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