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