LaCC – Kisatchie National Forest, Kincade Recreational Area

With a bright blue sky and stick of humidity, the ever perky, Crimson Crew members arrived as usual on Monday morning with the goal to get things done on our newest adventure. In the true spirit of a hitch to a new project we of course had to start with the obstacle of leaving the actual parking lot. Typically this part of the day is quite simple. We get the tools, grab the gear, stuff in our personal baggage and with the crack of a joke or smart comment we are off to do what good we can. This Monday decided it wanted to be difficult however, but after switching vans, trailers, and a 3D game of tetris we managed to head out.

2.5 hours or so later we arrived to one of the most breathtaking areas of Kisatchie we have been to. The forest of tall pines and scrubby undergrowth encircled a glittering, peaceful lake. It took but a few minutes to find Sonny, the camp host, who directed us to the plots he had reserved for our arrival and took a moment to talk with us while we settled in. One of my favorite parts about working with LaCC is the camping. Rain or shine, we have been very lucky to end up near beautiful places that make up for sleeping on the hard ground.

Our week started slowly. A morning of cleaning one of the soon to open recreation areas and bucking up some fallen trees. For those who dont know; bucking is the process of chainsawing a tree that is fallen into smaller, more moveable pieces (it is something we do to keep areas open to the public looking clean or clear pathways for trail users). Wednesday our task was similar, though at a boat ramp and involved a lot more trash pick up. PSA: there are usually trash cans in your park area and though sometimes inconvenient, the critters and people who use public areas greatly appreciate the effort you put in when going to the trash bin with your disposables instead of turning nature into a garbage can. In the afternoon we tottered off to more “strenuous” work clearing underbrush that was engulfing pine trunks. As Thursday gave way to a much needed thunder storm, we experienced the first taste of true conservation work in a sense. By this I mean we stayed out, and were drenched, until the lightning and thunder signified the storm was too close and we kicked those shrubs glutious maximi. We finished as the sun came out and the accomplishment I felt was gratifying.

Friday was the day to head home. Before we could, tents and personals had to be repacked, the trailer reorganized, and then the fire pits of every campsite cleaned. Arriving home to Baton Rouge, for me at least, is one of the more challenging parts of our hitches. Yes by the end I am grateful to have my comfy bed and my own shower and alone time, but coming into the city is such an experience of it’s own. From the tranquility and bliss of forest life to the meaningless urgency of the city. It’s a contrast. That is the greatest thing about this program though; getting to experience both sides of life here on our planet. Getting to do what little I can to try and make it better and getting to bring what I learn in the woods to my city life and being content with what I have and the time I have. Slowing down to experience everything at my pace. We unpacked, cleaned every tool used, and said our goodbyes for the weekend; that brief, but much needed, moment of time where life seems to be on pause now because we’re not out in the woods. Who can say what it is going to feel like at the end of our term, but that’s 6 months away so I am more than happy to enjoy the time I have left with my new family and keep doing good.

Brook Mize – Conservation & Disaster Crew Member

LaCC in the Winn District – Kisatchie National Forest


This past work trip we returned to the Winn District of Kisatchie National Forest for ten long days. Our project was again prairie restoration, working for project partner David Moore – a botanist with the US Forestry Service – to remove nuisance plants from imperiled calcareous prairies. The primary target of this work project was Sweet Gum (Liquidambar styraciflua), a fast-growing woody tree encroaching on the prairies. While Sweet Gum is native to the region, usually restricted to seasonal wetlands and woodland edges; it is considered a nuisance species in this particular habitat, as an historic lack of wildfires due to human fire suppression allow Sweet Gum and other woody vegetation to grow unchecked – and this is where we come in. Armed with an arsenal of tools including loppers, handsaws and hatches (with Shawnee and myself busting out the chainsaws when necessary) we got to work bright and early each morning working in a circle around the perimeter of a nine-acre meadow, cutting down the small trees and saplings and spraying their trunks with herbicide. Ever-present were the various forms of “green briar”, several thorny vine and shrub species of the genera Rubus and Smilax growing across the ground at knee height or wrapped around our target trees tangling branches and scraping skin.

