Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park

Purple crew traveled to Lyndon B. Johnson National Park for a 10 day hitch.  Followed by a four day break, they headed straight back for another 5 days.  Their task was to take down an old fence in an area that the locals call: The Back 40. Though rain caused for turbulence and led the eight workers to act as part-time landscapers at LBJ’s Boyhood Home, they accomplished a great amount of work and got to tour the house!  By the end of the 15 days, the team had dismantled the old fence, used an auger to drill more than 20 holes, tamped logs into 10 holes, and improved the 36th president’s childhood home yard.

Alexis Peterson – Purple Crew Member

Eisenhower State Park

The TAT crew was assigned a simple task in Eisenhower state park, to install signs for a ROV/ATV trail system. This trail system is the first of its kind within a Texas state park and therefore an adequate amount of signs were needed. With adequate signs comes many post holes which we started with a post hole digger and a rock bar.
After hitting multiple rocks and making slow progress, the park gave us access to their skid steer with an auger. With a simple “who wants to drive it?” from one of the maintenance workers, Tait volunteers and gets a crash course in operating the beast. After a little getting used to, progress becomes more steady as the TAT crew divides the work efficiently. Tait with a spotter would drill out the post holes and clear the loose dirt. Our crew leader Tyler along with Susan would assemble the signs and bring them to Cassandra, Alex and myself to be thrown in the ground and packed with earth. Thanks to a ROV that the park graciously loaned us, staging the signs in the correct spots was a breeze and getting rides in it wasn’t so bad either. Lopers were also used by myself to clear up the edges of the trail which had plenty of sprawling cedars and brown recluses.
 After all was said and done and with a bit of tender, love and care the trail was quite nearly completed by the time our hitch was over. We were even told by maintenance that we were the hardest working crew they have seen which we appreciated considerably. Besides the hard work of the day, the nights were most pleasant for sleeping. Many of us spent time along the coast of Lake Texoma to unwind after work and some of us more daring souls climbed along the fallen boulders. Unfortunately we will not get another chance to work at Eisenhower state park this season but it surely left an impression that we can treasure until a future revisit.
Matt Harvey – Trails Across Texas Crew Member

Stephen F. Austin State Park

Our first ten day hitch as a crew together was an exciting and eye opening experience. Stephen F. Austin State Park was beautiful and very hot, but we persevered and really enjoyed ourselves. The state park is a hidden gem just outside of Houston with a lush forest of towering kudzu-draped trees along the Brazos river. We saw many snakes and huge orb weaver spiders while we were there. We were rained on a bit, but it was a welcome change from the hot sun.
Most of our time was spent cutting back overgrown trail and laying down decomposing granite, which we then tamped with McLeods. We were lucky enough to have very helpful park volunteers who would help dump the granite by the bucketfull with a tractor where we needed it to be. That really helped spend up the process so that we could get more trail layed down faster. On a day after a particularly heavy rain, we couldn’t do our trail work so we cut low hanging limbs in the camping areas with pole saws. Having been our first time since training using saws in the field, we loved getting the practice time.
We really enjoyed our hitch together at Stephen F. Austin State Park and having the pleasure of meeting the very welcoming park volunteers there. One of the lovely park volunteers who we called OC, was so sweet and cooked us tacos one night of our hitch and we had dinner together. We hope to meet them again someday. Purple Crew is looking forward to more hitches and getting used to hitch life.
Megan Brewton _ Field Crew Member (Purple Crew)

An Emotional Side to Trail Work

I serve with a team of six other enthusiastic people on the Trails Across Texas crew. We travel to state parks all around Texas to do chainsaw work, build bridges, make new trails, and install signage. If you read our previous blogs Susan and Tait will talk to you about the work we do and what it’s like to be involved in a team. I want to talk to you on my perspective of that it’s like to navigate the life of a crew member. In my mind serving for the Conservation Corps has three main parts: Group time, alone time, and city life. This is what a week in the life feels like for me.

In the crowd I hear the best

In the crowd of six other interesting people I hear six other interesting people

I hear the minds traveling and the opinions running rapid

I hear the playful insults and the sweet compliments

I hear the words of wisdom and the words of fools

In the crowd I hear the best

In the city I hear the loudest

In the city I hear the sound of vehicles and traffic humming

I hear the homeless ask for money and the preacher ask for money

I hear the police sirens and the ambulance screaming to be heard

I hear the poets and great writers

In the city I hear the loudest

In the quiet I hear the most

In the quiet I hear the wind howling

I hear the birds and the wild animals

I hear my soul speaking

In the quietness I hear the most

Serving is about getting things done for America, but it’s also about growth and self-
development. My crew has been an incredible resource in helping me deal with every challenge that comes. Working on a crew for the Conservation Corps is both amazingly hard and just amazing.

Cassandra Machart – Trails Across Texas Crew Member

Undoing Racism Workshop

At the beginning of August, I had the opportunity to attend a workshop called “Undoing Racism” with TxCC/LaCC Program Director Jody Karr and American Youthworks CEO Parc Smith in New Orleans. In addition, there were representatives from Los Angeles Conservation Corps, Montana Conservation Corps, Mile High Youth Corps, Green City Force, Civic Works, and The Corps Network. There were around 25 people there, including three facilitators from the People’s Institute. As one of only two corps members in attendance, I imagine my perspectives, interpretations, and take-aways are quite different than those of the non-profit executives and CEOs.

