A Resurrection of SE Metro Park by Texas Conservation Corps

And on the Sixteenth of April, in the Southeast Metropolitan Park of Austin, Texas, the most glorious check steps to ever grace the park were completed. Not since fifteen years prior have such beautiful check steps ever been installed in the Southeast Metro. The duo of Green and Purple Crew proved once again that the immense trail building power of the field teams is truly unmatched within the Texas Conservation Corps. With great utility and style, these fine steps not only allow walkers to traverse the scenic ravine and bridge, but also provide great aesthetic enjoyment of their own to all those who are lucky enough to use them in this, the Badlands of Eastern Travis County.

Breaking only for a volunteer day in Bastrop State Park and the weekend, the Purple Crew initially set to their task on the Ninth of April. Accompanied by consultants from the Green Crew, the Purple Crew was undeterred by a 3 mile hike to the work-site and the immense tasks at-hand, even while maintaining their now world renowned Physical Training routine throughout the project. The results speak for themselves; whether it’s carrying saws, mattocks, drills, or elderly from burning buildings, the Purple Crew Workout Plan (PCWP) prepares you for it all. Based on revolutionary one-minute length sessions and cutting edge exercises, you are sure to complete your rugged task in record time and with a sculpted posterior. The workout plan is also guaranteed to return lost loved ones, even if they’ve been assigned to Top Secret Timber Framing Operations (TSTFO). The workout not only strengthens the body, but the emotional bonds between those in the stretch circle as well as their minds, thanks to the “daily question” feature. Through mind meld, the PCWP were able to return PFC Glen and Colonel Kurtz safely from the humidity of Louisiana and without any strange manners of speaking. Now complete, the Purple Crew can operate at maximum strength and engage our Megazord to conquer any task, be it in Colorado, Florida, Oklahoma or Texas. You are encouraged to order your VHS copies of the routine today for four easy payments of 29.99. Dial now at 1-800-888-TXCC.

Benjamin Schell, Field Crew Member

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Fuel Reduction Project at Bastrop/Buescher State Park Complex

11 days of work nonstop,

Primitive camping less than an hour from Austin,

By day 7 we were feeling the exhaustion.

 

Brush cutting, chipping, and chainsawing,

Cooking, cleaning, and dish washing,

We’re all getting into the hitch routine,

With a developed reliance on coffee and caffeine.

 

Sausages and “dirty” money were involved,

And there were a couple problems to be solved,

The thunderstorms those last two nights,

Not to mention the mosquito bites.

 

Playing on the playground and swinging on the swings,

Happiness in little things,

Cub Scouts running through our site,

Yelling late into the night.

 

Filling buckets up in showers,

Springtime’s pretty, blooming flowers,

Sloppy joes with potatoes and corn,

Getting scratched and cut by thorns.

 

We’re on a few days rest at the moment,

Which fills us all with such enjoyment,

Though it was a good time all around,

We’re all happy to stop sleeping on the ground.

 

Michelle Murnane, Emergency Response Team Crew Member

Texas Conservation Corps Helps Out Mississippi

This past fall, TxCC had the unique opportunity to help out our coastal neighbors. Through a partnership with The Nature Conservancy and The Corps Network, TxCC sent members to the Biloxi, MS area to not only serve through conservation projects, but by helping to build a corps program. Local youth participants were recruited for the 7 week program while TxCC Crew Leaders and Staff did what they do best – lead, teach, keep members safe, and when the days get long, inject a little fun. Everyone, from the corps members to the participating organizations, learned a lot and we are grateful to have had to chance to share our knowledge. Below are reflections from participants of the inaugural Gulf Coast Restoration Corps.

Honestly I must admit this has been one hell of an experience for myself. All my life I’ve lived on the Gulf coast and never have I got a chance to give back/help my fellow community. We went from cleaning all the homeless shacks in the woods, to getting waist deep into rivers and lakes to remove the debris. Along the way our fellow crew leaders Chris and Taylor have taught us many different types of skills, from hands on full action to “total pro mode” as they like to call it. They also taught us how to use and read the water quality meter. Overall the crew was good… And might I add, our crew leaders are totally awesome.