Early in the week the weather acted against us, bringing windspeeds over 13mph which impeded our spray time and a major storm front moving in Wednesday which forced us to take a half-day and sleep beneath a downpour and heavy winds. However, once the rain cleared up the remaining five days bore beautiful sunshine, fair temperatures and a gentle breeze.

My personal highlight of the week was encountering a beautiful Southern Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortix contortix) with brilliant white edges to the dark mahogany bands crossing its back. The highlight for the rest of the crew, of course, was probably watching me sprint across a nine-acre prairie in full chainsaw protective equipment like a madman leaping over fallen limbs and briar patches to reach the other side when people began shouting “snake” upon its discovery. Despite being a venomous species, the copperhead posed no danger to us as we all kept our distance and left the animal alone, allowing it to slither off into the woods without incident.

On Tuesday afternoon we ended the workweek with David taking us on a nature hike. Starting with an area that previous Louisiana Conservation Corps and Texas Conservation Corps had completed and leading us through a patchwork landscape of hardwood lowlands and with pine forest uplands and more open prairie ridges. The climax of the journey was a clear stream running the bottom of two ridges. Hidden amongst the clay mud and pebbles were a variety of fossil artifacts, including seashells, petrified wood and coral – a few crew members even found remnants of fossilized crabs preserved in the clay. After a long trip in the field (literally), it was a perfect combination of fun and informative to close out the hitch before our departure for Baton Rouge the following morning.

Alec Jarboe – Conservation & Disaster Crew Leader

LaCC GulfCorps, Last Hitch!

We’ve spent our last hitch wrapping up earlier projects, observing wildlife, securing observation areas, and reminiscing on the past six months. During the past 10 days we assisted in painted the remainder of parking bumpers to finally close out that project. Last week we replaced spindles, and this week we removed the old ones from the recreational sight. The majority of our time though was spent replacing hurricane tabs which secure observation towers in case of extreme high winds. Two days on this hitch was spent with our project partner, she shared her long term hobby of bird watching with us. We all received National Geographic Bird books and binoculars to be able to spot and identify each species. After some time we all really got into it, choosing our favorite birds and calling them out when spotted! Van rides to work sights were spent with our favorite songs from the past months, sparking memories and laughs. We got creative in the kitchen creating meals we’ve yet to think of… all extremely delicious! After work we took walks along the path behind our bunk house, seeing sunsets, snakes, birds and enjoying our last few days. We’ve all learned so much and valued our time working within the Nation Wildlife Refuge system and all the connections we’ve made here.

-Liv Bischoff

 

LaCC Crimson Crew: Hitch 1

For our first real hitch we were sent to Kisatchie National Forest.  When we arrived we met a very enthusiastic man named David.  He was happy to see us and learn more about each of us and why we were here.  After we finished filling out paper work and talking with David, he showed us the house we would be staying in.  Yes that is right, we got to stay in a house for the duration of our time in Kisatchie.  The following day we went with David and another botanist named Chris, to the prairies we would be working at for our time there.  We were showed what we would be doing, which was girdling and herbiciding sweet gum trees to open up the prairies.  We then began the arduous task of identifying and girdling these trees with hatchets and brush knives, or if they were small enough just lopping them with the loppers.  It was quite warm during our time there, and more importantly humid, at least for those that were not used to the humidity.  However we still managed to get our first prairie done within a couple hours and were ready to begin our next and much larger prairie after our lunch break.  As we began this next prairie we realized that it would not be as easy as our first one, this one would take a lot more work and we decided that we would bring out our brush cutter to help get rid of a lot of the smaller stuff because there was just so much of it.  During this time it began to rain, most of us ran back to our stuff to grab rain jackets and cover our packs, but some of us were not as afraid of a little rain and just as quick as it came, it had left.  This would be our only time actually working when it had rained because we could not herbicide during this time and when it rained next it was not as small.  On day 4 of the hitch we started early because rain and storms were in the forecast for the afternoon.  When the time and clouds were approaching the silence and change in temperature were noticed.  At this moment we left the site and ended up finishing our day cleaning up our house so that we would not have to do this later.  Our final day of the hitch we started early as well because we had to leave before noon, and we wanted to finish the final part of the prairie we were working on.  Because of the rainstorms it was now much colder out and we were feeling it, we now brought out our chainsaw and were determined to get as much work done as we could before we had to leave.  When the time came to leave we were glad with what we were able to accomplish and we couldn’t wait until the next time we would be able to come out there again and work with David.