I tried to go in without expectations to leave my mind free to absorb as much as I could. What I gained was an overwhelming amount of information and concepts about systems of oppression, institutionalized racism, cultural norms, and power distribution, to name a few. Over the two and a half days we were there, I experienced a range of emotions. I arrived excited to learn about such a relevant problem in our country; this excitement quickly turned into anxiety, as we moved through the history of racism and the scope of how it affects people in the United States today. This progression seemed to be expected by the facilitators, who have done these workshops many times, and they helped us transition into a feeling of determination. I feel determined to keep listening, to keep paying attention, to understand as much as I can, and to help be part of the movement to undo racism. By the end of the workshop, this determination became empowerment. I feel more educated about the topic, my role in the problems we currently face, and how I can encourage and enable others.

These two and a half days felt very much like a journey, one which we traveled with a small but engaging group of people. There was always time for discussion, for understanding, and for sharing of experience and emotion. The environment was open and inclusive; the voices were authentic, expressive, and educational. I was surprised at how comfortable it was to discuss such a substantial and difficult topic, and this has everything to do with the people who were there. It was inspiring to be welcomed into a group that was so passionate in their contributions, so captivating in their stories, and so forward-thinking in their attitudes.

While this particular workshop was developed for people in the non-profit sector, the things we discussed are extremely applicable to every aspect of our lives today. TxCC is very motivated to gain more diverse representation in staff and corps members, so it was important to them to send a group of people who have different roles in the organization. As an AmeriCorps member, the ways I think about how prevalent prejudice and underrepresentation are quite different than those of our CEO. I don’t believe, however, that this means I should be any less resolved to work towards a more inclusive work environment and be part of the movement of change.

While there is no one solution and the changes we want to see will take time, the more people we can engage with and include in the conversation the better. Thank you to American Youthworks and TxCC for sending me to New Orleans, and thank you to The Corps Network and their Moving Forward Initiative for the funding that made this happen. It was an absolute honor to be able to attend this workshop; I can easily say without exaggeration that I will carry these lessons with me for the rest of my life.

Marinda Hanson – Field Crew Leader

Building a bridge at Tyler State Park

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My initial blog attempt chronicling our days building bridges in Tyler State Park seemed dull and somewhat frustrating. I was belaboring griphoist techniques (there’s really only one), moving lumber, and drilling holes in metal. If that’s all we did, why was I remembering it as days of awesome?

As I reflected on how to convey the most genuine hitch experience, I realized our days are filled with much more than mechanical motions. Yes, we spend inordinate amounts of times moving steel beams not very far and drilling holes for days. Yet, there are also so many intangible aspects that are an equal part of the day as a whole.

The easy familiarity of the morning, where poops are monitored and celebrated. The in depth conversations that fill the space in the hours of griphositing. Learning to navigate each other’s personalities to stay friendly, efficient, and productive.

The act of creating bridges that will hopefully be sustainable for many years is in itself rewarding. However, beyond the physical structure of the bridge, I also see a monument to the time creating it. Each of our individual struggles and triumphs fused into that one cohesive unit. This combined with the work we’re performing are what make each hitch a full and valuable experience.

Chronicles of hitch 2:

Day 1 We travel to Tyler State Park. Tait leaves me a veggie wrap seat surprise, and I give him the best get well fist bump explosion I’ve ever imparted.

Day 2 Griphoist steel beams 4 lyfe. During the griphoist and coil partnership, have epic conversation with Cassandra that shifts my perspective on life. Aka every conversation I’ve ever had with Cassandra.

Day 3 Same as day 2. Harvey documents the gloriousness of echoing my name across the forest. Sounds in memoriam.

Day 4 Slept poorly, all I remember is relating a honklarioso poo joke from my hammock. James is the only one who laughs. Appreciated, it was so good it deserved a chuckle, even pity style.

Day 5 More sleep deprivation. Remember only over bright grocery store for snack reload. In an attempt to narrow down visual sensory overload, deliriously peered through a funnel hanging nearby. Every time I telescoped Tyler his eyebrows were making jokes. Chortled me right back to a good mood.

Day 6 Drilled until rained out. Then stared at a painting with symphony accompaniment at the Tyler Museum of Art. Artinnerpeace, but the salsa wasn’t that good.

Day 7 Digging tread in the pouring rain. Sitting under a leaf waterfall at lunch, Alex uncovers my meaning for life is searching for my meaning. Raindrop life epiphany.

Day 8 Playing frisbee xtreme water style in Tips: Battle of the Genders. Fay was watching the duck and wants to know if I was watching the duck too. I definitely was.

Day 9 The sills didn’t go as planned. As solace, I didn’t blow up the work site. Littlewinsareeverything. Thanks Supervisor Hank.

Day 10 Driver training videos. Stale green to fresh red. If I knew it was that easy I would have been a better driver a long time ago.

Synopsis: Hitch 2 is a roaring success.

Susan Belgrade – Trails Across Texas Crew Member

Youth Crews at Allen Park

Allen Park was a great experience for our whole crew. We began by clearing low hanging and creeping brush from a popular walking trail so that people could once again enjoy the natural beauty of Allen Park. We then pulled out and disposed of an old and rotted fence and began the process of adjusting the size of the whole to fit the new fence posts. Next we tamped in the new posts, sawed notches in the posts and railings, drilled holes through all of them, and finally bolted them into place. As a crew we were able to overcome the challenge of having some of the previous posts sunk in concrete. By working at Allen Park I was  able to learn new skills associated with fence building.

Sam Steele – Youth Crew Member