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ACE Alumni Ambassador | Taylor Crews

Alumni Name:  Taylor Crews

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Dates Served: February 6,2019 – February 28,2020

What roles was Taylor in: corpsmember and Assistant Team Leader

Location: Asheville, NC

Taylor Crews, corpsmember and Assistant Team Leader from 2019 to 2020, now steps into the new volunteer role of ACE Alumni Ambassador.  In this interview, we introduce our readers to Taylor and give a glimpse into her time during and after ACE.  Taylor shares her experience with the National Park Service, favorite ACE projects, and what she and her team did during their time off.  Continue reading to hear Taylor’s full interview!

Q:  What were you doing before ACE?

A: I had graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University a year before, I was mostly traveling around Scotland and California while also applying for jobs in my field which was environmental studies. I needed a change so I decided to  move to Asheville and start to apply for jobs there, that’s where I saw the job ad for ACE and immediately applied.

Q:  How did you hear about ACE?

A: My professor who I was pretty close with in college suggested ACE as an option after college. She said it was really hard work but could open a lot of doors career wise while also giving someone a great work ethic, she wasn’t wrong. So I decided to apply thinking it was a great place to start.

Q:  Walk me through your time at ACE – What was your favorite aspect of being an ACE Crew member?

A: I joined in the winter so it was a small group of us at first, we all got close really quick. I was hopping around projects in Nantahala National Forest, Alabama, Harper’s Ferry, Mammoth Cave NP and Daniel Boone National Forest. I was mostly doing trail work along with some vegetation management and historic preservation. It was awesome to be in a different place every few weeks with a new crew, exploring new places. There was honestly never a dull moment, ACE attracts such an open, eclectic group of people and I believe the people are what made my experience there so magical. I wanted to sign on for another term so I then joined the trail crew that was going to be working on the Trillium Gap Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains NP in spring of 2019.

The project was a little different than the way the rest of ACE worked because we would be the same crew of people in the same place for 6 months. We got to be in Asheville every weekend which was great. Those 6 months were some of the best and hardest months of my life. Our crew was so close, we did everything together. We lived, worked and camped together, even on the weekends we hung out and we never really got tired of each other. Of course every crew has their moments but we had a lot of love for one another and we worked so well together. We got to work closely with the National Park Service’s trail crew everyday and it was an incredible career building and networking opportunity, it helped land me the job with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park I have now.

ACE definitely made me tougher and established a strong work ethic that I don’t think many other jobs would have. My favorite aspect of being an ACE crew member was the strong sense of community that was inherent in the experience. I was working outside doing meaningful, hard work with my best friends. I know it kinda sounds cheesy but It’s hard to put into words how amazing it truly was, people who have been in ACE probably know exactly what I’m talking of though.

Q:  What was it like living in Asheville, NC? Any favorite activities? Hikes? What did you do on your off days?

A: Living in Asheville is awesome! You can hop on the Blue Ridge Parkway in 10 minutes and be on a hike in no time. There’s endless hiking here and we’re surrounded by National Forests like Pisgah, Nantahala and Cherokee. The Great Smoky Mountains NP is a short drive away as well. I think my favorite hike in the area is Pilot Cove or Black Balsam Knob in Pisgah. There’s a huge rock slab at the top you can hang out on with a 360 view of the mountains.

We all would usually float the French Broad River or go hiking during the days. We would go explore downtown and the West Asheville area quite a bit too. One of our favorite things to do was go to Dobra or High Climate downtown and grab some tea and just chat for hours. At night we would usually go out in town and see some live music and grab a beer. We had a good little group of musicians in ACE at the time so we would hang out on the front porch of the ACE house and watch them have jam sessions too.

Q:  Did you have a favorite project?  Why?

A: When I was on the Trillium Gap project in GRSMNP for sure. I felt I was learning in depth about trail work, learning how to build structures. We built a huge rock staircase and rock work is my favorite so that was awesome to see come together. My crew and I were super close too, we were a little family.          

Q:  What is ACE Eastern culture?  How do you feel you participated in that culture?

A: I would say it’s a “work hard, play hard” mentality. We would work our butts off during the week, then still be super active and go out and have a great time on our off days. You could tell everyone truly wanted to be there to challenge themselves and grow. It was an inspiring environment to be in. The sense of community was awesome as well. I’ve never met a more open, accepting, loving group of people in my life. I learned so much about myself as an individual just being around people who accepted and loved everyone for who they were.

I feel I participated in that culture by constantly showing up, mentally and physically. I tried to not only work hard but to constantly try and improve. Asking questions, trying new things, and taking on responsibilities while on hitch. On the off days, our crew always welcomed new members coming in and tried to get to know everyone. We always had something going on and invited everyone who was back in Asheville to do stuff. Sometimes there would be a group of 20 ACEr’s going out downtown, it was so much fun.

