Wildlands Restoration Volunteers

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Typical Project Experience

By Larry Nygaard

First, imagine that you are a member of just one crew of volunteers (there are several crews) contributing time and labor to a WRV project in the foothills of the Front Range.  It is late in the afternoon and you are pleasantly tired—the kind of tired you get from good exercise and satisfying accomplishments.  All day you have worked with your Crew Leader and five other volunteers to stabilize and revegetate a 150 foot strip of scarred hillside denuded by hill-climbing traffic and deeply gullied by runoff. 

The really heavy work of moving soil was done several days ago by a hired backhoe.  The tractor moved along in the scar, loosening the soil, filling and obliterating the gully.  Today, your crew has raked across the freshly graded soil, eliminating too-deep ruts, but leaving clods of soil that will help to hold the seed you scattered on the finished seedbed.  Other crews, working in more level areas, have mulched their seed with a thin cover of straw.   Because your section of hill is steep, your crew has covered the seed with an erosion blanket, woven of coconut fiber, which will hold the seed in place until it roots. You have also constructed a couple of “check dams,” large logs installed across the slope to slow the runoff from both rain and snow; they will further reduce erosion.  Throughout the workday, your Crew Leader has instructed you in the required techniques and has guided your crew to work together to safely handle rolls of coconut fabric and logs with relative ease.  Some of the volunteers have gained experience on other projects.  Most have not.  As you pause for a drink of water, you look back up the slope and you are amazed by the dramatic transformation your volunteer team has achieved.

It is amazing, and yet, it is something you will learn to expect from WRV projects.  With no great level of individual expertise, your crew of volunteers has closed off and repaired a badly damaged hillside, has prevented further erosion and deposition of soil into streams, and has put the wounded hillside on a course to recovery and renewed ecological health.  Within a year the mixture of grasses and wildflowers you have seeded will be growing knee high.

Variety is the spice of life.  The project you choose might involve a few hours of light work on a summer evening, collecting native seeds for restoration seeding, or it might entail removing destructive, noxious weeds from sensitive habitats.  It might be part of a multi-year plan to create new wetlands for waterfowl out on the plains. It might be a fascinating project designed to utilize “biologs” and willow cuttings to stabilize and restore stream banks or wetlands.  It might be a trail closure and re-routing project to protect sensitive habitat in a spectacular mountain wilderness.  It might even be one of the more physically and technically challenging projects, such as the one described above.  Each year, our work improves and/or protects thousands of acres of wildlife habitat, prevents severe soil erosion from numerous causes, improves water quality in our Colorado streams, helps to prevent wildfires, enhances recreational trails, and so much more.

All of our projects are reviewed and selected by groups of veteran volunteers.  All are important, and each provides an opportunity for fun, friendship and satisfaction.  Whichever project you choose, there will have been many hours, over many months, already devoted to review, selection, planning, design, safety assessments and preparation, prior to the morning that you arrive at the project.  This work will have been done by a Project Team composed of skilled, veteran volunteers together with staff from Wildlands Restoration Volunteers and representatives from the partnering land management agency—for example, the US Forest Service, City of Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks, Boulder County Parks and Open Space, Rocky MSountain National Park, Colorado State Parks, and Arapaho National Wildlife Refuge.

Once you have registered for a project your name and email address will be entered into the roster of volunteers for your selected project and you will receive an emailed “Welcome” confirmation. Details about the project will be sent out to you 10 days in advance and will include date, time and location to meet for the morning start up, any necessary maps to the project location, a project overview, notes on safety issues, a schedule outlining the project day(s) and a list of things to bring with youlayered clothing, rain gear, sturdy footwear, hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, insect repellant, work gloves, several quarts of water, tent and sleeping bag for overnights, and—on some projects—snacks and a lunch.  A basic personal First Aid kit, consisting of some tape, band-aids, aspirin and tweezers, is recommended.

When you arrive at the project location—or at an initial carpool site—you may find “carpokes” on hand to guide you to a parking location.  You will find tables set up, one with volunteers ready to greet you and to help you with morning sign-in, another loaded with breakfast goodies and coffee.  During the morning hubbub of arriving volunteers you will find time to eat a bagel, or a muffin or two, and to get acquainted with some of your fellow volunteers—or to greet old friends.

PROJECT DAY (once the sign-in is substantially completed):

• The Project Leader welcomes the assembled volunteers, makes last minute announcements, and introduces representatives of the Land Management Agency, other Project Team members and the Crew Leaders. 

• Crews of volunteers are assembled with trained Crew Leaders.

• Crew Leaders conduct a round of crewmember introductions, brief each crew on the day’s schedule and activities, describe safety procedures, tool carrying and handling methods.

• Crews go to their various work areas (sections).

• Crews and their Crew Leaders preview the work section, discuss the day’s objectives and the methods to be used, may look over the Technical Notes prepared by the Technical Advisors.

• Morning work gets underway.

• Water and snack breaks are taken at intervals and as needed; progress is reviewed and procedures revised during breaks and as needed.

• LUNCH:  usually around noon.  Lunch may consist of fruit, veggies, sweets, chips and sandwiches assembled from a wealth of choices provided by WRV and put together by each volunteer, in the morning, to be carried into the field.  On some projects it is practical to get everyone back together for lunches, which might also feature hot stews (including vegetarian) and home baked bread and desserts.  Occasionally volunteers are asked to bring their own lunches.

• During lunches, announcements may be made, educational talks about the project given, Crew Leaders and Technical Advisors review progress and decide upon needed adjustments.

• Afternoon work continues—again, with breaks at intervals and as needed.

• END OF DAY: on multi-day projects, we return to camp for a hearty supper and an evening of celebration; on one-day projects, we usually reassemble for a project wrap-up, a big “Thank You,” food, refreshments and celebration—music often included!! 

• Time to go home, feeling GOOD about your time well spent healing the land.  New friendships and a sense of belonging to a community are gained.

Meanwhile, back in the foothills, you take another sip of water and reflect on the work your crew has done.  This is not trivial stuff.  The contribution you have made to the restoration of this ecosystem is a tremendous help to the natural environment and to the grateful land management agency.  You have every reason to feel pride and satisfaction—the ugly gouge is gone.  The earth has been raked and seeded; an erosion blanket and check dams now hold soil and seed in place.  Your crew of intrepid volunteers has even transplanted some small trees and shrubs into the blanketed seedbed and has added the weight of rocks and forest debris to help the steel staples—driven earlier in the day—to hold the erosion blanket in place. 

Suddenly, there is a shout from the woods.  One of the volunteers has discovered a big, old log.  One final log is needed to close the scar, and to seal the foot of the erosion blanket firmly to the earth.  Your help is needed.  You hurry to lend a hand, of course.