Gulf Corps getting to work!

Aqua Crew alternates project work with three main local partners, and this week we got to work with both Artist Boat and Armand Bayou Nature Center. We began the week by going out to Artist Boat, a preserve on Galveston Island that promotes education about coastal environments. Artist Boat provides kayak tours of the coast that integrate recreation and education—tours include stops to paint watercolors and bird watch.

Artist Boat’s properties are home to a diverse array of flora and fauna, and in order to support them the land requires continual management. We worked at the corral area this week, where years of grazing by cattle has left a distinct mark on the land. Artist Boat is working to expand and improve its coastal prairies; the organization’s plant nursery is housed in the corral. This week, we completed several tasks for Artist Boat.

First, we removed Chinese tallow trees from the prairie. We were able to see large, rotting stumps of tallows beneath the persistent re-sprouted growth. This was not the first time these trees had been removed, and it probably will not be the last. Tallow is very resilient, and even when herbicide is applied to the cut stumps the trees can produce new growth.

We cleared old, rotting fence posts out of a corner of the prairie. Artist Boat has received a grant to plant coastal prairie species in this area, so the debris needed to be removed. During the process of carrying the posts, we accidentally disturbed a baby mouse nest. We secured them in their nest and tried to give them some space to recover from the scare we gave them! The old wood also provided great habitat for mushroom growth, and our crew appreciated the opportunity to admire the complex mycelium.

Long barbed wire fences remain on the prairie, vestiges of the ranchers’ handiwork. Now, these fences can harm the prairie. Birds perch on the fences, bringing undigested seeds which spring up and create lines of trees. Along the fence we began removing, the primary tree species was gum bumelia, a tree with long spines that our crew developed a healthy respect for.

Aqua spent the final two days of the week at Armand Bayou. On Thursday, we staged one-gallon pots of grasses and forbs to prepare for planting on Prairie Friday. On Friday we were able to get 300 plants in the ground before lunch, and spent the remainder of the day doing bayou trash clean-up.

Next week, our crew will return to Armand Bayou to work on their rookery—this will be different than any project we’ve tackled so far!

-Sarah Vande Brake, Aqua Crew member

Meet our Gulf Corps Crew!

Crew compatibility plays an important role in any crew dynamic or teamwork skills. In order to properly function, a crew must understand one another and be able to work through their differences. For never being in a large crew based team for work, I have loved learning who everyone is and can be. On the Gulf Corps Coastal Crew there are several members that are some of the coolest people you’d have the pleasure of working with, (just ask our project partners).

The crew leader, Natalie, is a bubbly intellectual that knows how to make a team work like peanut butter and jelly. Laura, an experienced worker who is always there when you need a helping hand, especially when it involves a chainsaw. Sarah is one of the most sweetest individuals who you will ever meet, she knows how to work a GIS unit and can always keep her cool when it comes to problem solving through a situation. Tara, a strong willed goal oriented gal who is best described by the phrase, “if you put your mind to it, you can do it”. Patrick is the utmost definition of a positive mindset, no matter what we say or do Patrick seems to always see the light at the end of the tunnel and it is honestly amazing. Christina, the stretch master,  is always there to share a laugh with you or crack a corny joke that you may or may not laugh at. Benny, a man who came in late but sure has not disappointed, he is by far the strongest member. Randy is a quiet soul but still has a lot to bring to the table, as an able worker and strong willed he is always there to get the job done plus he has great taste in music. Dex, the outdoors man with the soul of a wise man who knows how to find a good corndog, he is always there to lend a helping hand even if he is under the weather. Kat, our own personal chef, has a wonderful taste pallet that can only be compared to the delicious foods she brings to us almost every week, she practically keeps us alive. Last but not least, Leilani, she is not only funny, talented, and beautiful she also can put in some work.

With all this and more the making of a perfect team is practically in play, and everyday we grow and learn something new about each other. I can’t wait to see how the term goes with this crew, many surprises and stories surely await so stay tuned.

 

Week 4 of Gulf Branch Deployment

I thought Florida was supposed to be warm. But with nights reaching into the 30’s and the girls’ heater breaking in the tent, we have actually had to spend our nightly debriefs huddled together like tiny penguins. The cold, however, hasn’t stopped the gulf branch from finishing 70 work sites. We made a goal to finish 100 work sites by the end of our deployment, and we are now more than halfway there. This is our 4th week on deployment and our flow of assessments and finished work assignments is becoming ever more efficient.  

