Copperfield Trail

Over the week we ventured to a forested neighborhood park to to remove debris and erect Box Steps and Waterbars. Dawning waders, we braved the creek, freeing it of fallen trees and forgotten litter.

After, we split into three teams, two making making box steps leading in and out of the ravine, and the other works on the trail leading to it. The box steps twist up and down the ravine. These wooden squares are constructed from harvested wood from dead Ashe Juniper found in the area, and they are hammered into the earth with rebar. One by one, they’re built on top of each other, ascending up the hillside along the trail.

The trail leading to the ravine was also maintained. The berm was trimmed, waterbars and drains were dug, and check steps were placed, all to reduce the ever present threat of erosion.

It was a delightful experience, with Blue, White, and Gold crews all working together. And meeting the many trail going thanking us for our service.

John Currey – Conservation & Disaster Crew Member

Nebraska Deployment

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Another deployment down, and I’m sure it won’t be the last one. Nebraska, to me, was a very special deployment. I had the pleasure of connecting with some amazing home owners, connecting more with my crew, and meeting more Austin office folks I would’ve never had the chance to meet any where else.

Our quarters were interesting enough to say the least. We stayed in this almost 100 year old auditorium that me and about everybody else were sure it was haunted. We all stayed up way too late, playing hide and seek through the whole building with the lights off, making up our own games with a frisbee, and sharing laughs over some awesome family dinners. Getting to connect with so many cool people over such a short time was truly a delight, and i will remember some of these people forever.

The work we were doing was so touching as well. Most deployments you’re inside of homes, swinging around tools, and not reaching out as much. This time around, the main part of the work load was meeting with survivors, and aiding them through the process of getting back on their feet. Working in distribution centers, MARC’s, contacting volunteer organizations, doing anything we could to help these folks out from the back ground, technological side, rather then the boots on the ground, tools in hand approach.

Overall, Nebraska was a blast, or as we said, “NeBlastYa”. That was a very popular phrase over the month, and I think it represents the experience very well. Meeting and connecting with so many spunky characters, helping and reaching out to so many amazing home owners in Nebraska, and having overall the time of your life there in the midwest, is something I will treasure for a long time.

Trevin Balzer – Conservation & Disaster Crew Member (Gold Crew)

Purple Crew at Fort Davis: April 22 – May 15

“Welcome to west Texas, where everything bites, pokes, sticks, or stings,” chuckled our project partner, John.

It was the first morning of our two ten-day hitches to the Fort Davis National Historic Site.  As our crew surveyed the territory, it was easy to see what John meant: dense patches of Prickly Pear Cactus were scattered throughout the land, as well as an array of Mesquite trees, all in different stages of growth.  Colorful moths and butterflies flew overhead while gigantic ants and beetles buried themselves in the dusty, coarse earth. Rocky mountains, several hundred feet above us, surrounded the small but bustling town. We were only seven hours from Austin, but it felt much farther.

John welcomed us to the town of Fort Davis, built throughout the mid-1800s to guard west Texas and allow safe passage on the San Antonio-El Paso road, a journey of 600 miles that took pioneers to California to mine for gold.  Named for the then-Secretary of War, Jefferson Davis, the fort served as a fully functioning town, with a store, chapel, jail, and family housing.

Our job for the next twenty days was to cut mesquite along the old road in order to restore it to how it would have looked in 1850, with small patches of grass here and there and a few bushes.  We were to use herbicide to kill the Mesquite after cutting it. After a few hours of work on the first day, we realized that this was no easy task. We had only brought a few chainsaws with us, for we were unaware we were cutting Mesquite, which has denser trunks than most trees we cut.  Brush cutters were no worthy opponent for this stuff. Frequent cries of “ouch!” and “oww!” stood out among the sounds of machinery, as Mesquite has a way of grabbing onto one’s skin with its thorns, as if retaliating in anger for being separated from its roots. A quick fix to the recurring stabbings came in the form of a pitchfork, my personal new favorite tool.  Our other project partner, Bill, literally saved our skin by bringing us three shiny pitchforks and a wheelbarrow. We were immensely grateful and more productive, for the pitchforks made it easy to carry a clump of mesquite almost the size of a person.