Conservation lifestyle by: Kilo Turner

 

I participated in the Gulf Coast Restoration/Climb CDC Conservation Pilot program led by Taylor Wolter and Chris Gomon. My experience was pretty much new to me. I had never been kayaking or even known about the different vegetation in my area. I learned about which plants were and were not native, how erosion and altering streams were affecting us, and, most importantly, that you shouldn’t wiggle around in a small boat. I liked the adventurous nature of the job but didn’t really like being at the will of nature’s elements. When it comes down to it though, I can dig it and look forward to getting our own Conservation Corps.

-KeJuan “Juice the Glove” Williams

 

I had a very fun experience, and had lots of fun with Chris and Taylor for these weeks. I have learned a lot from them, things I never knew such as, how to evaluate a stream, test the water and kayak. I like everything about this program. There is not a dislike about it, and if I could do it again, I would. And by the way, conservation rocks!!!

-Martin King

 

Hey my name is Lezzeunna May-Cousan and I just completed my first conservation work ever. I’ve had the best crew leaders to teach and help me grow into the person I am today. The best thing about conservation work for me was being out on the water. Everyday on the water was a good time. Conservation work may seem hard and boring at first but when you’re helping many streams, bayous and lakes, its not so hard. I hope everybody that does conservation work has as much fun as I did.

-Lezzeunna May-Cousan

 

Well the ending of a  pilot program is coming. This has been a fantastic run, learning new things and even new experiences. First, we learned to test the water with the water quality meter. Next, came the kayaks… at first sight this was a “no go” for me, but with the confidence of my instructors they slowly persuaded me to do it. We learned what invasive species were and all sorts of other things. Hopefully this will continue.

-Brandon McClarien

 

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Texas Conservation Corps Fighting the Good Fight: Pushing Back Invasive Plants

We carried our weapons on our backs. The sprayers with three gallons of herbicide (Roundup Pro, Garlon 4, and Habitat) weighed us down, but lightened as we showered the brightly dyed chemicals onto leaves that would then drip with the hot pink or aquamarine blue liquid. For over a week we’d hunted down the many invasive plants that have insidiously infiltrated Mississippi’s Gulf Islands National Seashore. Our hope was that the negative cost of using herbicides would be outweighed by the positive results of protecting fragile wetlands from destructive exotic plants. We’d looked in low marshes for thick patches of torpedo grass, gazed through dense brush for the sneaky curls of drooping honeysuckle vine, and peered up over the canopy for the pale, heart leaves of Chinese tallow. These plants reproduce so quickly they choke out diverse ecosystems and threaten the survival of native plant and animal species. Our hope was that by spraying potentially harmful chemicals we could mitigate the damage our unknowing society had caused by introducing these foreign plants.

As with every work hitch the terrain challenged us in unique ways. The harsh, burning rays of direct sun, the poison ivy, and thorny briars we had encountered before, but the marshlands offered up a new challenge. Mud. Very stinky mud. Each day there were casualties on our crew. We sacrificed dry, clean-ish clothes to the methane, smelly muck. Curtis, our undaunted leader, fell during our first foray into the marshes. After facing down an overfriendly alligator used to yummy handouts from visitors, he reached out to steady a crew member and in the process he himself ended up sideways in the mud. The next day Seth – always a “Johnny-on-the-spot” – sludged around the edges of a pond until a hidden deep spot engulfed him up to his chest and filled up his rubber waders with murky water.