We have had some setbacks, however. Some of our chainsaws are out of commission due to our members impeccable strength. We have luckily found a repairman with Samaritan’s Purse who was kind enough to identify the parts we need and helped us repair one of our saws. We have also been lucky enough to receive help from the Saint Louis conservation Corps. Margaret Gerks has taken the lead on calls and Logan Bleyl has taken charge of Logistics, helping us find housing and food for when we move out of our current base.  With their help we have been able to expand to Liberty county, where we are able to help more people in rural areas. Saint Louis presence here also given the command staff the opportunity to reach out into Mexico Beach to help start a volunteer reception center to help with the long term recovery on the coast. With less than 2 weeks left in this deployment, the NCCC, TXCC and St louis teams have gotten pretty close and created an almost family-like environment, which has made these long cold nights bearable. We have been able to lean on each other when things get rough and stressful,and it is nice knowing that we can always rely on our fellow Americorps members.

Week 3 of Gulf Branch Deployment

The days are starting to merge but each night everyone seems to have a smile on their face. We begin each morning with a buffet of  hearty delights: eggs, bacon, grits, biscuits, and gravy, all with a side of oatmeal. The cooks here are determined to help us restore the calories we have lost in the field.

Our teams have been flying through the projects assigned to them by Ops. Gulf FOB is finishing up to 2-3 houses and hauling over 15 cubic yards of debris a day. We have commissioned a full time assessment crew just to keep up with the pace of our field crews.  We have also started to branch out to other counties around Gulf, including Franklin and Liberty counties. We have begun reaching out to the Emergency Operation Centers in those counties to let our presence be known and that we are here to help.

There have been some setbacks: lightning storms waking up our members up in the middle of the night, forcing us to evacuate to the restrooms for proper shelter; and several members contracting poison sumac.

Although this week hasn’t been the most pleasant for us, it hasn’t stopped our crews from finishing 30 project sites this week. We still end our day with an amazing dinner and a poem from one of the members. With the sky grey and our bellies full we laugh at our daily struggles and bond over matching rashes. At the end of  the day we remind ourselves why we are here and seeing the people we help makes it all worth it.

 

Purple at Pomerleu Park

Greetings from Purple crew!

This week our crew spent time in North Austin getting a pocket park started in the process of opening to the public. When we first arrived the property was covered in Johnson Grass, Hackberry trees and worst of all, poison ivy.
To make this space enjoyable we slathered ourselves in poison ivy pre-contact solution and hoped for the best. We were also removing the Johnson grass by hand in order to limit our use of herbicide. Although a painstaking process, we managed to get this area spruced up nearly to completion. The neighborhood has show lots of excitement and we cant wait to see the final project!
Madeline Ryan – Field Crew Leader (Purple Crew)

Hurricane Michael Deployment Week 2

When we first arrived to Port Saint Joe we noticed the immediate needs of the community. We began assessing neighborhoods to see which homeowners we could help. We finally started to get a handle on things and began helping the community that surrounds us. The command staff has made connections with organizations that can help with projects that are out of our scope. For any projects that we cannot do we refer the homeowner to another organization. We have also set up our command office in the community center next to the EOC, where we have helped out some of the local senior citizens with assessments. We’ve gotten about 10 assessments from the community center and 47 from the field and/or crisis clean up. Our teams have completed 9 work orders and are currently working on 5 homes.

This being our first official work week we have hit the ground running, in spite of the unfortunate weather. Since it is unsafe for our crews to be on roofs and sawing under some hazardous trees, we have sent some of our teams to local donations centers to help sort and organize goods that have come in. We also have a team canvassing and talking with local businesses to see if anyone else needs assistance that is not in crisis clean up.  We are using these rainy days to properly train people on how to use come along hoists so they can move trees that are too heavy to move by hand. Even with this weather setback we are still getting things done for the community and keeping our members healthy and safe.

Sonia Hernandez – DRT Crew Leader (White Crew)

Davy Crockett National Forest

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From October 22 to October 31 Gold crew was lucky enough to work an awesome project with the US Forest Service at Davy Crockett National Forest. Though we didn’t get to see Bigfoot (I looked, don’t worry) we did get to hike the entirety of the 20-mile 4C Trail, a National Recreation Trail in East Texas.
Over the course of 6 days, our crew hiked and cleared over 20 miles of corridor and sawed through logs blocking the trail so that hikers wouldn’t have to create social reroute trails or potentially injure themselves trying to crawl over fallen trees.
We were also able to hike through 4 miles of wilderness area, in which no motorized equipment is allowed. We saw some amazing landscapes and experienced near-perfect weather, minus that one night where our tents flooded.
Sylas Walker – Coastal Crew Leader