A few days into the project, the weather decided to take a turn for the worse.  A large thunderstorm rolled through, depositing hail throughout the fort. Our project partners agreed to let us stay in a renovated historic house in the fort as a reprieve from the unpredictable weather.  Originally a house of a high ranking official, this house now served as a storage unit and a place for re-enactors to get dressed in the finest 19th century military garb. Of course, one mention of the possibility of ghosts had us scared but excited, which led to pranks galore. We stayed at the house off and on throughout our time at Fort Davis, for which we were immensely grateful during the cold nights and mornings in the mountain air.

Despite our hopeful attitude, our chainsaws had issues throughout the trip, which slowed us down considerably.  Even though we brought our favorite saws, they didn’t agree with the heat of midday and continual use, and one by one they began to fail.  We doctored them as much as we could in the field, even switching out parts and eventually ending up with one completely broken saw and two kind of working ones.  We vowed to bring as many saws as possible the next time around to avenge the fallen brethren.

As we made our way farther down the road, we had plenty to look at.  It seemed like everywhere we looked, there were artifacts. Some were clearly recent deposits, like soda cans and bits of plastic (so, actually trash), but we found some pretty amazing things.  Pieces of plates and glass, a uniform button, and even an old stove was located around the site.

Nights at camp were a lot of fun.  We played card games and read books, and we discussed various fan theories about the outcome of Avengers: Endgame. Crew member Sophia and I listened to her playlist of aggressive orchestral music as we completed a nature hike on top of Fort Davis at dusk, stopping every now and then to look at plants and cacti from the Chihuahuan desert.  Javelinas and deer strolled around our camps frequently, and a particularly happy skunk ate dinner with us one night (he was uninvited, and would not leave). At the fort, our two new horse friends, Soldier and Dudley, greeted us every morning with pleas for forehead scratches and pats.

On the second hitch, we arrived to work armed with six chainsaws. We had our method down to muscle memory at this point: a sawyer would saw through a mesquite tree, their swamper would rake the remains away with a McLeod, a pitchforker would come by and scoop all the remains up and take it to the side of the road, then someone would do quality check with loppers, then lastly, the herbicider would come by with a backpack sprayer and coat all the cut ends.

The bad weather continued throughout the second hitch, and we had several days where we were able to work for half the day and then take a few hours for education.  We went to the Star Party at the McDonald Observatory where we learned many constellations and got to look through telescopes, and on another day we went to the Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center and tour their collection of cacti and desert plants with Bill as our tour guide. We also met a visiting high school group and learned how to make adobe bricks to go on the restored structures, which was a muddy but satisfying experience.  Lastly, we took a full day to assist the museum technician in cataloging artifacts! We cataloged original pieces of pine wood from the structures as well as little items like books, oil lamps, and bullets. I was overjoyed to be able to assist in museum work and view artifacts up close!

Overall, this experience was something I will never forget.  To be able to spend so much time at a place we all enjoyed was a blessing and I gained a newfound appreciation for all of the hard work that goes into historic preservation.  Many thanks to my spectacular crew for all the laughs, including but not limited to the Porter’s voice, gender bending photo filters, low budget horror movies, and the endless jokes.

Love you, Purple!