Q:  In what ways did ACE shape your life personally and professionally?

A: I would say ACE shaped me to be a harder worker than I even thought I could be. I learned how to maintain a good work ethic in some pretty harsh conditions, like freezing cold and pouring rain. I got really comfortable being uncomfortable, like not being able to shower for days and sleeping on the ground for a month straight. ACE just all around made me a tougher person which I’m so grateful for. I felt like I walked out of ACE with a greater sense of being able to take on challenges and also how to better care for those around me. You’re not only living for yourself in ACE so living within a crew dynamic held me accountable in a lot of ways that shaped me in a big way personally.

Q:  How long have you been an ACE Alumni?  Where are you now? 

A: I’ve been an ACE Alumni for about 9 months now. I just finished up my first season doing trail work for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I’m still living in Asheville with 5 other previous ACE members.

Q:  What are some of your favorite extracurricular activities?

A: I’m really into bird watching! Working in the Smokies in the spring was awesome because so many birds come through there during migration and it was so fun being outside doing trail work and getting to hear all the different species of birds come through.

I’ve recently developed an interest in learning more about the native plants in Appalachia, going on hikes and identifying wildflowers and trees has been super fun for me. I also enjoy learning about and reading tarot cards, herbalism and being active in any way I can. My friends and I will usually go to yoga classes together (pre-Covid times ha) or go on hikes.

Q:  What excites you most about becoming an ACE Alumni Ambassador?

A: Being able to share my experience to other people in hopes they could join and have just as an amazing one as I had. I want to be able to help get the word out to more people about ACE because it’s a great place to start in conservation work.

Q:  If a prospective ACE member were to ask you what the benefits of joining ACE are, what would you say?  

A: I would say the benefits will result in what you put into it, you could gain so much from ACE if you go into it with a good mindset. Here are some I found for myself.

  • Growing as a person, both professionally and personally
  • Networking opportunities with project partners
  • Opportunity to travel to many National Parks and Forests
  • Learning a good variety of skill sets (trail work, vegetation management, historic preservation, planting)
  • Community with other ACE members
  • Getting to work and camp in beautiful areas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ACE Alumni Ambassador | Libby Snethen

Alumna Name:  Libby Snethen

Pronouns: she/her/hers

Dates Served: May, 2017 to November, 2017

What roles was Libby in: Crew Member

Location: Mountain West, Hurricane, Utah

Libby Snethen, born in Washington and raised in Missouri, joined ACE Mountain West Crew division in May 2017.  Libby served a 6 month term with ACE and is now living in Salt Lake City, Utah.  Libby will be ACE’s very first Alumni Ambassador.  These volunteer positions will be spreading the word about all things ACE and engaging with prospective members.  Read Libbys interview below to learn more about our first Alumni Ambassador!

Q:  What were you doing before ACE?

A: I was a junior at the University of Missouri,  in Columbia, MO, studying sociology and working part time at the university hospital. My free time consisted of walking and running on the MKT trail through town.

Q:  How did you hear about ACE?

A: I randomly found the ACE website after Googling “Mount Zion Utah,” a place I had heard about from a friend that I would later know to be Zion National Park. My Google search took me through photos of towering sandstone spires and glowing arches, and then of unwashed, smiling faces in beige T-shirts. I watched every video about ACE that I could find and decided to apply for a six month term.

Q:  Walk me through your time at ACE – What was your favorite aspect of being an ACE Crew member?

A: Having never camped before I joined ACE, I had a lot to learn about the world of outdoor recreation. Immediately, I fell in love with hiking, camping, and not showering for days. While all of this was amazing, my favorite part of ACE was the people. I met dozens of wonderful people, each with their own styles, jokes, and dreams. The people of ACE became my family and I will always love them.

Q:  What was it like living in Hurricane, UT? Any favorite activities? Hikes? What did you do on your off days?

A: Hurricane was a fun place to live. I frequented Alfredo’s for burritos, and still visit whenever I’m in town. Chinatown Wash became a favorite hike of mine when I wanted to do something near the house. I didn’t know what to expect for my off days, but I could have never imagined them being filled with so much joy. Every single set of off days were spent traveling and getting to know my ACE friends better. We went on trips to Big Sur, Moab, the Grand Canyon, the Tetons, and more. We took naps under the arches that I had seen on Google Images. We strutted around art galleries in Carmel, CA wearing mismatched and inside out clothing. We laughed until we cried, and cried until we laughed. 

Q:  Did you have a favorite project?  Why?

A: My favorite project was a logout in Dixie National Forest. This was my first hitch using the chainsaw where I felt totally comfortable. I have to admit that the saw was very intimidating, but my Crew Leader, Katie Sena, was supportive and encouraging, which boosted my confidence. 

