Farewell Ode to LBJ Grasslands

Farewell Ode to LBJ Grasslands
LBJ, you gave us our Foundation,
formed through struggle, triumph, and frustration.
So, here’s a poem to you from Green Crew,
about the four times we’ve come to see you.

When we heard we’d be with you 40 days,
we had no clue we’d grow so many ways.
Like children, we couldn’t wait to meet you,
but had no idea what you’d put us through.
Our spirits were high on the day that we met!
We came with tents & tools & saws all set,
to clear-cut cedar on all four hitches –
not knowing how much you’d tear our britches.
Oh, LBJ, you taught us so much!

On our first hitch we cut road-side fuel break
Those cold nights tested how much we could take
Trip two: seventeen acres needed felled,
But we couldn’t saw until thunderstorms quelled.
Went back to the same campsite for round three.
Still no cert.- Ash used an Axe to fell trees!
A shady camp and lake trips on hitch four?
A side of you we hadn’t seen before
Oh, LBJ, how you’ve grown on us.

Beyond the work there’s much we’ll remember
Like how each hitch brought a new staff member
Or having pull-up battles. Guess who’d win!
Or Andrew’s paints, Shawnee playing violin.
We learned that Pedro is rarely satisfied
With chain maintenance. Whose got a raker guide?!

And the rest of the girls are often content
To finish their chores, then head to a tent
Oh, LBJ, our time with you was priceless!
In those 40 days, Some better than others,
We grew close: became sisters & brothers.
You made such attempts to tear us apart!
Cold nights, hot days, and shopping at Walmart!
But we never broke, wouldn’t give up hope!
Not even that day we ran out of soap!
You brought out our best features as a crew
But now we’ve grown and must bid thee adieu.
Oh, LBJ, we will never forget you.

Oh LBJ, we will never forget you!

 

Ashley Prouty – Field Crew Member (Green Crew)

Tyler State Park Whispering Pines Trail Re-route

Five hitches. Fifty days. East Texas.

When the Trails Across Texas Crew first arrived in Tyler State Park in early March, we still had cold weather clothes packed in our bags just in case we had a couple more chilly mornings at the tail end of the spring season. We soon found out that we needn’t bring any cold weather gear to Tyler again, as the summer sun was beginning to gather its strength day by day. We were set to put in a new trail, about ¾ of a mile long, that would replace the original trail route done by the CCC boys back in the mid 1930s. Expecting to have the project completed within three to four hitches, we quickly got to work…

On our first hitch we consisted of a full crew, which was much needed for all the underbrush cutting and corridor clearing that had to be done before tread could be dug in. It took us a couple days to cut and clear all the thick, thorny underbrush at the feet of the tall Loblolly Pines that towered over us. We followed a path of red tape laid out by our project partners; Chris and Erick, and cut any green briar or vines that stood in our way. Thankfully, the park had prescribed a controlled burn to the area in which we were working about a month or two before we arrived, so the underbrush that consisted of thorny vines was mostly dead and therefore easier to clear.

After the corridor clearing was finished, it was time to start putting in the tread. We began our workdays by pulling pick-mattocks, cutter-mattocks, McLeods, and shovels out of the trailer, and hiking them down the existing trail to the turn off for our worksite. We split up into teams of three or four, and worked on separate sections of the corridor, cutting tread and then leap-frogging the teams in front to begin work on the next section. As the days passed by, we found we were running into some unforeseen difficulties that were hindering our progress. The proposed trail route that we were putting in was in a very hilly section of the park, and we had an incredible amount of full bench to dig out, which takes a considerable amount of time. And on top of digging full bench, we quickly discovered that we were digging into thick clay.

By the end of our first hitch, the crew was stunned by how difficult the tread digging was proving to be. When we returned for the second hitch, we carried on digging tread, and finished the entirety of the trail re-route, which was quite a relief. The work was slow going and each day was increasingly hotter as the season transitioned farther into an early Texas summer.

After completing the first two hitches at Tyler State Park, we had a brief hiatus from our trail re-routing project as we headed out to Bastrop for 10 days to work on some minor installations there, and out to Caprock Canyons for another 10 day hitch.

On the third Tyler hitch we began prep work for the bridges that would be installed over several creeks which the trail crossed here and there. At this point in the season we were down to six members, so there was only so much we could do every day on the worksite. Our days consisted of digging holes, three to four feet deep, and two feet wide, which made us all feel like Shia Labeouf for several days. After digging holes for the bridge posts, we brought down some heavy 6 foot posts and set them into the holes one by one. Following the placement of the posts, we poured concrete that we carried down from the roadside into a wheelbarrow and mixed it with a dirty hoe before pouring it into the holes and around the posts. Then, grip hoists were used to drag 800lbs I-beams down from the roadside to the bridge sites, where we pulled them across the ravines and set them into place. Chainsaws were used to cut notches into carefully marked and measured out posts, so that the I-beams would sit level on all of them. We continued this repetitive pattern of digging, setting in posts, pouring concrete, and cutting, all the way through our fourth hitch as well.

During the last hitch at Tyler, our 6 man crew was able to begin laying boards down on top of our I-beams, and putting in joists and decking too. The last two days were devoted to decking the first bridge site, which was a fun, but slow going procedure. We had a generator running with a compound miter saw hooked up to it, where we would cut our boards to length, some folks carrying boards from the saw to the bridge, and others screwing in the boards to the bridge itself. Unfortunately, the process was so lethargic that we were only able to get half of the decking laid down before it was time to say goodbye to Tyler State Park for the last time.

