Texas Conservation Corps Pays a Visit to Sunset Valley

Day 1. No Warblers.

Our Field Crew was sent to work in Sunset Valley for two weeks. Sunset Valley is a small city (about a square mile) contained within southern Austin. The City of Sunset Valley wanted us to do some trail work on their nature trail that stretches around the city. Most of the damage was caused from years of erosion, with the catastrophic Halloween floods of 2013 being the most recent major event. Our first project was to fix a section of trail that had been heavily eroded to the point that the trail was now just a long trench. About half of our time was spent rock hunting amidst a cedar (ash juniper) woodland. As the resident bird nut on my crew, I had hoped to see, or at least hear the Golden-Cheek Warbler, one of the more famous endangered birds in the Austin area, since they require the bark from the old growth cedar trees to build their nests. However, there were no sign of the warblers on this day.

Day 3. Still No Warblers.

After hunting for and caching rocks for several days, we started placing them into the trail. Finding the biggest stones that we could carry or drag, we dug out places for them to sit deep into the ground, hoping to prevent future rain storms or floods from washing away the trail. Placing the rocks was similar to solving a puzzle, except we made our own pieces and sometimes they wouldn’t work right, no matter what we did. We were still going into the cedar woodland, but there was still no sight (or sound) of the Warblers. However, we did hear the call of the Sandhill Crane, a bird that Purple Crew had heard earlier on our first project spike trip to Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge.

Day 5. No Warblers, And Now You Can’t See Our Work

By the Friday of the first week, we had finished placing all the stones down in the trail. They all had several points of contact, a relatively flat surface to walk on, and just looked really freaking cool. You could see the amount of work and sweat (and slightly crushed hands and fingers… thank you PPE) that had gone into making this section of the trail. However, this glorious image was not to be seen by the eventual trail user. The final step for this project was to cover the trail first in a layer of road base & gravel and then top it off with a mix of dirt and mulch. For Purple Crew, it was a bittersweet victory. We had finished an awesome project, but all people would see is a nice layer of mulch that we had packed down on the trail, not knowing exactly the amazing amount of work that went into improving the trail. Still, the compliments and thanks we got while putting the stones in place were very rewarding.

Day 6. Plot Twist

On Monday we started a new project just up the trail from our impressive stonework (that no one can see anymore). There was an incline on the trail that was heavily eroded, so Purple Crew harvested some cedar logs to build check steps and water bars. These structures are built to slow water down so it won’t further erode the trail. At this point we were told that this habitat wasn’t even suitable for the Warblers, who require canyon habitat full of cedar/ash juniper to build their nests. Since this terrain was overall very flat, it wasn’t likely that we would see them. So it was acceptable for us to harvest all the cedar wood we needed, which in turn made our chainsaw enthusiasts very happy.

Day 8. New Spot

We finished the water bar structures, and moved to a new site within Sunset Valley. We were working on another inclined section of the trail. This was the site of a previous TxCC project, where they did a trail reroute to cut down on erosion. However, the October floods did some major damage to them, so we gave the site a fixer-upper. We decided to build box-steps, which would help keep the material from being washed away whenever it rained. We had harvested more cedar logs from our first site, and brought them over to build with. This project was really frustrating. We had to get the logs to lie as flat as possible, then we cut notches out of them so that they could fit together, kind of like the Lincoln Logs that many of us played with as children (or adults). By the end of the work day, a strange layout of logs and dirt lay stretched out on the trail. We ended up opening the reroute that had been previously closed off, just to let any potential walkers or bikers continue using the trail and not disturb our work.

Day 10. Last Day in Sunset Valley

The Lincoln Log project was completed with only a few hiccups, mainly getting the angles of the notches correct. We went to a new site much further away from our previous work areas… to yet another inclined section of trail. Here we were replacing new steps, making them as sustainable as possible. Half the crew was sent out to harvest the logs, while the other half removed all the old steps and salvaged as much of the rebar as we could. By lunch we had placed about half of the new steps. The construction was slow, because if you are trying to dig out dirt from your hole, the crew above you digging out their hole would end up spilling material back down into your hole, which slowed the installing process. But, we managed to get all our steps done by the end of the day, and we left tired but satisfied with our work. We were glad to have been able to get so much work done for the community.

 

Nick Johns, Field Crew Member

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