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
What a diverse hitch! The first six days of the hitch were devoted to the wonders of site-effectiveness monitoring. We split up into two crews and monitored incursions that were completed by the Jawbone crew in 2004. It literally consisted of us driving to each incursion and taking a point on the Trimble. Although it was very monotonous, Matt, Emlyn, and I were fortunate enough to monitor in a very beautiful area consisting of seas of Joshua Trees and some pinion pines. The other crew was not so lucky and was in an area that had been decimated by OHV use and on one occasion had to work near power lines. Hopefully, their exposure to radiation was limited.
This hitch provided us with some of the most powerful winds that we have endured this year. The climax of the wind was returning to camp one day. Just before we arrived to camp, we saw someone’s Thermarest mattress in a bush a few hundred yards from camp. We knew this was not a good sign. Once we got back to camp, we had the realization that Corinne’s tent had literally exploded as well as her personal bin leaving the camp littered with her belongings. After an hour of search and rescue, we were able to round up most of Corinne’s items, undergarments and all.
The saving grace of site-effectiveness monitoring was being graced with the presence of Keith and his ranch. Keith is an 88 year old man that lives on a beautiful ranch in a pristine area of the Mojave Desert. His house was filled with hundreds of books on birds, and although he hated technology and computers, he had a flat screen television and Direct TV. Matt described Keith as a mixture of Aldo Leopold and Henry David Thoreau. We really enjoyed his company and the time on his ranch taking in the scenery of trees, birds, and the creek that ran through his property. This short blog post does not do Keith justice.
The last part of our hitch involved the crew being certified to teach Leave No Trace (LNT) principles. LNT training took place in Joshua Tree National Park under the leadership of the almighty Matt Duarte. This consisted of us backpacking through Joshua Tree with each crew member presenting on an LNT principle.
Since my last blog post, I have acquired all 151 Pokémon. They are my best friends in a world we must defend!
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!