White Crew at Lady Bird Lake

White Crew went out to Lady Bird Lake to remove invasive and nuisance plants, replace them with native grasses, and contribute to the general beautification of the area. Though this was only our second project of the season, we managed to find a good work rhythm and got a lot of good work done in our five days at the park.

We kicked off the project with two days of pulling elephant ear, an invasive plant that made its home in the muck along the lakeshore. This was probably the most trying part of the project, as the thick mud and the initial slow pace of the work pushed us to our limits, but we were able to overcome these challenges and stay on schedule.

After these first two days of hard and dirty work, cutting through a literal forest of ragweed was a welcome change. Getting to see the difference we made at the end of each day was a great added bonus! At that point, we had a much better understanding of how we worked together as a crew, and even occasional encounters with not-so-friendly wasps did not disrupt our work pace.

Finally, we rounded out the project by planting a variety of native grasses in the spaces we cleared from ragweed. It was great to see the space we worked on become totally transformed after a week of hard work, and our project partner even got each of us a bald cedar tree to plant after we were done with everything else! We learned a lot about how we work as a crew over the course of this project, and we hope we get to come back to Lady Bird Lake for another project.

 

Blue Crew on the Greenbelt: “Rocks are Hard”

Blue Crew spent this week working on various rockwork projects on the Barton Greenbelt of Austin. We quickly learned that rockwork is much harder than we initially anticipated. What started off as excitement quickly became frustration and impatience as we found that fitting rocks together, especially big rocks can prove to be especially challenging. However, Blue Crew did not lose faith, after an evening to rest and reset we came back with a renewed vigor to knock these rocks out of the park.  And we did!

Our second day on the belt we kicked it into high gear, and boy did we get to work. We started knocking out project by project. What was frustrating on the first day became a motivator on the second, third, and fourth. We had people smashing rocks, placing rocks, lifting/rolling rocks (sometimes even boulders), digging holes, refilling holes and leveling ground. It proved to be a week full of fun and a week full of sore bodies.

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Blue crew was able to knock out two sets of check steps, a water bar, repairing and rebalancing an armored drain system and creating a new armored drain system.  Our early frustrations ended up as feelings of satisfaction and accomplishment as we learned to love rockwork,,, even though rocks are hard.

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Josh Perez – Disaster Response Team Member (Blue Crew)

Field Report: White Crew’s First Hitch

Comanche

After three weeks of training, including two short training hitches, the members of White Crew, sometimes known as Panda Pack, were ready to take on their first real assignment. The project? Shaded fuel break. The location? Sunset Valley. The equipment? Chainsaws and herbicide.

The Setting: a stretch of undeveloped land consisting of thick groves of mesquite, Mexican palo verde, and ashe juniper. Mainly mesquite, though.

The Crew: our team leaders, Sonia and Tema, a duo of no-nonsense veterans of the field; and the members, a team of rag-tag novices looking to make a name for themselves in the rough and tumble world of conservation and disaster response. (It should be mentioned that Purple Crew was also present)

The Odds: not in our favor.  The mesquite was abundant and thorny, the sun was mercilessly bright and scorching despite the forecasted rain, and we were mostly inexperienced with saw work.

After a confusing start (it was unclear where the project partners wanted us to set up at first), we began our mission, daunted yet hopeful. We assembled our chainsaws, strapped on our chaps, put on our personal protective equipment, and faced the thicket of thorns and branches.  

On the first day we struggled and learned. Our cuts weren’t the cleanest, our speed was lacking, and progress was slow. We cut a lot of mesquite, but there was still a seemingly endless wall of vegetation. On the second day we were a bit more confident, if a bit tired. But good leadership, determination, and a bit of old-fashioned grit go a long way. Though each passing day our muscles grew sorer, the mesquite thicket steadily opened to a satisfyingly uncluttered savannah of grass and majestic trees cleaned up of low-lying branches and immature growth. Our progress became visible and significant. On the final day we pushed hard, even recruiting some backup from our sister crew, Blue Crew. Our breaks were cut short and our muscles burned as we strove towards completion. Throughout the week, though we became physically exhausted, our bond as a crew became strong. Chainsaws roared, sweat poured, and branches fell.

Mission: Success.

 

Carlos Leos – Disaster Response Team Member (White Crew)

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park

Purple crew traveled to Lyndon B. Johnson National Park for a 10 day hitch.  Followed by a four day break, they headed straight back for another 5 days.  Their task was to take down an old fence in an area that the locals call: The Back 40. Though rain caused for turbulence and led the eight workers to act as part-time landscapers at LBJ’s Boyhood Home, they accomplished a great amount of work and got to tour the house!  By the end of the 15 days, the team had dismantled the old fence, used an auger to drill more than 20 holes, tamped logs into 10 holes, and improved the 36th president’s childhood home yard.

