Following our instructional training, which included a round of Jeopardy, we went and simulated the real thing. Needless to say, our crew had an immediate advantage to this game, being that one Nashville crew leader who will not be named had NEVER HEARD OF Jeopardy! Like a middle school dance, the boys and girls separated into groups. Each practiced setting up an ideal survey station in different areas in one of Nashville’s ACE parks. Following this highly educational experience, the boys and girls competed in a very spirited playground relay race, from which the boys emerged victorious by no small margin. The day concluded with a quiz over what we had learned in the morning and a scrumptious Mexican dinner, appetizers a la Army Corps. Those were some truly bomber chiles rellenos.
Our second and last day of training proved quite as stimulating as the first. There was some review of the previous days’ lessons and new, more nuanced information presented regarding visitor use surveys. The most valuable session of the day proved to be the 7 Station Cycle of Surveying, in which each fresh faced would-be surveyor was put through their paces, by Josh and Sophie, our veteran Leaders in site set up, Meredith, the Queen of Survey Protocol, or the Ranger collective, an acting troupe uniquely skilled in the art of verbal harassment. Needless to say, we all learned a lot. The day was capped off by a very special farewell dinner, with Alex, Meredith, and Ted in attendance. I think this the appropriate spot in this entry to thank the Nashville crew for their generosity, for sharing their home with us which took patience and a willingness to live without “personal space”, and a particularly big thanks to Sophie Louis for shopping, cooking every meal, and being an all-around champion. This was an emotional night – friendships were celebrated, as was the end of training, but our imminent separation cast an unhappy shadow in the Nashville house, if only briefly. Some “Anonymous Compliments”, a rousing game of Munchkin, and some intense hair braiding quickly rid the house of any sadness, and brought our time together to an altogether splendid close.
The Atlanta crew spent most of Tuesday in their now departed red VW Jetta, cruising the rolling hills of Tennessee and North Georgia. From Nashville we drove straight to Atlanta, where we picked up our rental cars and headed home. Upon our arrival, we realized there was still much work to be done at our lovely abode, which is how we spent our Wednesday. If there is a Goodwill in Northeast Georgia was not a beneficiary of our patronage, it must be a lame Goodwill. After loading up on furniture and necessities, the house was scoured; pounds of cat hair were vacuumed from the floor, years of dust were removed to uncover shiny mirrors and clear glassy surfaces. Most importantly, the pool table and hot tub were restored to working order. Party on, dudes. Party on.
The rest of the week was an ongoing exercise in meeting or hanging out with truly excellent people. Thursday and Friday, we journeyed all over North Georgia, beginning with Allatoona and Carter’s Lakes, and ending Friday with Lake Sidney Lanier. At each lake we met our agency contacts, some of the hippest cats in the Land of Peaches. They were full of energy, enthusiasm, ideas, and in the case of Mark Jennings, our contact at Lanier, college rivalry. (He’s a Florida Gator but we forgive him for that.. even though Leah was a Florida State Seminole) After meeting them and discussing our epic conservation project options and ideas, we returned home to find 2/3 of the Nashville crew at our house – it turns out we couldn’t last a week apart. We were also joined by SCA alum Stuart Wilkins, on his return trip from SCA Alternative spring break in Florida. Our final weekend before surveys was spent preparing to survey as no crew had surveyed before. ATL Mike jumped rope for several hours while talking non-stop, just to be sure he’d have the stamina for busy days at the park. When not intensely training for surveys, Nashville, Georgia, and Stuart jammed on guitars, played ridiculous games, honed their billiards skills, hot tubbed, and then cried because we missed our friends in that far off paradise called Waco, Texas. (Although we were lucky enough to grab a skype conversation with them!) On Sunday, Stuart and the Nashvillains returned to their distant homelands. And then there were three. Mike and Clayton found out about a farm festival in the nick of time. Not all who wander are lost, but these two were for about 30 minutes; eventually, they found the Gwinnet Environmental Health Center- a ridiculously cool environmental center in Gwinnet county. We were fortunate enough to get some great advice on their garden, as well as some excellent local seeds and plants to start it with. On Monday, the garden began to take shape, and the finishing touches were completed on Saturday the 30th. Our Georgia mansion now has a beautiful garden, complete with potatoes, onions, lettuce and spinach.