The project out at Tyler SP was long, tedious, and time consuming, but something for all of us on TAT to be proud about. Despite not finishing any of the bridges completely, we did the work that had to be done to ensure that they could be finished by the next crew, which is all we needed to do. Now we can go back in a year and look at the bridges that’ll be finished by the next TAT crew and reminisce on the hard work we put in to each and every one of them. Hopefully our new trail reroute will be used for the next 80 years, just like the original one put in by the CCC back in the 30s.

Hayden Price – Trails Across Texas Crew Member

Ivy’s Wildlife Refuge

The second week of Crew Leader training took us out of the classroom to learn field skills.  Hopping in a fully-loaded van and trailer, we drove for 4 hours to Ivy’s Wildlife Refuge in East Texas.  For a couple of us, this was our first real “hitch.” With our tents pitched, we wasted no time in getting our boots into the forest.  Our first task was to re-establish the corridor of a preexisting trail – this meant that we used loppers and handsaws to trim any plants that had grown over the trail.  Our trimming eventually led us down to a pleasant little waterfall, which was the perfect introduction to this beautiful property.

Over the next couple days we learned more about forming trails, including cutting the tread, which in conservation language means making the ground walkable while optimizing waterflow over the path.  Forming the trails turned out to be highly rewarding. I felt a real satisfaction when I returned to the campsite at the end of the day by walking over a path I had helped create.

Besides learning about the operation and maintenance of hand tools, I was additionally happy to learn more about my fellow leaders.  Everyone was eager to help at the campsite, to work, and just as eager to converse and learn more about each other. It was an endearing first hitch, and has made me confident that my commitment for this service term was a good choice.

Coastal Crew helps out at the San Antonio Missions NHP

This week Gold Crew spent a second week in San Antonio with the National Parks Service, helping complete a myriad of projects for the San Antonio Missions National Historic Park.

After arriving in San Antonio Monday morning, we set to work clearing overgrown acequias and picking up trash around the Mission Espada. (Acequias are ditches built by the mission founders to bring water to their crops. It’s pronounced ah-sek-ee-ahs).

Tuesday morning we got to work with archaeologists!  The San Antonio Missions have managed to preserve several kilns the Spanish monks used to make lime, which was then used to build the missions. These kilns are approximately 300 years old, and every year the site archaeologist leads a team to carefully clear any vegetation which might encroach on or erode these features. Our team removed armfuls of ragweed and other brush under their supervision, making sure not to step on the kiln walls.

That afternoon we headed to Rancho de las Cabras, a property outside Floresville where we started building a trail two weeks ago, to restore some prairie.

Wednesday our field coordinator, Sarah, came out to Rancho de las Cabras to help us finish the work on our trail: putting in swales, reworking water bars, evening out some of the steeper sections of trail, and widening sections that were just a little too narrow. It was a hot day, and we had to take frequent water breaks, but with Sarah’s help, we were able to make sure the trail would be ready for an event the NPS is having in early June. That night the crew celebrated the completed trail with some cold Gatorade, s’mores, and a campfire after dinner!

Thursday we returned to Rancho de las Cabras and split into teams to clear invasive species from an area our sponsor is restoring to native prairie. My group grabbed our backpack sprayers and attacked a long stretch of guinea grass and Johnson grass, two invasive non-natives that spread quickly. Another group cleared and herbicided mesquite trees and other brush that, while being native species, don’t belong in a prairie.

Friday we packed our things and headed to Mission San Juan to help clear invasive species out of their pollinator garden. We targeted ragweed (a native “nuisance” species), Queen Anne’s lace (a non-native invasive), and bastard cabbage (another non-native invasive). At lunch time, we headed home to Houston to de-rig and do our weekly chores, finishing off a successful week of getting things done!

 

Noel Lampazzi – Coastal Crew Member (Gold Crew)

Coastal Crew helps our at the San Antonio Missions NHP

This week Gold Crew spent a second week in San Antonio with the National Parks Service, helping complete a myriad of projects for the San Antonio Missions National Historic Park.

After arriving in San Antonio Monday morning, we set to work clearing overgrown acequias and picking up trash around the Mission Espada. (Acequias are ditches built by the mission founders to bring water to their crops. It’s pronounced ah-sek-ee-ahs).

Tuesday morning we got to work with archaeologists!  The San Antonio Missions have managed to preserve several kilns the Spanish monks used to make lime, which was then used to build the missions. These kilns are approximately 300 years old, and every year the site archaeologist leads a team to carefully clear any vegetation which might encroach on or erode these features. Our team removed armfuls of ragweed and other brush under their supervision, making sure not to step on the kiln walls.

That afternoon we headed to Rancho de las Cabras, a property outside Floresville where we started building a trail two weeks ago, to restore some prairie.

Wednesday our field coordinator, Sarah, came out to Rancho de las Cabras to help us finish the work on our trail: putting in swales, reworking water bars, evening out some of the steeper sections of trail, and widening sections that were just a little too narrow. It was a hot day, and we had to take frequent water breaks, but with Sarah’s help, we were able to make sure the trail would be ready for an event the NPS is having in early June. That night the crew celebrated the completed trail with some cold Gatorade, s’mores, and a campfire after dinner!

Thursday we returned to Rancho de las Cabras and split into teams to clear invasive species from an area our sponsor is restoring to native prairie. My group grabbed our backpack sprayers and attacked a long stretch of guinea grass and Johnson grass, two invasive non-natives that spread quickly. Another group cleared and herbicided mesquite trees and other brush that, while being native species, don’t belong in a prairie.

Friday we packed our things and headed to Mission San Juan to help clear invasive species out of their pollinator garden. We targeted ragweed (a native “nuisance” species), Queen Anne’s lace (a non-native invasive), and bastard cabbage (another non-native invasive). At lunch time, we headed home to Houston to de-rig and do our weekly chores, finishing off a successful week of getting things done!