Thank You,

Mathew Humphrey

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Turtle Bayou, Anahuac Texas

Our last hitch in Texas has been completed! And it sure was one for the books. By far the toughest hitch we’ve been through this season. But those are always the ones you remember the most. We had a 10 day spike camp hitch, continuing the construction of a 600 ft boardwalk at Turtle Bayou. An area covered in at least a foot of mud. We’ve been closely working with the Texas Conservation Corps with this project but got to take it on with just our crew this hitch. Through the mud, freak storm that ripped tents, and tool malfunctions, we managed to add an additional 95 feet of boardwalk! Doing maintenance of boardwalks is not new to us, but building them from scratch was. There was a steep learning curve for the crew but, by the end of this last hitch I think it’s safe to say we’re pretty close to experts now. We’re sad to leave Texas and say goodbye to our friends at TXCC but are very proud of the work we put in. Back to the SouthWest Refuges!

– LaCC Crew Leader, Courtney Gullo

 

Louisiana Conservation Corps: Turtle Bayou, Texas

This week was one of new experiences, growth and knowledge. Our goal this week was to make progress on the Turtle Bayou boardwalk, and clear out brush to plant Mulberry and Cypress trees. We worked alongside our sister crew, Aqua from TxCC, with so many hands work was light and after the first morning we found a perfect organization and rhythm. The mud and water on the trails was the most difficult and frustrating part of this week, boots got stuck, bodies landed in deep pools of mud and tools were easily dirty and harder to use. This slowed work, but we managed to make wonderful headway with helpful hands and positive attitudes on both crews! Later on in the week a small group separated to brush cut, in order to plant trees along a march road. The trees are to be planted to create better habitats for birds and protect the marsh and road from erosion. With well suited tools this job was simple and we were able to quickly see results. Thursday afternoon we joined Texas crews at a educational talk about the migration of monarch butterflies and their declining habitat and population. This was eye opening to many crew members and a wonderful reminder of the importance of our work. All three crews (pink,aqua and the new TxCC gold crew) debriefed together and shared our favorite part of this week. This hitch as a team we had to better our communication skills and assimilate to working with a larger crew. We learned how to properly deal with different and difficult working conditions and use all team members gifts as a tool to better our work.

-LaCC Crew Member, Olivia Bischoff

 

LaCC Gulf Corps crew in Texas

This week, Pink Crew crossed the border to join Texas Conservation Corps’ Aqua Crew in their work at Armand Bayou, outside of Houston, TX. Having previously trained in Wilderness First Aid and Wildland Firefighting with Aqua crew, we enjoyed getting the chance to work directly with them on their home turf.

We again camped at Galveston Island State Park for the week and were joined at our campsite by LaCC’s new Red Crew, as they started their term with Wilderness First Aid training. Camping right off the coast of the Gulf of Mexico provided beautiful views and a nice change of pace for us.

Our week at Armand Bayou was devoted to restoring the area’s coastal prairies to their natural state. We focused on removing Chinese Privet and Chinese Tallow, two highly invasive species. We used chainsaws, brush saws, and loppers to cut down the Privet and Tallow and, in drier areas, applied herbicide to the low stumps to prevent regrowth. Frequent rain in recent weeks left the prairie waterlogged, so hip boots were required to reach several areas. It was messy (fun) work.

One highlight from our trip was an impromptu visit to Johnson Space Center, just minutes away from Armand Bayou. After a long day of work in the prairie, we decided to check it out after seeing the Independence shuttle from the highway.

 

 

 

-LaCC Crew Leader, Ridgely Dorsey