Tag Archives: Excelsior conservation corps

Building Bridges: the Excelsior Conservation Corps Lend State Parks a Hand at Mine Kill

Members of the Excelsior Conservation Corps (ECC) (an AmeriCorps program) recently visited Mine Kill State Park to help the State Parks staff with a few projects.  The ECC is a non-profit organization within the Student Conservation Association. The members involved in this program range from ages 18-25 and learn skills and methods on conserving and maintaining the environment. The ECC crewmembers were given the tasks of building a bridge and creating a new trail.

The members started off their workweek by focusing on rerouting the trail. The original trail was on an old tractor road. It was dangerous due to the steep slope, and would also become muddy and slippery when it rains. The ECC members chose to create a new trail that led uphill into a woodsy area.

When making a new trail “from scratch”, there are a few guidelines to follow to identify good areas for foot travel. Prior to the ECC arriving, Park staff confirmed that no sensitive resources like artifacts or rare species were present along the route. Then the ECC crew could move forward on the project.  One of the key factors is to make sure the path is a fairly flat surface with no obstacles in the way. When you’re in the middle of a wooded area, finding a natural path that meets these standards can be difficult, but the crew was able to fix a majority of the problems with the tools they brought. Another factor to keep in mind is to avoid putting a trail at the bottom of a slope, because water can collect and make it muddy and hazardous. If there is no other option than putting a trail in an area where the water pools, trail features can help diminish the impact of the water.

After the team marked off the proposed path with flagging tape on tree branches, they reviewed the route and identified needs. They brought out their tools and began digging up the dirt to make a more obvious trail. Shovels, pick mattocks, loppers and hoes are normally used for digging dirt up, picking out rocks and roots, and cutting down tree branches that are hanging over the path.

In certain areas, the path would hit a steeper slope. In order to even it out, the work crew needed to “bench” it. This required digging out a flat wall in the steep slope and dragging the dirt out to make it flatter for foot travel. This can help reduce erosion of the soil too, to make for a more durable and lasting trail.

ECC Benching
Two members of the ECC “benching” a steep path to make it flatter for hikers, taken by an ECC member.

In the end, the rerouted trail was measured to be a quarter of a mile long!

ECC Chainsaw
An ECC member using the chainsaw to cut notches into the cedar tree, taken by another ECC member.

The other project was building a 14-foot long bridge. The ECC team began the task by cutting down two cedar trees in the woods to use as an under support system for the planks. After the trees were cut down, they carried them over to the site where they used knives and axes to “debark” the trees. Cedar is resistant to rot and by peeling off a few outer layers of the cedar trees, it delays decay even further in the future, which would potentially destroy the bridge.

ecc-cedar-logs.jpg
The cedar trees cut flat so they can support the planks And you can see how Red cedar get its name

After they took off the bark, they used chainsaws to split the logs lengthwise to create flat side to lay the planks. Once the trees were flattened out and put into place, the planks were drilled and bolted to lock them onto sturdy blocks of wood on either side of the creek. Finally, they placed each short plank on the cedar rails, spaced them out evenly and drilled the planks in, completing the bridge.

Now, thanks to the work of the Excelsior Conservation Corps, Mine Kill State Park has a new improved trail route and bridge crossing ready for patrons to enjoy.

ECC Bridge
The finished 14-foot long Bridge, ready for hikers., photo by ECC members.

Post by Amber Goodman, ECC member

Excelsior Conservation Corps Works Alongside Parks to Conserve Historical Site

The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (State Parks) staff members at Ganondagan State Historic Site recently worked with members of the Excelsior Conservation Corps (ECC). The ECC is a non-profit organization within the Student Conservation Association (SCA). The members involved in this program range from ages 18-25 and learn skills and methods to help restore, protect and enhance New York’s natural resources and recreational opportunities.