Tuesday the 26th was our first survey day. Rather, it was Clayton’s first survey day – Mike and Leah had the day off, which they used to accomplish great things. While Clayton was collecting survey data like a boy collects baseball cards – with ardor, diligence, and an insatiable need for more – Mike was setting up the coolest conservation project ever; trail rehabilitation at Tallulah Gorge for easier access to the parks’ unbelievable climbing spots. Leah was doing what she does best – being a BOSS! Wednesday, the whole crew did surveys, and did them the only way we know how, very well and with humility. Thursday the 28th was our first official Conservation Day, and the crew got conservative like the Tea Party talking about raising taxes. Mike made it a double, first travelling to the Chattahoochee River to help a fellow SCA intern with the relocation of a large sign, to be in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. After a couple hours of, in Mike’s words, “super easy”- bashing a rock bar into the ground, the work was complete and Mike moved on to Brenau University. Here he set up a booth at the internship fair, talked to students about summer internships, and basically made the SCA look, really, ridiculously good- which it is. Clayton embarked on a separate journey, straight out of Mary Shelley: to help bring back from the dead the American Chestnut. The American Chestnut project is taking place at Allatoona Lake under the watchful, nurturing eye of ACE Ranger Shea Sennett, the Dr. Frankenstein to Clayton’s Igor. He spent Thursday doing some serious weeding and preparation of the parks’ chestnut demonstration site, and returned Friday for the seasons’ first replanting. All in all, 3 seedling chestnut trees were planted, along with 7 sprouting seeds at the demo site.
The weekend was a special set of surveys – our fearless leader, Meredith came all the way from DC to help us improve our survey game. She visited Leah and Mike on Friday then Mike and Clayton on Saturday. Not even driving in the rain could deter us, and Meredith took advantage of any situation to teach us how to more finely hone our survey game. She even made it to our lovely mansion, where she taught us the art of Eastern North Carolina BBQ (that’s a VINEGAR-based sauce, y’all!), gave us helpful commentary on our work, and bestowed us with copious amounts of ice cream and candy. It was awesome hanging out.
Stay tuned for the haps of the next two weeks – it’s sure to be CRAZY. And thanks for reading!
Signing out with Love and Affection,
Herbert the Disembodied Deer Head, CEO and President, Georgia Manion LLC
The Waco team will be working deep in the heart of Texas, surveying three lakes in the central Texas region. So far we have been to training in Nashville, where we learned a lot and made some great friends, explored the lakes, and just completed our first week of surveys and first conservation project.
Leaving training in Nashville was exciting and sad at the same time. Exciting, because we were about to embark on a new journey in Waco, sad because, we were leaving six new friends that would be missed dearly. We parted ways after joining in a family photo, exchanging words of wisdom, and one big group hug.
We finally made it to the lone star state of Texas, where the crew split up. Josh and Stacy took a connecting flight to Waco, where they would begin set up for the coming weeks of surveying. Annie headed to North Richland Hills, where she picked up a few supplies she would need for the season.
The next couple days involved trying to get settled into the team's new home. Rental cars were picked up, electricity was finally turned on, and supplies were gathered for the season. The crew visited the Waco Lake site contact, traveled to and evaluated each survey site location, and took inventory of all supplies. The team also completed important paperwork like site ERP’s, JHA’s, and are currently familiarizing themselves with all of the responsibilities of leading the ACE VUS Team of 2013.
Annie and Stacy completed their first ever visitor use survey! Annie surveyed visitors to Waco and Belton Lake, Stacy spent her time at Stillhouse and Belton, and Josh interviewed visitors to Waco and Stillhouse. Annie spent her Tuesday surveying visitors at two of Waco Lake's parks, while Josh and Stacy spent the day at Baylor University. Baylor hosted a “Make a Difference Career Fair” aimed at students looking to enter the non-profit career field after graduation. Stacy and Josh spent the afternoon talking to students about the opportunities SCA has to offer, and had a great time meeting Baylor staff while finally having an excuse to check out the campus. Wednesday it was back to surveying for the team.
Thursday was the first conservation day for Team Waco, and was used to plan and coordinate future conservation projects throughout the season. After spending so much time setting up the site, all of Team Waco was pretty grateful to have a planning day and excited to see projects start to come together.
3/29- 3/30 Survey
Kathy, one of our partners from the Army Corps of Engineers, came to observe our sites we all enjoyed time spent with her surveying. All of the Texas team spent Saturday in the field, and had their first look at what weekends are like in the area. Visitor traffic picked up a lot today, and the team was able to complete the most surveys to date!
We started this wonderful week at school where we visited the Audubon Center to examine the leaf packs we previously planted. We found some gnarly critters that made their home inside those packs. We found different kinds of macro-invertebreas which included dragonflies and masonflies. Then we went to the PC campus and updated our resume to prepare us for our future. Bright and early on Tuesday morning, we left Phoenix for the cooler climate of Prescott to work on the Circle Trail at Prescott National Forest. We met up with Jason, head of the trails & wilderness, who guided us to our work site where we began to work on taking out trees, logs, bushes, and some limbs with our chainsaws. Each day we got further and further with our work, the hikes were getting longer but the work was coming out amazing! Who knew that holding a chainsaw for 5 hours would make your arms so sore! Thursday night, after a long hard day, Mel and Tony took us into town for some pizza since we did such hard work. Before we left Friday afternoon we found that we had cut an 8 ft. corridor at just over a half a mile of trail. Not a bad week!