Caroline Fangman – Conservation & Disaster Crew Member (Purple Crew)

Caprock Canyons State Park Hitch Recap 4/28/19

Caprock Canyons State Park was beckoning us for our 6th hitch to do maintenance on the quickly eroding trails there. Waterbars, check steps, rubble walls and drainages needed to be built, put in, and touched up. Few of us had experience doing that and some of us have never been in the desert or seen a canyon before. We were excited for red sand canyons, bison, primitive camping, higher elevations, and the desert!!! Far away from home in Austin, as enchanting as it looked in photos, (with its rugged rocky terrain,) the desert provided only heat, and no access to drinking water. The absence of other amenities like showers and outlets, designated flat tent pads, and a nearby town showed how spoiled we were at Guadalupe River State Park. Some of us have never primitive camped before, but we are TAT. With our knowledgeable leaders, (Amber, who had extensive backcountry living and trail building experience in California with CCC, and Sam who has built 800 lbs granite stairs on the Appalachian Trail in NY), we had justified confidence that we are going to not only survive but thrive on this hitch solidifying our tribe’s bond and learning cool new trail building techniques with just a bit of extra planning this time. We were stoked to do good work and looked forward to exploring new territory.

After a full long day of driving, we entered the park at sunset. Wow! Mountains! Bison strolling on the road! As tired as we were after a whole day of driving, we all crawled out of the van at the visitors center and limped on our half asleep from the drive legs to the edge of a cliff to snap photos of the setting sun behind the towering canyons and grazing bison in the distance.

The next morning we chewed on our breakfast and watched million of stars fade away, the early sun rays illuminated the vistas all around us. Red, orange, brown cliffs with splashes of green on the towering canyon walls were aglow all around us! Whoa! Everywhere you looked the red giants guarded us, giving their morning salutations to welcome us. These gorgeous lands and canyons were going to be our home and walls for the next ten days!

We had two set work sites going on Haynes Ridge Overlook Trail, which is about 600ft of elevation gain from the trailhead to the top. One worksite, which was at the very top, needed rock steps and a rubble wall built. The other site, about 300ft below that point, needed waterbars and check steps built and a few features reinforced. Our legs protested carrying all the tools up the steep with loose rock and way over 8 percent grade trail. The two-ton griphoist was extra nasty to the knees, but our hearts and minds loved it.

Some of us struggled with the steep hike to the worksite in our bulky workboots and  pounds of water in our packs. The heat was excruciating, the red sand was in every nook and cranny of our clothes, gear, pots, and bodies.  A few of us got away with just scratches from spikey desert plants, some of us sunburnt, and some with smashed fingers, but the tribe persevered and we not only completed the planned work but did extra maintenance, fixing up eroded waterbars and junk walls in many areas. We put in 6 new huge check steps, 4 waterbars, repaired a check step, cleared 3 existing waterbars, and installed 8 rocks stairs!!!

Our strong team bond helped us excel, work well together, and exceed our set goals on this hitch. Heavy winds and epic thunderstorms broke one of our tents and everyone was glad to have helped rebuild and come up with shelter solutions. Instead of retiring to our tents after dinner, like we were used to (maybe because of the heat), all of us stuck around after dinner and hung out together playing games or just cracking jokes and just lounging in each other’s company. It was a whole other camping experience with the crew this hitch. We were closer because of our isolation from the public and being in a new territory, everyone got along brilliantly. We were eight people working and camping just a few feet from one another on daily basis and all was well. Caprock is truly magical. It brought us even closer together.

A few days before the end of our hitch, our off-highway-vehicle, Ranger, got a deflated tire. We waited for the park’s staff to come rescue us. Dennis from maintenance showed up to save us and fixed the Ranger’s flat only for the other one to get another flat later in the day. Dennis helped us with numerous back and forth rides to carry out our camp stuffs and tools back to the parking lot. He helped patch the injured Ranger up and answered our trillion questions about the park. Dennis is officially a trail angel and a good relationship advice counselor. We think you should meet him when you visit Caprock Canyons before he retires.

This hitch has been a productive adventure. We did good work, grew as a team, and explored together. On behalf of TAT, I want to thank everyone who planned our work hitches, this one and previous ones, and who made it all possible. Such exposure to skills, people, parks, and new regions of Texas are tremendously valuable experiences, making everyone a better person and the world truly a better place. I wish many future TAT teams to have amazing hitches and mind-blowing, life changing experiences like we are continually having this season.

P.S.: Oh, and we like eggs and high fives!

Happy trails,

Yuliya Semenova

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