Ten members of the ECC were tasked with invasive plant species removal from various locations and GPS monitoring of certain invasive plant species within the Ganondagan State Historic Site located in Victor, NY. Invasive plant species are non-native species that can cause harm to the environment, the economy, or to human health. Because these plants are not native in these habitats, they can cause or contribute to habitat degradation and loss of native species.

Wild Parsnip
Wild parsnip in full bloom, notice the yellow-green flowers that look like Queen Ann’s lace and dill.. Photo by ECC

Giant hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum), which is a tall flowering invasive plant that is infamous in many areas of New York, not only disrupts the environment in which it grows but can also be very harmful to humans. If the sap from the stem comes into contact with the skin, it can cause severe burns and make skin more sensitive to ultraviolet radiation provided from the sun.  Fortunately, no giant hogweed has been found at Ganondagan State Historic Site, but the site has become a host to a closely related and invasive plant called wild parsnip. Wild parsnip (Pastinaca sativa), has similar effects to giant hogweed when it comes into contact with unprotected skin.

When the members of the ECC arrived, they were informed they would be participating in the Parks’ annual wild parsnip picking day. Each year the staff members from the Environmental Field Office dedicate one day to pick as many wild parsnip plants as they can in hopes of clearing out fields and minimizing the possibility of more growing in the future. Everyone was instructed to wear long sleeve shirts, pants and gloves in order to protect their skin. Starting early in the morning, the group of 10 ECC members joined forces with six State Parks’ staff to venture out into the fields of wild parsnip. Throughout the day everyone hiked through trails and sections of the property, pulling the plants out and piling them up they could be removed from the area. The members were instructed to get as close to the ground as possible to pull the roots up by hand. After walking through 30 acres of fields, the total tally of plants removed came out to be 13,439!

Wild Parsnip field
ECC and State Parks crew in one of the many fields. Note the tall yellow plants that are all wild parsnip. Photo by ECC.

After the wild parsnip adventure, there was still more for the ECC members to do at Ganandogan. State Parks has been closely monitoring a field full of invasive plants for the past few years with GPS devices.  These devices enable the staff to map the location and the amount of invasive plants within the area. The ECC team helped record data on six different plants while walking across a 70-acre field. To cover the area efficiently, the ECC members were required to stand in a line about 14 paces apart and walk due North across the field in a straight line, using compasses as their guide. Staying straight was not easy while walking over hills and through tall grass, stepping over and through every obstacle in their path.

gps.jpg
GPS monitoring device used to mark invasive species in the area. Photo by ECC

The plants they were looking out for were Canada thistle, bull thistle, multiflora rose, autumn olive, swallowwort and non-native honeysuckles. Each observer would stop at every 15 paces to observe the area they were in and mark each location for any of these six invasive plans within a five-foot radius. In total, the team collected over 20,000 points that will be used to create maps in ARC GIS to show the extent of the invasives and to help guide management plans.

 

Post by Amber Goodman, ECC member

Trails Stewardship in the Finger Lakes

Here in the Finger Lakes, one of the best ways to access the natural beauty of the area is by taking a hike on one of the many trails that can be found within the region’s state parks. The trails (in parks such as Watkins Glen, Taughannock Falls, Robert H. Treman, and Fillmore Glen) lead hikers through a variety of environments, including mature forests, meadows, lake shores, and wetlands. Of course, hikers can also enjoy the deep gorges, dramatic cascades, and waterfalls the region is famous for! Over the years, hiking has gained popularity nationwide. With thousands of miles of hiking trails, New York State has a lot to offer people looking to get outside. The Finger Lakes region of the State Park system sees several hundred thousand visitors each year, many of whom come to hike the trails. Foot traffic, weather, and time have left some of the trails in Finger Lakes state parks eroded and in need of repair. This erosion not only makes the hiking experience less enjoyable for trail users, it also leads to negative impacts on the surrounding ecosystems. To meet this problem head-on, the Finger Lakes Regional Trail Crew (FLRTC) was developed in the spring of 2017.