After seeing off our friends heading to Cumming, GA and Waco, TX for the spring season, we (the Nashville crew) took a day to get our minds clear and our house organized. Although we loved being host to our amazing friends from the Georgia and Texas crews and we were sad to see them go, it was time prepare for the busy work week looming ahead. We spent our first day organizing ourselves in our East Nashville home, making sure that our minds were clear and we were ready to hit the ground running. The next day, with the coffee pot a-bubblin’ and our game faces on, we started researching and planning out our service projects that we had brainstormed to complete or spring work plan. Much of the day we spent making contacts with local organizations and gathering information to mold our ideas into something more concrete. It also gave us time to laugh and get to know each other a lot more. It didn’t take long for any of us to feel like we were all at home. Toward the end of the day we were able to pick up our long awaited rental cars that we would be driving for the spring season. Oh was it great to be driving those back to our cozy home. After a fun filled day of planning, we took the next day to drive to all of our Visitor Use locations. It was a great day and great weather to explore the beautiful lakes and woodlands that creep in and around the Nashville area. Though spring hadn’t officially taken hold, we saw many birds out on the reservoirs and marshy areas, and some wildlife on the roads. All of us were excited to get out in the field and start working.
After a few days of good work we took the weekend to enjoy ourselves, visiting our friends from the Georgia crew, and spending a little time in Tennessee. We regrouped on Sunday and did some final prep and checking for our first day of surveying on Monday. We made sure that we had all the directions to make it to our survey sites, fueled the vehicles up, and checked to make sure that all of our survey equipment and gear were ready to go for the survey season! Soon enough Monday morning rolled through and Sophie and Mike were off on their first day of Visitor Use Surveys for the season, and Eva was ready for her first on Wednesday. After enjoying some beautiful 70 degree weather during training a week earlier, a cold front moved in and brought a few days of snow flurries and a 30-40 degree chill! What a change it was, but Sophie, Eva and Mike were all up for the challenge. We all got to interact with all sorts of interesting folk, from overzealous environmentalists to long-time locals, and crazed fisherman to ACE rangers. We all learned a lot about the local culture this week. Even though we worked our tails off this week, we still found some time to enjoy ourselves. Sophie and Mike had another southern experience going to a show at the Grand Ole Opry. There we saw performances by legends Ricky Skaggs, Bill Anderson and Jean Shepard, lady’s man Craig Morgan, and two great younger bands Old Crow Medicine Show and the Black Lillies. We closed out our week with some busy survey days on the weekend and are looking to continue the momentum through the spring season! Happy Easter everyone!
Written by Mike
Tank tops, shorts, and flip flops were worn. Winter coats were left at home. It was light out after dishes. Flowers bloomed. Spring had sprung in Grass Valley!
Grass Valley? What was the Kiavah crew doing in the Grass Valley Wilderness, you ask? We were playing Bananagrams, cribbage, and Settlers of Catan. We were learning how to Double Dutch jump rope and how to set up two Green Monsters joined at one of the doors! We also finally got to experience gorgeous sunsets every night (in Kiavah the sunset is blocked by mountains) and saw a gopher snake and a huge flock of migrating birds. Camping with the Grass Valley crew was a blast and we got to help them welcome Adam, their new member!
In between sunsets, games, and learning new wildflowers the fourteen of us built two kilometers of fence along the wilderness boundary in Grass Valley. Mr. Matt Duarte—our outstanding program coordinator—came to visit, learn how to Double Dutch, and teach us how to fence. For Kiavah it was a refresher course, but for Grass Valley it was new material. We worked with our respective crews for the first few days: Kiavah constructed the quarter mile section of fence farthest from the road while Grass Valley worked on the section closest to the road. Finishing the first section and the middle section were joint efforts; working with members of the opposite crew was a learning experience as we sought to find a common process of fence construction. Upon completion of that initial kilometer of fence we moved to a new work site and began building what will be a three or four mile fence.
The Kiavah crew is looking forward to our SEEP day next hitch! SEEP is the Sand Canyon Environmental Education Program, designed for area 4th graders to learn about water conservation in the riparian ecosystem of Sand Canyon in the Owens Peak Wilderness. Sand Canyon is the perfect juxtaposition of an aquatic system and the dry desert ecosystem; we also cannot wait to get back to Owens to see how it looks covered with wildflowers!
Until next time,
Molly for Kiavah