Our relief from the marshes came on the couple days that the winds calmed and our helpful National Park Service guides, Gary and Jeff, took us out to the barrier islands: Sand, Horn, Petit Bois (pronounced “petty boy”) and both West and East Ship Islands. Riding in the boat, feeling the spray of saltwater, and seeing dolphins play in the waves rejuvenated our spirits. On the islands we scrambled over sand dunes with our backpack sprayers until we came across nearly impenetrable stands of tall reeds called phragmites, which we then attacked with herbicide.

As the week wore on it dawned on the crew that this Sisyphean fight against invasives meant we played a small, short-term role. We could see where Chinese tallow trees had been cut just a couple years before and the dry, brown poles of previously treated phragmites. Now they’d returned with a vengeance. With every vehicle carrying exotic seeds into the park and with every hurricane creating sunny opportunities for dormant weeds to spring up our hard efforts would come undone. We needed to trust future conservationists to carry on the work and continue to fight against each fresh wave of harmful sprouts or perhaps find new solutions to the problem.

For me the words of the prominent conservationist, Aldo Leopold, offer encouragement: “We shall never achieve harmony with land, any more than we shall achieve absolute justice or liberty for people. In these higher aspirations the important thing is not to achieve, but to strive.” AmeriCorps members strive. While each of us strives for social justice and freedom, there is that quirky branch made up of Conservation Corps that strives for harmony with our rich and beautiful land. This ragtag group of members consists of types who judge the day’s productivity by the amount of sweat and dirt caked onto their pants, who take humble responsibility for the wounds their society inflicts on the environment, and who have a tendency to romanticize their work as guardians of the wilds.

Kate Saling, Field Crew Leader

Texas Conservation Corps in the Panhandle

On September 12th, 2014 AmeriCorps members all across the nation celebrated the 20th anniversary of the creation of AmeriCorps. The date was marked with events from the White House to community food banks. In Texas, events were held at UT Austin and smaller venues across the state. The Texas Conservation Corps’ Emergency Response “Blue” Crew had the pleasure to attend one of the local events held in Amarillo, TX.

The Amarillo ISD AmeriCorps Program reached out and invited the crew to swear in at the High Plains Food Bank. The crew gladly accepted this invitation. The Amarillo ISD AmeriCorps Program engages regional high school and college students as tutors. The tutors travel to regional elementary schools where they assist students with reading comprehension and other subjects. The program is proud to be one of 2 AmeriCorps programs in the state that engages high school students in this capacity.

The TXCC “Blue” Crew has spent several weeks working at the nearby Lake Meredith National Recreation Area. We have been building a new multi-use hiking, biking, and horse trail for visitors to the area. The trail system will be the first of its kind in the region and will provide over 20 miles of trail when it is completed. We worked on several projects at Lake Meredith over the course of our season, and weather is always a challenge. The day of the Anniversary was no different – we had cold wind and rain and so welcomed the chance to spend the day inside!

The event in Amarillo involved harvesting food from the community garden, live feeds of the state and national events, and a group swearing in ceremony. During the swearing in ceremony members recited the AmeriCorps pledge and vowed to get things done for America! The Members from the 2 programs had the opportunity to learn about each other and share stories from their term of service. Because we are a unique program in our state, and we stay on the road all the time, we don’t often get a chance to spend time with other AmeriCorps programs. The event was a fun change of pace for the crew and several Amarillo members expressed interest in serving with Texas Conservation Corps in the future.

Ricky Reedy, Emergency Response Team Crew Leader

 

Previous Reflections at Lake Meredith:

I just finished my first spike to Lake Meredith, which is a series of 4 trips. We have the unique opportunity to work with a professional National Park Service trail crew. I learned a copious amount about several key elements of trail construction including rock building, switchback construction and carving trail out of new hillside. The coolest part of all is getting to learn how to blow up boulders with dynamite charges! Needless to say, I am looking forward to seeing what the next 3 hitches bring.