Alexis Peterson – Purple Crew Member

Eisenhower State Park

The TAT crew was assigned a simple task in Eisenhower state park, to install signs for a ROV/ATV trail system. This trail system is the first of its kind within a Texas state park and therefore an adequate amount of signs were needed. With adequate signs comes many post holes which we started with a post hole digger and a rock bar.
After hitting multiple rocks and making slow progress, the park gave us access to their skid steer with an auger. With a simple “who wants to drive it?” from one of the maintenance workers, Tait volunteers and gets a crash course in operating the beast. After a little getting used to, progress becomes more steady as the TAT crew divides the work efficiently. Tait with a spotter would drill out the post holes and clear the loose dirt. Our crew leader Tyler along with Susan would assemble the signs and bring them to Cassandra, Alex and myself to be thrown in the ground and packed with earth. Thanks to a ROV that the park graciously loaned us, staging the signs in the correct spots was a breeze and getting rides in it wasn’t so bad either. Lopers were also used by myself to clear up the edges of the trail which had plenty of sprawling cedars and brown recluses.
 After all was said and done and with a bit of tender, love and care the trail was quite nearly completed by the time our hitch was over. We were even told by maintenance that we were the hardest working crew they have seen which we appreciated considerably. Besides the hard work of the day, the nights were most pleasant for sleeping. Many of us spent time along the coast of Lake Texoma to unwind after work and some of us more daring souls climbed along the fallen boulders. Unfortunately we will not get another chance to work at Eisenhower state park this season but it surely left an impression that we can treasure until a future revisit.
Matt Harvey – Trails Across Texas Crew Member

Stephen F. Austin State Park

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Our first ten day hitch as a crew together was an exciting and eye opening experience. Stephen F. Austin State Park was beautiful and very hot, but we persevered and really enjoyed ourselves. The state park is a hidden gem just outside of Houston with a lush forest of towering kudzu-draped trees along the Brazos river. We saw many snakes and huge orb weaver spiders while we were there. We were rained on a bit, but it was a welcome change from the hot sun.
Most of our time was spent cutting back overgrown trail and laying down decomposing granite, which we then tamped with McLeods. We were lucky enough to have very helpful park volunteers who would help dump the granite by the bucketfull with a tractor where we needed it to be. That really helped spend up the process so that we could get more trail layed down faster. On a day after a particularly heavy rain, we couldn’t do our trail work so we cut low hanging limbs in the camping areas with pole saws. Having been our first time since training using saws in the field, we loved getting the practice time.
We really enjoyed our hitch together at Stephen F. Austin State Park and having the pleasure of meeting the very welcoming park volunteers there. One of the lovely park volunteers who we called OC, was so sweet and cooked us tacos one night of our hitch and we had dinner together. We hope to meet them again someday. Purple Crew is looking forward to more hitches and getting used to hitch life.
Megan Brewton _ Field Crew Member (Purple Crew)

An Emotional Side to Trail Work

I serve with a team of six other enthusiastic people on the Trails Across Texas crew. We travel to state parks all around Texas to do chainsaw work, build bridges, make new trails, and install signage. If you read our previous blogs Susan and Tait will talk to you about the work we do and what it’s like to be involved in a team. I want to talk to you on my perspective of that it’s like to navigate the life of a crew member. In my mind serving for the Conservation Corps has three main parts: Group time, alone time, and city life. This is what a week in the life feels like for me.

In the crowd I hear the best

In the crowd of six other interesting people I hear six other interesting people

I hear the minds traveling and the opinions running rapid

I hear the playful insults and the sweet compliments

I hear the words of wisdom and the words of fools

In the crowd I hear the best

In the city I hear the loudest

In the city I hear the sound of vehicles and traffic humming

I hear the homeless ask for money and the preacher ask for money

I hear the police sirens and the ambulance screaming to be heard

I hear the poets and great writers

In the city I hear the loudest

In the quiet I hear the most

In the quiet I hear the wind howling

I hear the birds and the wild animals

I hear my soul speaking

In the quietness I hear the most

Serving is about getting things done for America, but it’s also about growth and self-
development. My crew has been an incredible resource in helping me deal with every challenge that comes. Working on a crew for the Conservation Corps is both amazingly hard and just amazing.

Cassandra Machart – Trails Across Texas Crew Member