Texas Conservation Corps at Lake Amistad

In March, Blue Crew headed out for their first spike of the year to Del Rio, Texas, which is about a four hour drive from Austin to near the Texas-Mexico border. After our drive, we met up with Pat Wharton (a man who lists his place of employment as simply, “Earth”) at the Lake Amistad National Recreation Area headquarters. Pat, who has been partnering with the Texas Conservation Corps for a number of years, talked with us about what we would be doing during our time at Lake Amistad. Pat is part of the EPMT with NPS, which stands for Exotic Plant Management Team with the National Park Service . He told us that we would be cutting down and herbiciding Tamarisk, also known by its unofficial name, Salt Cedar. As an invasive non-native species, it grows extremely fast and is very dense in some areas. It takes much of the moisture and nutrients that native plants could use to survive in this harsh region and also deposits salt making it difficult for native plants to grow, especially near fresh water sources such as Lake Amistad.

The next day, after our visit with Pat, our crew leaders P.T. and Ricky helped him scout some possible work sites. They came back with three sites in mind that needed to be attended to with chainsaws and herbicide. While they were out, we worked on getting everything ready for the following work day by sharpening chains and making sure that nothing was going to hinder any chainsaw from working. But of course, we had some issues with the mechanics of the chainsaws and unfortunately for Ricky, a fishing line that had washed up on the shoreline was a problem and found its way into a couple of chainsaws. In a perfect world, we would have gotten our three sites done, but in reality we had to deal with extremely windy conditions on a couple of days as well as heavy rain which shortened another of our workdays. At the end of our time at Lake Amistad with Pat, everyone on the Blue Crew felt a sense of accomplishment and pride. We even got a random donation for our program from a fine gentleman we met while we were shopping for groceries at the local HEB, as well as a very big thank you from a lovely lady named Gloria who pulled me to the side on our last workday. The ‘thank you’ or ‘thanks for your hard work’ comments are when I know I am making a difference even if it is a small one.

Michelle Sheldon, ERT Crew Member



Texas Conservation Corps on the Violet Crown Trail

For our latest blog adventure, we rejoin the TxCC on the Violet Crown Trail. For those who may not know, the Hill Country Conservancy and many other partners have come together to establish a trail system from the Barton Springs Pool in Zilker Park all the way into Hays County. The trail, which is estimated to be over 30 miles upon completion, will be accessible to hikers, bikers, commuters and anyone else that wants to enjoy nature, in all of its awesomeness.

Fortunately, TxCC was able to be a part of the construction of key areas of the trail. For over a month now the many of our crews have been cutting trail tread, trimming trees, smashing boulders, hoisting rocks (uphill), and building switchbacks all while the Austin weather tried to make up its mind as to what season it wanted to be. Furthermore, most of this work involving chainsaws or other “loud” equipment had to be completed before early March since the working area is also habitat used by the Golden-Cheeked Warbler in the spring. Despite all of this, the crews involved were gettin’ it done.

The first day on the trail was pretty routine; grub out stumps, smash some rocks and cut some tread. A solid day by any measure. Our real project came on the second day, as we were tasked with building a creek crossing. This pathway had to be stable enough withstand the elements and long-term use, but unobtrusive enough to not alter the creek’s natural water flow or hydrology. Essentially, we didn’t want to dam up the creek because eventually things like bank destabilization or erosion of the surrounding area could occur. So the plan was to have a path consisting of small, easily compacted rocks from the immediate area with large boulders lining the down stream side to hold the path from being washed away. All of the boulders had to be strategically positioned and shaped to ensure there was as much contact between each neighboring boulder as possible. More contact ultimately means more stability for the path as a whole.

HOWEVER! In order to do any of the before-mentioned steps, we had to first bring these massive boulders to our planned area from where they lay down stream. For this we had to use a most useful tool: The Griphoist (Cue the singing from the heavens). The griphoist is a simple hand crank rigging tool that allows an operator the ability to effectively tension a metal cable. If this metal cable is attached to a heavy object that is otherwise too heavy to move, the object in question will slowly be pulled towards the operator. This is very helpful being that most of the boulders that we had to use weighed in the 600-pound range.

So, to recap all that is going on here, let’s go over the process:

1. Move boulder upstream,

2. Shape contact edges of boulder with rock tools,

3. Place boulders in desired areas,

4. If needed, dig down for better boulder placement,

5.Collect and spread small rocks for pathway,

6. Repeat steps 1 thru 5 until you run out of time.

These were the basic steps that were going on simultaneously. There was a grip team gripping, a rock team fitting, and a collecting team collecting. We were on this project for several days and had constant issues of making the large rocks go where they needed to go. Some times it seemed like we had to take four steps backwards in order to potentially take one step forward. Of course the weather kept us on our toes at all times, as those toes were frozen cold one day and soaking wet on another. It took a lot of work and it still needs some finishing up. Nonetheless, these issues and the irritation they caused pail in comparison to the satisfaction that was felt when we considered where we were and now, where we ended up. All in all, it was an absolute blast getting to build that path.