Q:  What is ACE MTW culture?  How do you feel you participated in that culture?

A: The ACE MTW culture is tight, to put it simply. We shared books, music, and fun recipes. I feel like I totally adopted the “dirtbag” lifestyle while in ACE, one of canned beans and remote adventures and without showers or flushing toilets. I loved coming back to the house and sharing stories with everyone while we packed for our next hitch. 

Q:  In what ways did ACE shape your life personally and professionally?

A: Personally, I grew so much and in ways that I didn’t imagine. The work pushed me physically and taught me what my body can do. I loved every new experience, and vowed to keep this momentum going. Professionally, I just wanted to do anything that would preserve this experience. Whether it’s working for a land management agency that protects the environment or for a local organization that encourages community engagement within the outdoors, I want everyone to have the opportunity to fall in love with nature in their own way.

Q:  How long have you been an ACE Alumna?  Where are you now? 

A: My last hitch was at the end of November in 2017. After ACE I decided to stay and transfer to the University of Utah. I graduated this year, and am currently the intern at TreeUtah, a nonprofit based in SLC that plants trees in communities that need them. 

Q:  What are some of your favorite extracurricular activities?  What is it like living in Salt Lake City, Utah?

A: Living in Salt Lake City is pretty great. I try to go hiking as often as I can. I try to fill my free time with things that make me feel good, like reading, visiting the mountains, painting, and socially distant picnics. Recently, I’ve been painting watercolors on my hikes, which has been pretty awesome.

Q:  What excites you most about becoming an ACE Alumni Ambassador?

A: I am so excited to be in a supportive role for future ACEers. The opportunities available to people in ACE are outstanding, and made even better when these people are encouraged to grow and explore as individuals. My experience doesn’t look like anyone else’s, and that’s what makes ACE so special. I hope that as an ACE Alumni Ambassador I can meet new people and encourage personal growth in them through environmental stewardship.

Q:  If a prospective ACE member were to ask you what the benefits of joining ACE are, what would you say?  

A: As cheesy as it may sound, the benefits are what you make them to be. I chose to put myself out there and fall down a lot because I wanted something new. Making close friends, exploring new places with said friends, and overcoming challenges are my major takeaways from ACE. For this experience, I will always be grateful.

Gettysburg National Military Park

Since 2016, ACE Southeast has been working seasonally with Gettysburg National Military Park. Located in southern Pennsylvania, Gettysburg National Military Park protects and interprets the location of the battle of Gettysburg during the American Civil War. The park contains over 43,000 artifacts from the 1863 battle, as well as a historic cemetery. The goal of the work being performed in the park is to restore the land and structures to a historically accurate depiction of what the soldiers would have experienced back in 1863. 

In previous years, the crews have taken part in invasive species removal, maintaining and stabilizing park trails and building and re-establishing wooden fences and stone walls. This summer, the crew has been led by ACE crew leader, Rebecca Speckenbach and the work has primarily been focused on re-establishing the wooden fences around the park and brush cutting the grounds. The fences are primarily used now to contain cattle.
Last summer the crew worked on repairing rock-wall structures that played a large role in the outcome of the battle of Gettysburg. The walls served as protection for soldiers on both sides of the conflict but have degraded by varying degrees over the years. In the upcoming weeks, the crew will be shifting from fence repair to rock work before returning to their base in Asheville, NC.

https://www.nps.gov/gett/index.htm

San Juan National Historic Site | Puerto Rico

In 2015, ACE Puerto Rico was established through a partnership with San Juan National Historic Site. The site is managed by the National Park Service and its’ mission is to protect and interpret colonial-era forts, bastions, powder houses, and three-fourths of the old city wall. The ACE crew primarily works at the two forts, Castillo San Cristobal and Castillo San Felipe del Morro. 

Due to the sites’ location in Puerto Rico’s capital, and given its’ great historical value, the site receives over a million visitors each year. The partnership began to assist the site in maintaining the facilities, including cleaning litter from the grounds. Since the onset of this partnership, the work has expanded into trail building and historic restoration. A new nature trail now exists around the perimeter of the old city wall that ends at a spectacular view of the ocean. 

A daily, ongoing part of the maintenance division’s duties at San Juan National Historic Site is preserving and repairing the two-and-a-half miles of fortress walls and three forts. Hurricane Maria accelerated the natural erosion that takes place from rain and wind and has caused a higher demand for repairs.

The NPS staff have been conducting an in-depth study of the historic materials used to build the walls including sandstone, limestone, and brick, as well as learning the traditional construction techniques used in the original construction of the forts. This work is a finetuned science since modern materials, such as cement, are not compatible with the original structure. Using a mixture of lime, sand, water, and crushed brick and traditional application techniques, the NPS staff have been gracious enough to take ACE corps members under their wing and teach them this invaluable skill. 