Crew
Some of the hard-working members of the Finger Lakes Regional Trail Crew, photo by State Parks

The main goal of the trail crew is to maintain safe and enjoyable hiking trails for park visitors, while protecting the natural and historic resources of the park. Currently the FLRTC consists of three Parks staff members and a diverse group of local volunteers. The Excelsior Conservation Corps (an AmeriCorps program) also helps out with specific projects. In 2018, the trails crew will host two interns from the Student Conservation Association (SCA) Parks Corps devoted to trail stewardship. This team effort has led to a tremendous amount of progress towards the Finger Lakes Park’s trail improvement goals.

Boardwalk
Boardwalks protect wet areas or fragile habitat and make for easier walking for visitors, photo by State Parks.

Trail work, as a rule, takes a large amount of physical effort and creative problem solving. The work done by the FLRTC is no exception. Traditional tools and building techniques are often employed. Many of the trails in need of repair are in areas that are not accessible by vehicles or equipment. As a result, many of the materials used in trail construction have to be carried in by hand; it takes a strong crew to lug in lumber, stone, and gravel. Sometimes materials have to be moved down into or across the area’s gorges. The trail crew uses high-strength zip lines to accomplish this task. This is the safest method and protects the fragile slopes and vegetation.

Zipline
Boardwalks protect wet areas or fragile habitat and make for easier walking for visitors, photo by State Parks.

All of this hard work pays off in the form of functional, safe and visually pleasing staircases, boardwalks, and bridges that blend with the surroundings.

 As you get out on the trails this year, take a minute to look down from the beautiful scenery. The trail you are on most likely took a lot of hard work to build and maintain – but chances are the park staff and volunteers behind the work loved every minute of it!

 Post by Zachary Ballard, State Parks

Personal Experiences: Excelsior Conservation Corp

Since January, we have been members of the Excelsior Conservation Corps, an AmeriCortps program. We work in New York State Parks and state-owned campgrounds and improve the infrastructure (structures that we use to access and enjoy spaces – such as roads, trails, buildings, etc.) of these natural areas. One of our first experiences as members of this program took place in Saranac Lake, in the Adirondacks. Our project was to work with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) workers, and produce thunder boxes (box toilets), outhouses, and register boxes (for trailheads). We helped cut, paint, and attach all of the pieces, and then put them together in a way that would help people in the future easily assemble them in the field. Our crew enjoyed carpentry projects such as this. We did more than just improve our carpentry skills during those cold March days, we created friendships within our own crew and with the workers in Saranac Lake. To show their appreciation for our hard work, our project partner took us to the summit of White Face Mountain, the fifth tallest mountain in New York! We got to ride in an elevator made by the Civilian Conservation Corps – the group that our Corps is based on. We also explored the weather station that is situated at the summit and marvel at the gorgeous high peaks of the Adirondacks. This was a great time and was just an introduction to the adventures that would follow!

In June, our crew ventured to Robert H. Treman State Park in Ithaca. Our job was to rebuild steps on the Gorge Trail. When we arrived, we found a steep trail covered by asphalt and parking barriers and we had the task to remove it all. We started by prying up the heavy concrete barriers and chipping away at the asphalt. Once removed, we then had to carry it all either up or down the hill, depending on what part of the trail we were on. We estimate that we moved more than 20 tons of material over the course of about 18 days! We then began cutting wood and digging dirt to install box steps – 147 steps to be exact! These steps were made from 3 pieces of wood, continuously stacked on top of each other and filled with gravel. The new steps are safer for hikers and will slow down trail erosion allowing park visitors to enjoy the trail for many years to come!

It was a lot of hard work, but we were rewarded with thousands of thank yous from park visitors, beautiful views (Ithaca really is gorges!), and the satisfaction that comes with another completed project.

cut-with-chainsaw
All of the steps were cut by a chainsaw! , photo by Michaela Aney

These were two of the amazing projects we completed this year.

