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City of Boulder | Mount Sanitas Trail

In 2018, ACE Southwest began work on the Mount Sanitas Trail in Boulder, Colorado. Mount Sanitas Trail is a moderate to difficult trail which travels along both sides of the ridge, leading to the summit of Mount Sanitas. The steep grade of this trail has exposed the tread to heavy erosion over the years, which leads to loose rocks and dangerous conditions. The ACE crew in 2018 worked alongside the Boulder City Open Spaces and Mountain Parks team, to build an expansive rock staircase which totaled 39 rock steps being installed. The crew also put in a 228 square foot retaining wall. In 2019, the crew was led by ACE crew leader Kiersten Bonesteel and ACE project manager Sam Richards. This season 28 new steps were installed approximately a mile up the trail.Through the use of highlines and advanced rigging systems, the crew members moved rocks across the ridge and placed them to define the trail and create a more sustainable path to the summit. Using multiple grip-hoists and walkie talkies, crew members communicated with each other to execute successful rock movements. Once the rocks were relocated, crew members used rifting hammers, hammer points and other tools to shape and fit the rocks to sit securely in their place. This work is extremely technical and requires patience and clear communication between crew members but the results speak for themselves. ACE is thrilled to have finished another successful season of working with the City of Boulder Open Spaces and Mountain Parks and looks forward to the future of this partnership.

ACE Pacific West South | Santa Margarita River

ACE Pacific West South had the unique opportunity this past fall to partner with California Trout on an invasive species removal project just outside of Temecula, CA. The eight-person ACE crew led by Joseph Ortiz worked alongside the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife in the Santa Margarita River.  Electrofishing is a common scientific survey method that is often used to determine species abundance and density. When used in surveys, the fish are usually measured and recorded and then returned to their habitat unharmed. For invasive species removal, electrofishing is used to briefly stun and slow down the non-native species so that they can be removed manually from the habitat. This method allows the native species to quickly recover from the electric shock and return to their natural state. Electrofishing uses direct current electricity, which flows between a submerged cathode and anode. The current causes the fish to swim toward the anode where they are removed using nets and buckets. Once the US Fish and Wildlife Service and CA Department of Fish and Wildlife administered the electric current, the ACE crew members followed with nets to retrieve the fish. The crew also assisted in surveying, classifying, and using extermination techniques for invasive fish. In situations where the river was too high to administer the electric current via standing on the river bed, the team utilized a small pontoon to get the job done safely.The species removed included green sunfish, black bullhead, golden shiner, bluegill, largemouth bass, mosquitofish, American bullfrog, and red swamp crayfish. These species do not exist naturally in this area and outcompete the native species for food and resources. The project will continue in the fall of 2020.  ACE is excited to have had this unique opportunity to learn about these techniques alongside our partners in the field. 

El Yunque National Forest | Puerto Rico

In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, ACE Puerto Rico has been hard at work to reopen trails in the El Yunque National Forest. To give some background, ACE Puerto Rico was established in 2015 with its first project partner at San Juan National Historic Site (NPS). The branch has now expanded its’ reach to the east side of the island. Hurricane Maria hit soon after ACE and the US Forest Service began its partnership in El Yunque and fixing the damage has been the primary focus for the ACE crew. The crew members at this branch are all Puerto Rican locals, many of whom grew up in communities surrounding the forest. 

El Yunque National Forest is the only tropical rainforest within the US national forest system and provides 10% of the water for the whole island. The forest is located in the northeastern region of the island on the slopes of the Sierra de Luquillo mountains. At 28,000 acres, it is the largest block of public land in Puerto Rico. “This forest is a powerful symbol for this community,” said crew leader Alberto Rivera, “I think for the rest of the island, the east is the Yunque.” The heavy rainfall creates a jungle-like setting with tree ferns, palms, and lush foliage as well as waterfalls and forest creatures, including the critically endangered Puerto Rican amazon parrot.

 In September of 2017, Hurricane Maria devastated many areas around the island, including El Yunque. Many of the buildings and trails in the forest that were closed for repairs have since been reopened through the efforts of the US Forest Service and the ACE crew! El Yunque is a resilient forest that has recovered tremendously on its own from the initial damage of the hurricane but continues to see the effects of the immense rainfall and high winds. These impacts include down trees, debris clogging drains along the trail and road, and damage to the facilities within the forest. 

For some of the crew members this is their first job, Rivera stated, “ACE El Yunque has given the opportunity for young adults to learn valuable life skills, connect with nature, and create a second family. We’ve had the opportunity to learn and work side by side with El Yunque’s watershed, heritage, ecosystem, operations, and public services team on different projects.” The crew is comprised of Rivera and four community members, Estefany Gonzalez, Jan Carrasquillo, Wesley Santos, and Bryan Carrasquillo, who recently began employment with the US Forest Service. Over the last year, the crew has repainted the Yokahu Tower, performed trail maintenance on 13 miles of trail and helped open over six different trails, logged out over 70 trees, maintained forest roads and facilities, and assisted with volunteer groups. It’s safe to say that it has been a very busy and productive first year for this crew. ACE is so proud to be a part of El Yunque’s recovery and continued grandeur.

Back Country Land Trust | Alpine, CA

This past fall, ACE Pacific West South worked in Alpine, CA removing invasive plants and performing fuels reduction as a part of an ongoing 30-year restoration project managed by the Back Country Land Trust (BCLT). The ACE crew worked on removing four acres of the giant reed (Arundo donax). BCLT’s goal is to remove six acres of Arundo in riparian habitats over the next several years.

Arundo is native to eastern Asia, but can now be found globally. In the 1820s, it was introduced to Los Angeles as a roofing material and erosion control in drainage canals but has since escaped and become overgrown. It is one of the fastest growing terrestrial plants, growing as much as 10cm a day. Arundo is not only rapidly spreading but it is also highly flammable, making it a priority for removal as wildfires become more prevalent in the west. It also impacts freshwater sources and water tables, as it has been documented to use 300% more water than native plants in similar habitats.

Ultimately, this project will protect the San Diego watershed through invasive species removal, fuels reduction, and trash clean up. The work is ten years in, with five years to go and is then projected to be monitored for another twenty years. Secondary work completed by the crew included the removal of other known invasive plants, planting of native species in treated areas and the collection and removal of trash found at the worksites. ACE is proud to be a part of this important project with the BCLT!