Several of ACE members have moved onto NPS positions, including the NPS staff member pictured above, Kenneth De Graciani. “That is our goal, that we will work alongside the ACE crew members, train them, and then hire them on with the National Park Service,” stated Jose Santiago. ACE is so thankful that our corps members are treated as members of the team at the San Juan National Historic Site and are continuing to gain skills and experiences through this partnership. 

ACE Great Basin Ranger Corps | Great Basin National Park – Baker, NV

Since 2016, ACE Youth & Community Conservation Programs division has partnered with Great Basin National Park in Baker, NV to engage local teens (ages 15 to 18) in developing tangible professional and interpersonal skills in conservation through the Great Basin Ranger Corps program. Established in 1986, the National Park is named after the Great Basin: a collection of 90 basins located in the mountains between the Sierra Nevada and the Wasatch Mountain ranges. Great Basin National Park has a lengthy cultural history, with occupation spanning over the last 12,000 years, along with an abundance and variety of natural features including desert, mountain, glacier, and cave ecosystems. The park is home to 238 bird species, 73 mammal species, 18 fish species, and over 800 plant species, among others.

Members Simon, Kara, and Kayli join Team Leadership Fellow Andrea for a crew photo at the Lehman Caves Visitor Center.

Most recently in 2019, four ACE members and one ACE Team Leadership Fellow worked within Great Basin National Park to assist in different areas, including cultural resources, visitor center services, and education & interpretation. Members often led multiple daily visitor tours through the Lehman Caves and assisted biologists in conducting biota surveys for proper humidity, air quality, and soil temperature in the caves. Along with roving the trails to provide park information to guests, the ACE Ranger Corps team took turns working in the Visitor Center, preparing inventory and answering visitor questions. 

Team Leadership Fellow Andrea assists in setting up a telescope for an Astronomy Programs event in the Park.

Several times during the 320-hour term, Ranger Corps members had the opportunity to assist biologists in monitoring nearby fish populations through electrofishing. This process involves using two electrodes to pulse a direct current through the water, temporarily stunning nearby fish in order to take measurements such as species, length, and weight. Within minutes, the fish return to their original state with no lasting harm. Electrofishing also allows for the calculation of species density, abundance, and composition in the sample area.

Member Kara holds a captured fish while on an electrofishing outing.

 

An Interview with Great Basin Ranger Corps Team Leadership Fellow, Andrea Wagner: Along with tours and guest interaction, Team Leadership Fellow Andrea worked specifically to help organize member outings, update the Park’s events website, set up telescopes for night time Astronomy Programs, and conduct an annual snow survey to determine water content from a core sample. She even worked with biologists and ecologists to map out a closed section of the Lehman Caves!

 

Q: What is your favorite part about working with Ranger Corps?

 

A: The most enjoyable experience for me participating in the Ranger Corps program has been the opportunity to act as a leader and mentor to the younger members. Last season when I was part of an EPIC internship I was the only ACE member in the park, and so it has been a lot of fun having others around this summer season.

 

Q: What have you learned during your time in Ranger Corps?

 

A: Being a Crew Leader for Ranger Corps has taught me the value of having and being part of a team, the importance of intentional leadership, and the incredible fun it is to work for A.C.E!

 

Q: Do you have any plans for after the program?

 

A: I hope to continue working for the National Park Service in some capacity, either in interpretation or perhaps in natural resources.

Mapping out an off-route section of the Lehman Caves.

Member Simon uses a dip net, bucket, and safety gear while assisting in fish monitoring via electrofishing.

 

For more information about the history of Great Basin National Park, along with current events, please visit: https://www.nps.gov/grba/index.htm

NPS Academy, 2019

Every year a new group of individuals from all over the United States is selected to take part in the NPS Academy.  With varying backgrounds, identities, and experiences these folks initially converge in Grand Teton National Park, a unique place fitting for the unique mission these participants are about to delve into.  In early spring, ACE the NPS and Teton Science Schools co-host an orientation with the purpose of participants getting an immersive understanding of the Agency and community they will work alongside the following summer in a National Park.  The objective of this innovative summer internship experience, paired with spring orientation, is to introduce and connect diverse students, ages 18 to 25 to career opportunities with the NPS.

In 2019, NPS Academy at Grand Teton partnered with American Conservation Experience, Emerging Professional Intern Corps (EPIC).  At ACE EPIC, we support college students and young adults transitioning in their career with professional development opportunities in natural and cultural resource management alongside federal and NGO agencies.  Partnering with the NPS Academy has been an exciting opportunity!  Throughout the season, ACE supported fifteen participants in various internships across the nation.  Pictured below are just a few of the internship opportunities and experiences had through NPS Academy.