Post by Michaela Aney and Marlena Vera-Schockner, 2016 ECC members

Learn more about the Excelsior Conservation Corps.

Excelsior Conservation Corps: A Modern Vision of an Old Idea

CCC By Unknown or not provided (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Civilian Conservation Corps By Unknown or not provided (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

What started in 1931 as a simple idea to put unemployed New Yorkers to work on state-funded public works projects through the New York Temporary Emergency Relief Administration grew to become the largest peace time utilization of people and equipment in US history – the Civilian Conservation Corps, the CCC. Many New York State Parks including Thacher State Park, Fahnestock State Park, Lake Taghkanic State Park, Selkirk Shores State Park, Thacher State Park, Green Lakes State Park, Letchworth State Park, Hamlin Beach State Park, Chenango Valley State Park, Franklin D. Roosevelt State Park and more benefited from the work that was performed by over 200,000 CCC members from 1933-1942.  During these nine years, 61 camps of 200 CCC members built roads, trails, cabins, and stonewalls, planted trees, worked on early invasive species detection and removal and more.  The Allegany and lower Hudson Valley regions were considered the highest environmental priority and had CCC camps each year, while other encampments would last a season or two, moving on to another location when the job was done.

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About 40 different CCC camps were spread across the state each year. The typical CCC member was between 18-25 years old, “unemployed, unmarried, healthy, not in school, from a needy family, and capable of doing work” (Thompson).  Most CCC members were white males; however New York also had CCC camps for Native Americans, African Americans, WWI veterans (separate camps for white and African American veterans), and separate camps for women (known as She-She-She Camps).

State Parks honors the memory of the CCC members with a CCC Statue at Letchworth State Park.

CCC Statue, Letchworth State Park, OPRHP photo
CCC Statue at Letchworth State Park. Photo by OPRHP.

This January, New York State is reviving the Temporary Emergency Relief Administration conservation corps with the inaugural New York State Excelsior Conservation Corps (ECC) and a 10-month residential program modeled after the CCC.  The program is open toNew York State students and residents aged 18-25, with an emphasis on veterans and expanding diversity. The 50 ECC members will be based at SUNY Morrisville where they will receive eight weeks of specialized trainings and certifications lead by the Student Conservation Association – Hudson Valley Corps .  Then, starting in March and running through early November, ECC members will work in State Parks, Department of Environmental Conservation and other state agency lands on projects across the state focused on:

  1. Open Space Management, maintaining and improving hundreds of miles on New York’s hiking trails
  2. Recreation and Access Mapping, monitoring and mapping over 10,000 acres of public land for safe recreational use
  3. Natural Resource Stewardship, invasive species removal and protection of native species and ecosystems
  4. Environmental Education and Outreach, educating New Yorkers on conservation and stewardship of public lands
  5. Infrastructure and Sustainability, helping to cut New York’s energy consumption and energy costs through the construction of renewable energy projects.

During the 10-months, ECC members will get a chance to work on their education plans and develop career skills.  At the end of their service they will be given a Segal AmeriCorps Education Award.

Building on their hands-on experiences and training, ECC members will be poised to become New York’s next generation of conservation leaders.  Learn more about the ECC in future blogs.

Post by Susan Carver, OPRHP. Slideshow photos courtesy of OPRHP.

References:

Hopkins, June; The New York State Temporary Emergency Relief Administration: October 1, 1931, The Social Welfare History Project, n.d.; http://www.socialwelfarehistory.com/eras/great-depression/temporary-emergency-relief-administration/

She-She-She Camps, George Washington University, n.d.; http://www.gwu.edu/~erpapers/teachinger/glossary/she-she-she-camps.cfm

Thompson, Craig; 75 Years Later: The Legacy of the Civilian Conservation Corp; Conservationist, New York State Department of 85 Environmental Conservation, February 2008; http://www.dec.ny.gov/pubs/42768.html.