Monday, December 21, 2009

On the Twelfth Day of Trail Work....

John Muir Wilderness, Inyo Nat'l Forest, CA (2006)

In the spirit of the holiday season, here's a look at what our volunteers accomplished in 2009 - all 502 of them. On 47 trips. Over the course of more than 14,442 hours of work. (Valued at nearly $292,000).

And that's only the beginning.

See for yourself. You won't find any maids-a-milking or pipers piping here. Just lots of workers working:

- 84 miles of trail repaired
- 6 miles of new trail constructed
- 35 rock waterbars created
- 39 log waterbars built
- 89 bermed waterbars created
- 194 waterbars cleaned
- 206 checkdams placed
- 13 checkdams improved
- 159 trees cleared from trails
- 25.5 tons of rock used
- 1.5 miles of trail removed
- 8 miles of fences removed
- 1 mile of fence placed
- 64 fire-rings removed
- 19 illegal campsites removed
- 7 campsites restored
- 1.5 miles of road restored
- 11,578 invasive weeds removed
- 4 miles surveyed for weeds
- 2700 plants planted
- 3 miles of river cleared of Russian olive
- 120-feet of elevated boardwalk built
- 150-feet of dilapidated boardwalk removed
- 125-feet of causeway built
- 41 stone steps placed
- 1 large culvert built
- 30 logs peeled and placed in steps
- 2 dangerous puncheon sections removed
- 1 wooden overlook station built
- many greenhouse seedlings potted
- lots of trash picked up on beaches
- and several signs installed.

Did we miss anything? I want to know who counted all those weeds.

Nice work everyone. It's inspiring to see how much we can accomplish when we work together and each do our little part. Thanks for "Giving Something Back" in 2009!

Also, a special thanks goes out to outgoing WV President Bill Sheppard, who stepped in to serve as president over the last year and guided the organization through another successful year.

Bill has served on the board for several years, most recently as president and vice president, and has been a trip leader since 1998. Bill is an experienced outdoorsman (that's him smashing rocks in the picture on the far right), having led his first Sierra Club trip in 1990, and he will continue to lead trips and serve on the board of directors. People like Bill are hard to come by, and Wilderness Volunteers is thankful that he has chosen to devote such time and energy to the organization.

From all of us at Wilderness Volunteers, thank you Bill and thank you everyone!

Friday, December 18, 2009

WV in the AZ Daily Sun

North Kaibab National Forest, AZ (2009)

In mid-September, 13 participants spent a week in the North Kaibab Ranger District of the Kaibab National Forest building steps into an eroded section of the North Canyon Trail and conducting general trail maintenance in the Saddle Mountain Wilderness.

Read about it here.

Monday, December 14, 2009

One Man's Trash...

Last week, we highlighted the ingenuity of volunteers with a short post on the capabilities of geotextile, a seemingly obscure material that, thanks to some resourceful and creative minds, has become an invaluable backcountry work tool.

Keeping with that theme of resourcefulness and conservation, here's a fascinating look at ingenuity on another level: Dan Phillips, a 64 year-old self-taught carpenter and founder of Phoenix Commotion, has spent the last 12 years using that seemingly useless product otherwise known as trash to build homes - 14 of them to be exact! Approximately 80 percent of the homes are constructed from recycled materials, consisting of everything from picture frame ceilings to wine cork floors to scrap wood siding. And yes, people do live in them. Take a look:

Read more about Dan and his work here.

P.S. Intrigued by what can be done with your trash? Dan isn't the only one up to great things. Check out the work of TerraCycle and the "upcycling" movement for another look at ingenuity in action.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Avoid camping in ponderosa forest in high wind

The following article is from the Arizona Daily Sun in Flagstaff, Wednesday, December 09, 2009.

Tempe firefighter killed by tree snapped by wind

A Tempe firefighter was killed by a falling tree during severe winds Monday evening. According to information from the Coconino County Sheriff's Office, Skylar Stock, 27, of Queen Creek, died while he was sleeping in his tent. He and a friend had been camping near the Blue Ridge area off Highway 260 about 20 miles from Camp Verde. The men were elk hunting. Sheriff's detectives determined that Stock and his friend, at about 10 p.m., were camping in an area of high wind gusts that snapped a ponderosa pine tree in two. The broken-off trunk was about 2 feet thick and about 70 feet long. It hit Stock in the head, killing him. The friend, also in the tent at the time, was not injured and was able to escape the tent to call for emergency responders.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

The Great Escalante Flood of 2009

Escalante River Canyon, UT (2009)

When he's not teaching Latin American Literature at UC San Diego, Wilderness Volunteer trip leader Misha Kokotovic is busy battling invasive Russian Olive trees - notorious for choking off rivers and streams in the West - along Utah's Escalante River. His first WV trip led him to the Escalante in 1999, and he's been going back almost every year since - including this past year, which proved to be his most exciting trip yet.

"Near the end of our second day of work in the Escalante River canyon, we hear someone a few hundred yards downstream from us shouting. It’s someone from our group, so maybe he’s announcing that it’s quitting time. But the tone sounds more urgent than that, and some of us think we might have heard him shout the word “Flood!” That’s not implausible since it’s been cloudy all afternoon, and there were even a few drops of rain. The Escalante River had already risen a couple of inches over the course of the afternoon, which was enough to convince us to have everyone work on the river bank closest to camp so that nobody would get stranded for the night if there were a serious flood. So, yes, maybe he has been shouting “Flood!”