Figure 1: Snowshoeing at Orientation in March, 2019.

Figure 2: You’ll need sunglasses for winter in a place like Jackson, Wyoming. High elevation, remoteness, and deep snow can create conditions requiring significant preparation for the outdoor extremes.

Figure 3: Water sampling and fisheries monitoring are some of the many exciting opportunities and wide-ranging internships of NPS Academy.

Figure 4: Trail work is really important for erosion control and hiker safety in a high-use recreation area like Grand Teton National Park.

Figure 5: Swearing in junior rangers!

Figure 6: Data entry is an important component to tracking your efforts and outcomes of your internship.

Figure 7: It is hard to complain about the view here!

Figure 8: Working with local youth and student groups is always a blast.

Figure 9: Trail work can include cutting stone! Did you ever imagine that?

Figure 10: NPS Academy 2019.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grand Canyon National Park | North Kaibab Trail

Every year our crews tie up their boots and head into the Grand Canyon National Park. The Grand Canyon was one of the first project partners ACE ever had and our partnership continues to strengthen and grow as time goes on. This year our Southwest crew had the opportunity to go backcountry on the North Rim of the Canyon. The North Kaibab trail is the most strenuous route out of the canyon with steep switchbacks and stunning views. Many who visit the park find it surprising that, despite only being 24 miles from the south rim to the north rim as the crow flies, it actually takes about four hours to drive.On a Wednesday morning, our crew led by Carina Zenti geared up and began hiking into the canyon on the North Kaibab Trail. “Part of what makes working in the canyon so different from working in other areas is the sheer amount of people that visit. We get more compliments on our work here and the visitors are always really grateful that we are here maintaining the trails,” said Zenti. The canyon receives more than 5 million visitors each year, making it the second most visited park in the US. Of those 5 million, about 80% will hike at least one to two miles into the canyon and about 11% will take the trails to the bottom. This amount of foot traffic in addition to the natural course of erosion in the canyon calls for constant trail maintenance.
The ACE crew spent seven days camped approximately five miles into the canyon. Each day they performed cyclical maintenance on the trail which includes fixing and improving drains, clearing loose rocks from the trail, smoothing the tread and working on any other general issues with the trail that need attention. The crew also worked with the NPS staff to guard the trail while they worked on a rock slide. It is always a privilege for our corps members to work in the canyon alongside the National Park Service staff.

 

https://www.nps.gov/grca/index.htm

Corps to Careers | Jessie Snow

 

If you have ever wondered how to land the dream job of being a park ranger, we have the video for you! Our Corps to Career series highlights federal employees who got their start with ACE. Jessie Snow started with ACE as a corpsmember in Arizona, moved up to an EPIC internship in the Great Smoky Mountains and is now working as an NPS Education Ranger and will be leading an ACE YCC crew this summer while using her education award from ACE to complete her master’s degree! Talk about full circle! Watch the video below for her full story and to experience the beautiful Great Smoky Mountains landscape!

Mammoth Cave National Park | First Creek Trail

This spring and summer ACE Southeast is continuing to work in partnership with Mammoth Cave National Park. While this stunning national park is known for its expansive cave system and its’ role in American history, it also has dozens of front and backcountry trails for visitors to enjoy above ground.


This year the crew is working on the lower half of the First Creek Trail for approximately six weeks. The crew is being led by ACE crew leader Jacob Graham. Prior to the ACE crew working on the trail, the conditions were rocky and steep, with many exposed roots and washouts. The erosion caused by these conditions were negatively impacting both hikers and horseback riders using the trail.

The crew worked to improve the trail by putting in water bars, drains, and a bridge over a creek crossing.  The bridge was built with both hikers and equestrians in mind. ACE is proud to be continuing work with this incredible national park!

 

https://www.nps.gov/maca/learn/news/first-creek-trail-work.htm

 

 

Bryce Canyon | Forest Thinning

ACE has taken part in multiple forest thinning projects across the Southwest over the last several years. Each project has had a similar objective in mind: wildfire prevention. Each year wildfires have increased in severity and occurrences, and it has become more crucial than ever to remove the lower level fuels that allow them to become more severe.

Fall of 2017 proved to be a very busy time for our ACE Utah crews in regards to fuels reduction. Crews performed forest thinning in beautiful, Bryce Canyon National Park, for an eight-day project. 

A blue ribbon is tied to the fence on the corner of West Clay Avenue, Flagstaff March 22nd, 2017.

Forest thinning helps to prevent wildfires from becoming catastrophic. ACE’s part in this aspect of wildfire prevention is to remove any trees that would serve as ladder fuel. Ladder fuel is a firefighting term for live or dead vegetation that allows a fire to climb up from the landscape or forest floor into the tree canopy. This means cutting down any tree species that are easier to catch fire, trees of a specific diameter, and removing any dead or down trees.

