Working Around Oak Tree

On February 10, 2018, 8 students from Basis North Tucson completed a stewardship project along the Arizona National Scenic Trail. More specifically, we worked on the AZT Section 5 between Gardner Canyon and Oak Tree. This was our 5th trip.  We hiked about 2 miles round trip to get to the work site, and we worked on a .25 mile-long section of trail. Our main goals for this trip were learning about stewardship and trail work.

It was an unseasonably warm morning when co-leader Angel Breault and myself met the students at Basis North in Tucson. Zach MacDonald, Assistant Trail Director for the Arizona Trail Association, joined us as well as our expert trail crew leader. We drove off south toward the Santa Rita Mountains along the scenic AZ-83.

The Arizona National Scenic Trail winds its way from the Mexico border to the Utah border, and sometimes it is more accessible than other times. Because of this, we left the vehicles at a spot just off AZ-83 and would need to hike about a mile to our project location. Zach gave a very thorough safety briefing and tool demonstration. We used Pulaski’s, McLeod’s, loppers, hand-saws, and pick-mattocks. Of course, we also used hard hats, gloves, closed toe shoes, and eye protection! In retrospect, that seemed to be one of the favorite parts of the day for many students! Everyone learned a lot from this lesson.

It was a beautiful hike to our project location. We worked on a .25-mile long section of the AZT in a beautiful wash surrounded by oaks, junipers, yuccas, and catclaw acacia. The students enjoyed removing the cat claw acacias that were close to the trail. They also lopped back junipers and oak branches that were hanging over or close to the trail. This will make it much easier for fast-moving mountain bikers and tall equestrian riders traveling on the trail.

Our biggest improvement was tread work on a sloped portion of the trail. We used a full bench method to improve the tread. The students used teamwork to remove large rocks, dig into the upslope hillside, grade, and compact the trail. They were very proud of their work!

Although I immensely enjoy the outings that focus on outdoor education, natural history, and recreation skills, stewardship outings are the real deal. The program comes full circle. We start out with students by teaching them about the natural history of the area and frequently take them out onto portions of the Arizona Trail for their outdoor classroom environment. Often, we’ll run into other outdoor enthusiasts on the trail, whether they are hikers, mountain bikers, equestrians, or birders. We all use the Arizona Trail for our enjoyment. Stewardship outings are where we get to give back and make a difference for others.  The passion for Arizona’s public lands was cultivated during the first trips, and the seeds of stewardship are planted during the stewardship outings.