Stewardship with Miami High School

On May 8th, 2019, 6 students from Miami High School set out from their air-conditioned classrooms and ventured into the heat of the desert for a day of trail work. After four previous adventurous expeditions, the students were excited to be equipped with tools and learn how to maintain and repair trail. We decided to hike North from Picket Post Trailhead on The Arizona Trail because of rumors that previous rain showers had left the trail overgrown and washed out. The goal for this expedition was to train Miami students how to properly use the tools, multiple repair methods, and how to spot areas that require maintenance or repair. With this goal in mind, good work is sure to get done.

It was a warm day out in the Sonoran Desert. May brings an abundance of flowers, each pedal opening to the busy summer routines of the insects that carry their pollen away. Before setting off in search of work, we stopped to address each tool, how it is used, and what it is used for. We spent time with the McLeod, pulaski, pick mattock, loppers, and saws, dissecting how to apply them. After a thorough safety briefing, the students put their hard hats, gloves, and glasses on, and we began our march.

The views from the trail were stunning. To the North, Arizona’s infamous Superstition Mountains loomed with a presence even larger than their 160,000 acres. The surrounding landscape was lush with grasses, flowering chollas, tall saguaros, all compressed between an endless blue sky and the red/brown earth below. We encountered our first hazard when we found our selves halted by crucifixion bush, acacia “cat-claw” shrubs, and an overgrown mesquite tree. Propper cutting techniques were taught using loppers and hand saws. Near surgical precision is needed when cutting acacia shrubs because the thorns are incredibly sharp and likely to cut the skin. The mesquite tree required specialized techniques that allowed a clean-cut, rather than a choppy cut that left the bark of the tree peeled. Trimmed with an appearance of natural growth is our goal, and we got darn close to that. Once we finished cutting, we practiced proper dispersal techniques to further the natural appearance of the trail.

The sun had risen sharply overhead and was beginning to bake the landscape when we encountered our second issue. The trail followed a steep path down the bank of an arroyo leading to its dry bottom. Runoff from seasonal rains has followed the trail, carving a deep track through it and filling it with rocks. This is the recipe for a rolled ankle and a very important fix. The trail was constructed well, and large flat boulders were set in place to keep the trail’s edge. Unfortunately, there were no drainages in place and thus our work began. Together we build two drainages, installing water-bars in both. The students learned how to use a McLeod by racking the rocks that have collected in the track off the trail, and eliminating the track by evening the ground. The picks were used to remove precise areas of earth, allowing water to be delivered off the trail rather than collecting in it. Boulders were removed and moved to help make the water bars and the McLoeds tamped the work area to set each grain of sand in place. It was sweaty, back aching work, but the students did an amazing job and truly improved the condition of the trail.

We continued to work after eating lunch, clipping and sawing here and there, while pulling trail obstructing bushes elsewhere. The students seemed to love the work, and shared their epiphany toward trails. ‘You don’t think about who made the trail, or why they made the trail the way they did. You just hike it. Now I won’t be able to unsee this.’ One student said after we discussed just how incredible trails are, and the amount of work that goes into repairing the trail, and making a trail. ‘I can’t believe this goes for 800 miles. I think I’m going to hike the whole thing one day and just fix it up if I see anything wrong with it. I mean, now I know how, I might as well right?’ shared another student.