The crew comes off of a lunch break at one of the canyon's overlooks.

The crew comes off of a lunch break at one of the canyon’s overlooks.

In Bryce Canyon National Park the ACE crew was led by crew leader, Brandon Lester. The primary objective of this project was to protect limber pines and bristlecone pines as well as Douglas firs and Ponderosa pines. Douglas firs and Ponderosa pines are being protected because they tend to be more resilient against wildfires. By keeping these more resilient species and thinning more flammable species, the forest becomes less prone to catastrophic wildfires. The bristlecone pines are being protected because in this area they tend to be very old and the limber pines are being protected because they are a more rare species. By selecting certain species ACE is working to create a healthier pine forest.

 

Crew members swamp branches and trees that have been cut into piles for prescribed burns that will be conducted by the parks service.

Crew members swamp branches and trees that have been cut into piles for prescribed burns that will be conducted by the parks service.

To do this the crew was reducing the number of flammable species such as white firs and some of the Douglas firs that could potentially become ladder fuels. The crew was also targeting trees that were growing in clumps and trees that were growing too close to the species they were trying to protect. For example, the crew was not directly targeting Douglas firs but if there were any Douglas firs growing too close to a Ponderosa pine, then the crew would remove that tree.

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During this single eight-day project the crew aimed to thin approximately three acres within the park. ACE is incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to return to work in this beautiful national park and look forward to our continued partnership with the National Park Service and our friends at Bryce Canyon National Park.

For more information on Bryce Canyon National Park click here: Bryce Canyon National Park

 

 

 

 

ACE YCC and EPIC assist NPS with a Pollinator Field Research Study at Cuyahoga Valley National Park

 

In summer 2017, four local high school students from Akron, Ohio participating in the six-week ACE Youth Conservation Corps program (YCC) joined ACE EPIC Intern Carlyn Mitchell at Cuyahoga Valley National Park to assist the National Park Service (NPS) with a variety of natural resource management projects there. NPS has produced a wonderful video series called the “Outside Science (Inside Parks)” initiative.This video showcases the pollinator field research study. Click here to learn more about the research taking place at Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Grand Canyon National Park – Trail Maintenance

One of ACE’s longest running partnerships is with the Grand Canyon National Park. This past summer and in to the fall ACE crews worked on several of the many trails in and around the canyon.

A blue ribbon is tied to the fence on the corner of West Clay Avenue, Flagstaff March 22nd, 2017.

ACE had two crews working on two different trails in the canyon, the Bright Angel and the Hermit trail. The crew on Bright Angel was led by ACE crew leader, Hannah Baskin and the Hermit trail crew was led by ACE crew leader, Stephanie Gonzales. Both of these trails experience heavy foot traffic in the summer months. In addition to hikers, the Bright Angel trail also supports mules tours as well as pack mules throughout the year.

A blue ribbon is tied to the fence on the corner of West Clay Avenue, Flagstaff March 22nd, 2017.

Both crews were performing cyclical maintenance on the trails. This usually encompasses widening tread, clearing drains, reinforcing water bars, brushing and clearing the trail of any obstacles. The canyon trails require attention all year long because of the constant erosion that happens within the canyon walls.

A blue ribbon is tied to the fence on the corner of West Clay Avenue, Flagstaff March 22nd, 2017.

On the Bright Angel trail the crew was performing general maintenance as well as assisting the National Parks Service trail crew with a rock work project. Some of the crew members were on patrol to make sure that hikers were safe while the work was being completed and other crew members got to try their hand at the rock drill.

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On the Hermit trail the crew was using a grip hoist to move some large boulders from the trail. Using rock bars the crew was able to move boulders out of the main trail and repair parts of the trail that were eroded by flooding.

A blue ribbon is tied to the fence on the corner of West Clay Avenue, Flagstaff March 22nd, 2017.

Going into the fall ACE crews will continue working further down the Bright Angel Trail and eventually to Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the canyon. Our staff and corps members continue to feel grateful that they are able to serve in and contribute to the protection of this park.

A blue ribbon is tied to the fence on the corner of West Clay Avenue, Flagstaff March 22nd, 2017.

Sunset Crater National Monument – Lava Fields

A blue ribbon is tied to the fence on the corner of West Clay Avenue, Flagstaff March 22nd, 2017.

ACE Arizona partnered with the National Parks Service at Sunset Crater National Monument. Sunset Crater is a cinder cone volcano that is located north of Flagstaff, AZ. Through the end of September the crew constructed a trail through the lava flow within the park.

The crew is being led by ACE crew leader, Tim Beck. This is a completely different type of trail building for the corps members.  A typical trail involves working with pliable dirt however, in this case the crew has had to learn to work with lava flow remains which is hard volcanic rock.

