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.
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.
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!
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!
Throughout summer 2018, ACE Mountain-West had crews on a habitat restoration project with Bryce Canyon National Park. With the goal of protecting the threatened Utah Prairie Dog, the crews worked to remove rubber rabbitbrush around existing prairie dog habitat.
Facing habitat loss, plague, predation and livestock grazing in their habitat, the Utah Prairie Dog population has taken a hit. In the 1920s an attempt to control their populations by poisoning the colonies and agricultural and grazing activities devastated the population. By the early 1970s, the Utah Prairie Dog had been eliminated from major portions of its historical range and had declined to an estimated 3,300 individuals distributed among 37 Utah Prairie Dog colonies.
Today the populations have increased and stabilized, but there is still work being done to maintain these numbers, especially in Bryce Canyon National Park where recent exposure to the plague have impacted population numbers. Prairie dogs burrow underground to build their homes as protection from predators. They do this in groups, burrowing extensive channels called “towns” to live in with their clan. Rabbitbrush grows too high for the prairie dogs to be able to spot their prey so in turn, when the brush grows to high the prairie dogs will abandon their “towns.”
To combat this, our ACE crew, led ACE Crew Leader by Katey Hockenbury worked to remove invasive brush around their habitat within the Park. The crew tracked their progress with pin flags and GPS coordinates in the sea of rabbitbrush they were removing.
Our newest branch, ACE Texas just celebrated one year!
To hear more about our Texas program click here:
It’s your friendly neighborhood archaeologist writing in from Ohio again, with some updates on some very exciting work at Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Inadvertent discoveries is the topic of today, so let’s get into it. Inadvertent discoveries are just that, inadvertent, unexpected and with good management often times a catalyst for innovative thought and efficient action. Archaeological monitoring and discovery plans are guided and executed both at the Federal and State level when it comes to any ground disturbing activity (especially in areas with cultural resources and natural resources). The intent of having these strategies/plans in place are to anticipate the unexpected and ultimately reduce the potential effect on resources. Here at CUVA I got to see and participate in these plans burst into action and protect a piece of history that was previously lost in historic documentation. The locally loved and frequently used Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail, in my time here has been undergoing some much needed improvements and routine maintenance. Improvements and routine maintenance, what could go wrong? So far the Towpath Trail has been under construction in various locations which need the love and attention, but from this writers perspective it has become a bit of a sore spot for visitors whose usual recreational activities must detour around these zones. The voice of the people have been heard, I’ve seen Park staff and partner agencies work tirelessly to address the needs of visitors while trying to complete these projects thoroughly and efficiently.
But again, this is where inadvertent discovery comes into play. Included in this endeavor was the replacement of four bridges, and at one of these construction sites an inadvertent discovery was…you guessed it discovered, or in this case rediscovered. During routine excavating activity within the project guidance, an top-notch operator noticed soil change and very rectangular stone. The crew immediately stopped work per the plan and our cultural resource management team of 2: Big Bad Bill and I got to spring into action. With Bills extensive knowledge of the geography and canal history, my familiarity with archaeological investigation it became apparent that the crew had inadvertently rediscovered the original 1825 Historic hand worked sandstone canal culvert. What a find, what a challenge and inevitably what do we do?! Creativity and collaboration were the answer.
The cultural resource management team, engineers, renowned regional and state archaeologist, the contract crew, maintenance division and engineers all put their heads together to find a solution. This process took a bit of time given the slow pace in which projects such as this become bureaucraztized. However, the initial emergency archaeological investigation phase was the first step to see what exactly was in the ground and how the project as a whole could move forward. Luckily, I got to learn and work as the right hand to a much respected archaeologist in the Ohio region. I thank him for his willingness to educate me some on old-school techniques. With the archaeological investigation phase and extent of the resource analyzed, the cross-divisional and cross agency team were able to get the rehabilitation project back on track. Much to the delight of visitors and staff alike, the Towpath trail will be up and running in the foreseeable future.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.