Environmental Corps Builds a Playground

Let’s KaBOOM! this.

On Thursday, September  20th 6 crew members/leaders and I went to Bastrop to volunteer with the Bastrop Long Term Recovery Team as Build Captains with KaBOOM!– a non-profit organization focused on keeping play in children’s lives by constructing playgrounds in parks around the US. As Build Captains, we lead crews of 10 to 30 in constructing different parts of the playground and park area. Some leaders were in charge of bolting together pieces, cementing in all the beams, and even putting in and planting a community garden, which was my job.

The day started early for us, arriving in Bastrop at 6:30am so that we could prepare the site and get out all of the tools and supplies that would be needed.  Volunteers started arriving in waves from 7:30 to 8:30 representing groups like PALS, a community service group at Bastrop High School, The ESPN Longhorn Network, HEB, Texas Forest Service, and many community members. We fueled up with breakfast tacos, got the blood flowing with an aerobics warm up, and got a pep-talk from Allie, our Building Coordinator. After our opening ceremony, the volunteers were divided up in to their crews, identified by Disney characters, and scattered around the work sites to begin their project, for we had only 6 hours to complete a whole park.

My job was to get the garden beds ready for planting and plant all the plants that were donated to the park. My group was made up of the high school students from Bastrop that were part of PALS. These young individuals were such a blast to work with. As soon as we got our crew together they were anxious to know what the directions were, where everything was, want needed to be planted… their excitement was so contagious that it made the project not only get finished smoothly, but beautifully as well. Right before we planted the vegetables and herbs, we had over 20 elementary students come in to learn how to plant. The high school members jumped right in, took a few kids, and helped them get their hands dirty. I’ve never seen a garden get planted to fast.

While working with my group, I made sure to make my rounds, check in on other ECorps members and see how the playground was progressing. What a surprise I got when I looked up and saw shade structures, a cement block pathway, and all of those scattered parts being put together. It was all coming together into one fantastic looking park. Families and children will be going to this park for years to come, to play, picnic, and enjoy the scenery, but I will always have that memory of seeing nothing in that spot, and within one day’s work, with the help of hundreds of volunteers, watching a park get put together, piece by piece.

Elaine Felten, ECorps Field Coordinator

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Environmental Corps in South Texas

As we descended down the map to Lake Amistad, our first stop turned out to be the Mexico border which we managed to find by driving only a few short minutes after missing our turn in Del Rio. This was exciting for us since I don’t think anyone on our crew thought we would be that close to Mexico! Soon after our little detour, we met up with our project partner Pat Wharton, whom we first met in Oklahoma on our trip to the Black Kettle National Grasslands. It was a privilege and honor to work and learn from Pat again and we were all happy and excited to see him. Besides working with a great supervisor, we were lovingly taken under the wing of the wonderful staff of Lake Amistad who took extra measures to make sure we were fully stocked with ice and gatorade everyday. Between the invasive work, the great partners, and the awesome lake to cool off in each day, I think it’s safe to say that this was one trip that will not soon be forgotten!

Colin Trotter, ECorps Member

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Environmental Corps Ethic

As a relative rookie to the practice of cutting down a tree, it would be easy to mistake the superficial simplicity of the actual process for dishonor or disrespect. It takes no more than a second for that tree to meet the ground, yet, for me, I cannot fathom a more ineffably reverential moment in time. I joke often about getting to play lumberjack to people who want a more concrete explanation of what I do and it comes as no surprise, in a culture that is somewhat beginning to capitulate to the whims of an environment that tires of our wasteful fickleness, that I am met with disapproval for eliminating from the landscape a general embodiment of good and majesty that is a tree. Yet, from the moment I began to listen to the voices at AYW who continue to teach me the particulars about all the facets of my job, notably the tree felling, I have never met a group of people who venerate the outdoors and instill that attitude in their proteges as effectively. The acute focus and scholarly attention to detail involved in our job at Bastrop State Park is an extension of the devotion of the staff. Being the aforementioned newcomer to this arena, it is rewarding to see that a job with rough-edged connotations can inconspicuously be as technical and comprehensive as it is. At a certain point, all the little things we do to pass the time, be they as grandiose as cutting down a loblolly pine or seemingly insignificant as digging into clay-ridden soil, organically coalesce into a sense of pride, enjoyment, and esteem in my work that has been unmatched by anything else I have ever done and may ever do. Sometimes it seems so simple to others, no more and no less than manual labor, but the uninitiated have yet to stand in my shoes and see how the cumulative effects of our work are an amalgamation of a lot of passion for the environment that we live in and share with others. It combines to create an everlasting, concrete appreciation for every gear in the machinations of the natural world; both for me and hopefully for the incognizant hiker who rightfully pays little mind to a bridge built, by our crew, with wood from a tree that possibly fell at my hands. That need to perpetuate admiration for our parks and, by extension, nature itself, namely by providing an outlet for such excursions, has been fostered in me since the day I joined up and will be something I hope to impart on others indefinitely.