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The ground in this area is comprised of lava rock that is unstable and dangerous to walk upon directly. To lay the foundation for the trail the crew begins by moving the lava rocks to fill in any gaps and cracks. Using double and single jacks the crew is crushing in lava rocks to flatten the ground into a trail. By rearranging lava rocks and spreading rock gravel the crew is creating a trail that sits several inches below the lava flow. The trail will allow visitors to walk amongst the lava flow which has not been accessible in the past.

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Trail work at Navajo National Monument

Repairs to Tsegi Point Trail in Navajo National Monument are a unique and exciting project for ACE Arizona. Navajo National Monument is located within the northwest portion of the Navajo Nation in northern Arizona and was established to protect three well-preserved Anasazi cliff dwellings. Like much of northern Arizona, the Navajo National Monument area is composed of sandstone that is apt to lead to rocks falls and landslides due to winter freeze and thaw conditions.

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Partnering with the National Park Service, our work here involved creating a bypass for an area of trail that had been blocked by boulders that eroded from the surrounding canyon walls and fell into the trail. The crew was lead by ACE trails trainer Jack McMullin and ACE crew leader Andrew Greenwell.

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To create the reroute the crew used grip hoists, rock bars and patient teamwork to remove rocks from the new section of trail. We also built rock walls to support the new tread and to insure that the tread is wide enough for hikers to pass safely. Tsegi Point Trail overlooks Tsegi Canyon and the crew agrees that it is certainly one of the most scenic places ACE has been lucky enough to work in.

This was the second of three projects that ACE is working in the area.

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Pinnacles National Park hosts the Pinnacles Ranger Corps Program

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Not far from Hollister, California, ACE has partnered with Pinnacles National Park to host a “Ranger Corps” Program. The initiative started in 2009 and is one of the few of its kind. Pinnacles National Park currently has four Ranger Corps members, Elijah Valladarez, Alex Diaz, Conner Stephens and Ryan Robledo. All of the members are local youth (ages 18-25) who will complete 300 hours in the park over their weekends assisting park professionals and learning about the National Parks Service.

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“I like that I have been able to work in my community and this experience has taught me to really appreciate the area that I grew up in,” explained Alex Diaz, Soledad resident. The program runs on the weekends and aims to mentor the interns in different directions through working closely with the park’s rangers and other ACE members participating at Pinnacles.

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Elijah Valladaraz is studying criminal justice and explained, “since I am interested in law enforcement the park does its best to get me around the park’s security rangers.” Alex Diaz expressed a similar point, that he was focusing on botany in school and gets to go out and work with the park’s vegetation and restoration team.

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Conner Stephens and Ryan Robledo are both in their senior year of high school. Conner is hoping to study something along the lines of geology in college. “This position has improved my social skills but it has also taught me a lot about basic geology and plants and has improved my overall mood,” explained Conner, “the highlight for me is waking up each morning and being in a National Park and being able to work outside, whether that is assisting the vegetation and condor crews, or just helping park incoming visitors.”

Conner Stephens explains the difference between condors and turkey vultures to the park's visitors while working the nature center desk.

Conner Stephens explains the difference between condors and turkey vultures to the park’s visitors while working the nature center desk.

Paul Mondragon is a part time Park Ranger and runs the program in the park on the weekends. Paul expressed his dedication to the program and stated, “I like seeing the kids grow and become more comfortable talking with the people who come to visit the park.”  Paul has been working with the program for the last five years and works closely with the corps members.

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The Ranger Corps also provides CPR and first aid training in addition to the hands on experience of working in the National Park. The program aims to open doors for the local youth into the world of environmental stewardship.

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Carriage Trail Restoration at Moses Cone Memorial Park

ACE partnered with the National Park Service and the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation for an 18-week restoration project at Moses Cone Memorial Park. This national historic site receives 250,000 visitors a year and is located on the Blue Ridge Parkway near the town of Blowing Rock, North Carolina. The park preserves the country estate of Moses Cone, a textile entrepreneur, naturalist and conservationist who lived in the late 1800s. It encompasses 3,500 acres including 25 miles of carriage trails now used for hiking and horseback riding, as well as a twenty-three-room mansion called Flat Top Manor.

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The primary objective of this project was to restore the 25 miles of carriage roads to their historic width. Lead by Corey Harrison, the crew accomplished this by brushing back vegetation with mechanized equipment including pole saws, chainsaws, and a wood chipper. By protecting and restoring the cultural landscape at Moses Cone, the ACE crew is providing sufficient width for carriages, horses, hikers, maintenance equipment, law enforcement patrols and rescue vehicles.

