Silver Crew’s First Hitch

Silver Crew went on their first hitch with their entire crew present. The first three days we worked with Jerry and Al of the Trail Dogs on the LOVIT trail that they built. It was a lot of walking with weed eaters, a scythe, and loppers. We cleared the corridor of the hike and bike trail, and past by quartz pits where they used to mine quartz. There were benches placed at great scenic spots along the trail to remind us to take water breaks and gave great views for our lunch breaks. The next five days we worked with Ron and Robbert of the Trail Dogs on sections of the Ouachita Vista Trail doing similar work. During our time working with the Trail Dogs we learned all about the area, how the LOVIT trail came to be, fun facts about islands in lake Ouachita, and the best place to eat pie.

-Danielle Brown – Field Crew Member (Silver Crew)

Aqua Crew at Armand Bayou Nature Center

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After close to a month of training, Aqua Crew finally tackled a project at Armand Bayou Nature Center. We drove down the long dirt road that led to our project site on the West Bank of the bayou, gazing out at the diverse prairie grasses and startled deer. We did morning physical training, project hazard assessment, and then it was time to get to work.

Our project partners had tasked us with removing invasive Chinese tallow trees from the edges of the prairie. We learned to identify tallow by looking for light green leaves trembling in the canopy and pale grey bark. Unfortunately, most of these tenacious trees were surrounded by yaupon, a shrubby tree that, while native, competes with prairie grasses. The yaupon clusters were prickly and full of vines, which threatened to cause hang-ups during felling. Most of our crew had only a week’s worth of chainsaw experience under our belts at the start of the week, but we strapped on our personal protective equipment and rose to the challenge. Many of our members felled a tree for the first time at Armand Bayou, and by the end of the week we were forced to venture deeper into the woods to find Chinese tallow. We powered through anxieties, soreness, fatigue, and all those vines.

On Friday, we put down the chainsaws and tried something a little different. We worked alongside volunteers at Armand Bayou to pull Chinese tallow seedlings out of the soft dirt, eventually creating a pile that probably contained hundreds of little tallow trees. Over lunch, the chief naturalist at the bayou, Mark Kramer, taught us about the history and ecology of Armand Bayou Nature Center. Our fellow crew at the Houston office, the Harvey Strike Team, joined us for the lunch.

Aqua Crew had a great first project and we’re ready for more!

-Sarah Vande Brake

Aqua Crew goes to Artist Boat

This week Aqua Crew worked with Artist Boat, an organization on Galveston island that is working to expand The Coastal Heritage Preserve. We started our week with a presentation on the history of Artist Boat as well as a tour of their facilities. They showed us a plot at the recently completed Outdoor Classroom they created. Our first assignment was to prepare the plot for future use. We tilled the ground for them and then set out into the prairie to translocate several native plants. Artist Boat’s goal with this plot is to one day be able to educate people about the prairie. Coastal prairies are a very important habitat and mostly misunderstood.

Our next assignment with the organization was removing a fence located in their greenhouse area. With the fence gone they will be able to grow more native plants faster

artist boat

and help restore the preserve. We spent most of the day using a variety of tools such as chainsaws, McLeods, and loppers to remove thick vegetation that had overwhelmed the fence. We also had to work together to remove the heavy posts that held up the fence, roll up the old wiring, and then fill back in the holes the posts were in. It was a lot of work! The wind rolling over the island was wonderful to behold, and we encountered many cute insects while we worked.

We spent the rest of the week removing invasive species from the property. China Berry – as they are commonly referred to – are bad for Galveston island. They prevent native plants from flourishing and do not benefit native wildlife, so we helped them remove as much as we could. The area also had poison ivy and poison oak, so we all had to be very careful as we worked. The week wrapped up as the heat returned to Galveston Island, and with it HUGE mosquitoes in full flourish.

-Tara Wilkins – Coastal Crew Member (Aqua Crew)

TAT at Tyler State Park

This hitch was a blast for the TAT crew. We spent some time finishing up two of
the bridges in Tyler State Park, started another bridge and a crib wall, as well as
some general trail maintenance. While it has been interesting coming onto a crew
that’s already halfway through their term as a new guy, they have all been very
welcoming. Since everyone on the crew was already fairly experienced, they were
able to help me learn along the way. The jokes, the communal cooking, sweating in
the humidity, and the evenings spent around the fire are all part of the camp life
while out on hitch. By the end of 10 days I felt as if I had known the crew for 10
months.
The weather on this next hitch is expected to be cold, rainy, and absolutely
dreadful, yet somehow I just can’t wait to get back into the woods. My life back in
Austin feels like a waiting period to recuperate for the next push on our trail project.
Somehow the idea of living in a tent sounds better than being in an apartment,
dealing with mosquitoes rather than traffic, smelling like a campfire, sharing food,
and not having wifi sounds really awesome. I’m really excited to get back to waking
up with the sun in the morning, working in the woods all day, and going to sleep
with the stars overhead.
The work isn’t easy, sometimes the food goes bad, and its not always painless to
live and work with the same 8 people for ten days straight, but so far TAT has been
an amazing experience. At the end of the day when you’re tired and sore, you can
look back and see the work you did, and know that it helped make our world a
better place. I hope that feeling warms my heart when it reaches 40 degrees later
this week!

-Cassidy Stillwell
TAT Crew Member
10/1/18-10/10/18

 

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)