Taylor Wolter, Emergency Response Team Crew Member

 

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Texas Conservation Corps at Goose Island

Goose Island is a relatively small State Park near the town of Rockport, TX. The park is thickly vegetated – filled with Coastal Live Oaks, Youpon Holly, Mustang Grape, and Greenbriar. Like most upland coastal habitat in South Texas the area is an overgrown remnant of coastal savannah. When fire was common there, it was able to keep the vegetation down and maintain the cover of grasses and interspersed Oak trees. After western civilization moved in, we suppressed the fire (due to the ostensible danger of letting fires run rampant in a developed land) and the understory vegetation was able to crowd out the grasses. Left unchecked, the vines are able to creep up and eventually bring down even the oldest of Oak trees. There are still many left, but even those are slowly succumbing to the sheer weight of vegetation ever present upon them

Arborculture aside the thick mass of vegetation also presents a tremendous fuel load. Replicating the mistakes of western civilization across North America, in suppressing the naturally occurring fire cycle we increased the damage potential of a catastrophic fire exponentially. While not a new concept, it is a notion that has moved to the forefront of every resource and park manager’s mind after the colossal Bastrop County Complex Fire in 2011 which destroyed over 1600 homes and much of Bastrop State Park itself. It is not economically feasible to fix the vegetation problem entirely in Goose Island, as the fuel load is so great that it would be much too dangerous to burn and would have to be removed mechanically. It is, however, feasible to mitigate the spread of such a fire by implementing fuel breaks to slow the rate of spread. Which is where we come in.

Texas Conservation Corps was contracted to construct several thousand feet of fire break around the park, protecting campsites and structures. The breaks were 30 feet wide, and herbicide was applied to slow the eventual regrowth of the understory. Oak trees were also left as an implementation of a shaded fuel break. The going was slow, mechanically removing thick vegetation is a difficult process. But after 2 11 day spikes trips and over 160 hours of work the crew was able to construct fireline around most of the park’s “Lantana Loop” (the most thickly vegetated camping area) as well as both park restrooms and some of the park residence. With the work completed the crew and park were both able to rest easier knowing that the work they had done might save lives some day.

Colin Foltz, Emergency Response Team Crew Leader

Texas Conservation Corps Does Gulf Coast Restoration

Earlier this month, our crew traveled to Galveston, TX to take part in a 2 week training program held by the Gulf of Mexico Foundation’s Restoration Technology Training Center.  This program was the first one ever held and covered many topics involving coastal restoration: the evaluation of restoration needs, project design, permitting, field planning and implementation, and monitoring. Upon arrival, we went straight to Galveston Community College to meet our instructors, Mike Smith and Carl Ferraro, and get a brief history of restoration in the Gulf of Mexico.  Shortly after, the crews departed to see what their housing would be like for the next two weeks.

To say we were pleased is a huge understatement. After spending a large chunk of the year in tents, sweating and fighting off bugs, we could not believe what we saw: a house with beds for each of us, multiple kitchens and plenty of room for activities! We were right on the historic seawall, which meant we could hop in the ocean almost anytime we wanted.

During the days, we took introductory classes about everything Coastal Restoration–learning about the various habitats that make up the Gulf Coast, restoration techniques, and various projects currently taking place. TxCC members participated in a ton of different activities throughout the course, including a professional luncheon that had representatives from multiple organizations throughout the Texas Gulf. All of these folks were invested in restoring the coast, and it was really beneficial to be exposed to them and their points of view. We did some real work too and spent a few different field days  pulling and planting native plants in the salt marsh. Everyone seemed to appreciate this, since we ended up on the front page of the Galveston Daily News! The most entertaining day though was when our CEO came down to see how we were doing. We all went kayaking that day with Artist Boat where we also got to reach deep inside ourselves and find our inner artists to create a few water color paintings!

All in all, I feel that this opportunity will be a highlight of my TxCC experience. It has inspired several of our members to look into that line of work in the future. We all got a chance to learn a bit more about restoration and how we could get more involved, as well as just have some good old fashioned fun at the beach during our free time.

Stephanie Ferguson – Emergency Response Team Crew Leader