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#IamACE – EPIC Edition – Kyle Tibor [video]

Meet EPIC Intern, Kyle Tibor. Kyle has been interning out of Pinnacles National Park’s Condor Program. Pinnacles National Park joined the California Condor Recovery Program as a release and management site in 2003. The park currently co-manages 86 wild condors in central California with Ventana Wildlife Society. Thank you to our partners at Pinnacles for allowing us to see the amazing work you are doing with these majestic creatures. Pinnacles is located east of the Salinas Valley in Central California. For more information on Pinnacles Condor Program go to: https://www.nps.gov/pinn/learn/nature/condors.htm

Garrapata State Park – Big Sur, California

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Since January of 2017 ACE California has had a crew working along the coast in Garrapata State Park. This ongoing project is the first in partnership with California State Parks, a relationship ACE hopes to continue to build in the years to come. The ACE crew has been lead by Kevin Magallanes since the start of the project and will continue to be lead by Kevin until its completion.

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ACE corps members have been working on two different projects with the California State Parks crew. Half of the crew were building wooden steps along the trail. With the use of drills, saws, and the frequent double checking of measurements the crew constructed the wooden base for a staircase that will later be filled with small rocks. These steps make the hike more easily traversable by reducing the trail’s steepness.

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The other half of the crew was building a multi-tier retaining wall which will be a lookout over the coast when it is completed. “Rock work is this strange meditative process,” explained Jesse Wherry who has been on the project for three months, “you can spend your entire day on something and in the end you just have to take it all down.” This extensive amount of rock building requires a lot of patience, skill, and experience from the crew members.

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The crew brought on three new members during this project who got to learn about both rock work and step building. This lookout is one of two multiple week long projects that the crew will complete for the trail. ACE looks forward to the continuation of this project over the upcoming months in the best office anyone could ever ask for.

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Pinnacles National Park – Jawbone Canyon – EPIC Intern Team works on Vegetation and Restoration

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In Pinnacles National Park ACE currently has two EPIC interns working the with the park’s Vegetation and Restoration team. The park’s restoration team is lead by Park Ranger Mike Shelley with the  main objective to restore and protect native plant species and to maintain the landscape.

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Joshua Mosebach and Karina Garcia (ACE EPIC Interns) of the restoration team take part in native seed collecting, planting, monitoring and research. The internship is currently six weeks into a twenty-one week program in the park. “I’ve learned a lot about working in the federal government and the park service during the last few weeks,” explained Karina, “I didn’t know that the park conducts research and works with native american tribes.”  While Karina is still determining what path she would like to pursue, she explained that she has been able to explore a variety of different career paths within the National Parks Service during her time in the park.

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During the week of April 24th, 2017 the team was working in Jawbone Canyon on the west side of Pinnacles National Park. A new trail has been slated to go through the canyon and through a section of Italian thistle, an invasive species. It is crucial for the invasive plants to be removed from the trails, as  “the seeds will attach to hikers boots and pant legs and spread to other areas of the park,” Mike Shelley explained during his introduction to invasive species removal with a local Native American tribe.

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The park has been working with the Amah Mutsun Land Trust since 2009 on various local projects. The Amah Mutsun Land Trust group came out with the team to work on the removal of this area of Italian Thistle. There are two areas in the park that have cultural significance to the tribe because the areas contain deer grass and white root sage. These are plants that are used for weaving by the tribe. The park and tribe worked together to have the first prescribed burn of deer sage since the mission period.dsc_1246

ACE AZ – Grand Canyon National Park – South Kaibab Trail

ACE Arizona had a crew working in Grand Canyon National Park this past February. This was a two part project for our corps members. For the first part of the week the crew worked on clearing a rock slide on the Bright Angel Trail Project.

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Upon completion of the rock slide clean up efforts, the crew then hiked down to Phantom Ranch via the South Kaibab Trail where they stayed for the remainder of the project to do cyclical maintenance on the trail. The crew had the special opportunity to camp along the Colorado River with the NPS crew.

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The South Kaibab Trail is one of the main access routes to Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the canyon and frequently used by the parks mule teams. The crew worked on the lower half mile section of trail leading up to the Black Bridge.

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The crew was lead by David Vayhinger, who has worked on approximately eight different Grand Canyon projects in the past. David taught the crew how to clear water bars on the trail. Water bars are pertinent to the longevity of the trail because they direct water down the trail to the drainage points. Water bars and drains prevent the trail from becoming eroded which is crucial in the canyon because it is constantly being shaped by these natural forces.

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At the end of the week the crew worked on clearing the River Trail which runs along the Colorado River and hiked up to the rim on the second to last day to  assist with general grounds maintenance along the rim of the canyon.

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For some of the crew members it was their first time seeing and working in the Grand Canyon. Many thanks to our friends at the National Parks Service for allowing us to serve in this natural wonder of the world.

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