John Hernandez, Bastrop State Park Restoration Crew Member

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Environmental Corps in TPWD Magazine

We’ve had a smooth summer with only a few days over 100 degrees and even some rain in July. It’s making those 2011 chainsawing-in-the-115-degrees tales sound more mythical and less threatening to our first years! The crews have been all over the place, and as we wait for them to come back and tell their riveting tales or for our new crews to get settled in, we will direct you to Texas Parks and Wildlife Magazine this month and their shout out to our all our crew members who have spent time in Bastrop State Park. Thanks TPWD, for the opportunity to be involved in the restoration and for the recognition!

At Issue by Carter Smith

Rising from the Ashes

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Service Learning Academy works with Habitat with Humanity

As an Environmental Corps Crew Leader, I am accustomed to working hard and getting sweaty, but its usually in the context of a park, woodland, or forest. On June 6th, the SLA Crew Leaders and Members got a taste of a different kind of hard work, when we volunteered for the day with Habitat for Humanity (H4H).
The first and most noticeable difference was the start time. We usually get to school at 7:45-8am, but we needed to get to school at 7am for an early start with H4H. When we arrived at the jobsite, we were greeted by a longtime volunteer named Bill who had been volunteering with H4H for over 10 years. We received a brief orientation from Bree and Billy, the project managers, and they talked about safety, gave us some vocabulary for the tools and building materials, and emphasized that we would be working in controlled chaos, but it would all work out wonderfully.
We then started the first step of building the house- raising the first exterior frame. This is a special moment, and Yosef, the man whose house we were building, had a huge smile on his face as we lifted the frame high and set it in with the nail guns and bracing. Yosef had contributed over 400 hours of sweat equity in order to qualify for getting his own house, and had volunteered with H4H during the daytime, then went to his job as a night cab driver in the evening. This was a happy day for him, and he was beaming.
Then the real work began. We all had different jobs, and we worked under the supervision of the longtime volunteers and a few AmeriCorps members with H4H. They were really fun to work with, and we swapped stories and talked about our various AmeriCorps positions. We raised framing for the house, secured it with bracing and with nail guns, we raised the roof framing, and we wrapped the house in insulation. Everything had to be done in a special order so it would all fit together, and everything had to be precise and level.
It was very hot working hard in the sun. There was no shade to speak of, and the concrete slab of the foundation radiated heat. I found myself chugging water even more furiously than I usually do on the trail. The repetitive motion of the nailing and holding things steady made my muscles ache. It was physically demanding work, that also required mental focus. At the end of the day, we said our goodbyes to Yosef and the other volunteers. It was a good feeling to have put in a hard days work for a good cause, and we learned many carpentry skills which can help us be more technically proficient with our regular ECorps work. All in all, it was  good to take a step back from our regular job, and I think we all gained a fresh  perspective that will aid us in our future work.
 Madeline Enos, SLA E-Corps crew Leader

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

SLA Environmental Corps Partners with the City of Austin

The City of Austin gave the SLA Environmental Corps the opportunity to do GIS/GPS training for a 6 week long project. Six members were selected to go out in the field throughout the neighborhoods collecting data for damaged sidewalks, curbs, and gutters, water collecting by curbs, and plotting trees. Geographic Information Systems work on the simple premises that almost every form of data can be related to a map or other forms of easily understandable graphics.

The main purpose of Geographic Information Systems involves assembling, storing, manipulating, and displaying data in a database that is identifiable according to locations, with a view that every object on the Earth’s surface can be easily geo-referenced. Data collection, like GIS, allows you to integrate data that has been collected at different times, at different scales, and using different methods of data collection. Sources of data include maps on paper or transparency, written data, digital files, and information stored in human memory. The reason we are doing this is so we can make our city a better place and safer for people by following the regulations of the ADA; such as information on damages so the City of Austin can understand what needs to be done for safety hazards. Uneven sidewalks can be tripping hazards; dead trees can cause accidents by falling and causing serious damage to people or property.

I’ve learned so much since I have been in training such as how to use the GPS device. It actually wasn’t that hard, it’s just like using a phone. I learned a lot more about identifying trees and realizing how bad some neighborhoods can be with their repairs. Trees damage sidewalks by outgrowing the cement and can crack curbs which can be torn off into big chips. This is my experience so far with the City of Austin GIS/GPS training. I am looking forward to getting further opportunities with the City.

Jessica Rodriguez, SLA Crew Member

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Environmental Corps at National Trails Day

National Trails Day took place on 2 June 2012 and ECorps sure was busy! We had 6 different work sites throughout Austin, doing everything from invasive species removal to building armored drains and putting up cedar rail fencing. Our members engaged 75 volunteers in caring for their favorite green spaces, generating 225 hours of service. A big thank you to our partners Hill Country Conservancy, REI, the Salt Lick, and the City of Austin for making this day fun, fed, and successful, and an even BIGGER thank you to our wonderful volunteers who came out, got dirty, and made a difference in their community. If you didn’t get a chance but wanted to help out, be sure to sign up for National Public Lands Day in September or contact us for other great, green volunteer opportunities.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.