But we’re upstream of the shouting and see no sign of the river above us rising any further than it already has. Then we hear it: a steady roar downstream, which drowns out the shouting. All doubt is erased as the Escalante River reverses course and begins to flow upstream, carrying with it the Russian Olive branches we had cut over the past two days. Yes, there has in fact been a flood, but not the one we expected.

Rather than coming down the main Escalante drainage, the flood has come down the tributary drainage of Choprock Canyon. And our camp, our food, our tents – everything – is on the other side of Choprock, out of reach until the flood waters recede. Despite our precautions, it’s beginning to look like at least some of us may be going to bed hungry and without our camping gear.

We hike towards camp and gather on the river bank directly across from our tents, yet not everyone is accounted for. We can see one lucky group member who somehow ended up on the other side of Choprock and now waves to us from camp. Most of our group waits on the bank while a few of us hike back to the Escalante River to look for the missing, to no avail. We then walk up the Choprock drainage along the canyon rim and spot a group member on the opposite rim. After much gesturing and shouting over the flood waters below, we learn that two group members have been stranded farther up Choprock Canyon. Soon we’re on the rim above them and, after more gesturing and shouting, we’re reassured that they are safe and even enjoying the flood. Finally, the remaining members of the group, including Park Ranger Bill Wolverton, join us on the canyon rim. We’re all relieved that everyone has finally been accounted for, and it’s now time to reconstruct what happened.

Spotting the flood first were three volunteers who had quit work early in order to hike up Choprock Canyon in search of clear water for drinking and cooking (our main water source, the Escalante River, had become very muddy the day before). As they were filling the water jugs, they heard and then saw the flood racing down the canyon. Two were stranded on opposite banks of Choprock, while the third managed to outrun the flood and warn the rest of us – hence, the shouting we heard. Ranger Bill and another volunteer were the first to hear the warning and see the flood spill over into the Escalante River, overpowering the current and reversing the flow for several hundred yards upstream. Caught on the far bank of the Escalante, they hiked upstream to a safer crossing, and joined us on the rim of Choprock Canyon.

With everyone accounted for, but still separated from camp by a rising river, all we could do was ensure that everyone was safe and comfortable while we waited for the flood to subside. Fortunately, the water receded within four hours, and by dark we were all reunited in camp. Dinner was late, but good, and seasoned with stories of “The Great Escalante Flood of 2009” (the tall tales began long before the wash in Choprock was dry). We spent much of the next day – our free day – exploring Choprock Canyon and marveling at the flood’s effects.

Such excitement and adventure is not unusual on WV trips, and this flash flood was not the first I had experienced on an Escalante trip – though it was certainly the biggest and most dramatic. It was the high point of a fun but challenging week spent removing the invasive Russian Olive tree from the Escalante river corridor, an ongoing project to which WV has devoted the better part of the past decade. In that time, we have helped eradicate the Russian Olive from over 36 miles of the Escalante Canyon, preventing it from crowding out the native willows and cottonwoods and, in turn, making the hiking much more pleasant.

I’m always impressed by how much work even a small group of dedicated people can get done when they work together. I’m also heartened to see how people look after each other in the face of potential danger, such as our “Great Flood.” As soon as we realized what was happening, we set out to make sure everyone was accounted for and safe. Some people ran ahead to warn others, some helped locate the missing, and some moved others’ tents and gear to higher ground, and brought clothing and food (which, by the way, had to be lowered down a cliff) to those who were temporarily stranded. What could have been simply a frightening ordeal instead became a thrilling, shared experience.

The flood was the high point of the trip for everyone in the group – including me – but not merely because of the excitement it provided. The group’s response to the flood reminded me of what I like best about WV trips, even more than the good work we do and the adventures we enjoy: our ability to accomplish great things when we work together to fulfill our responsibilities to each other and to the land that sustains us."

Experience for yourself below:

For more on the project and the progress WV has made, check out Ranger Bill Wolverton's "War with the Russian Olive."

And for some great before-and-after shots of the work, click here.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

What's Geotextile?

A reader contacted me about the survey at the top of this page with precisely that question.

Since I had never heard of geotextile before using it on a trip two years ago, she's likely not the only one out there with this question. So I figured I'd share the short answer with the rest of you - and include a few pictures of geotextile in action.

According to the Society for Engineering in Agricultural, Food, and Biological Systems (ASAE), geotextile is a "fabric or synthetic material placed between the soil and a pipe, gabion, or retaining wall to enhance water movement and retard soil movement, and as a blanket to add reinforcement and separation."

What does that have to do with Wilderness Volunteers work projects?

With a little resourcefulness, a whole lot. You see, the fabric is extremely strong and highly resistant to tearing.

In other words: 4 volunteers + 1 geotextile = move big rocks far no problem.

Take a look:

Maroon Bells Snowmass Wilderness, CO (2008)

Impressive...and not a single tear.

Better yet, true to the ASAE's definition, geotextile can be used as a "blanket" - of sorts.

That's ingenuity for you...and a heckuva tool. Not to mention a whole lot lighter to carry than a rock bar or a pulaski!