Stewardship with mt. vista elementary

On April 18 and 19, 40 total 4th-grade students from Mt.Vista Elementary School left their town in Oracle to Venture into the Santa Catalina Mountains for a day of stewardship. This marked the 10th combined expedition between the two groups, a final trip to cap the season. Each trip prior had been one filled with amazing adventure, so much learning, and of many steps to many places. This trip would be a way for students to learn how trails are made, and what types of methods are used to keep trails operational. The kids were very excited to get outside and help make The Arizona Trail ever more beautiful. ‘This trail is used by people from all over the world, who come here to your town by hiking The Arizona Trail.’ 

April invited the sun thine bright and lay its warmth on the land, a foreshadow to summer months ahead. When we arrive at American Flag Ranch Trail Head, we unloaded from the vehicles and pulled all the tools out. Teaching 4th-grade students how to use tools takes patience and thorough explanation. Most 4th grade students see the pick-mattock and think “wow that will kill a zombie in one blow! I want to use that one!” This thought is the complete opposite thought we want running through the head of youth. Communicating the seriousness of the tools and the work, without discouraging the students from being excited about the work is a hard task. ‘These might be perfect for killing Zombies if we see them, but make sure you only use the tool for work and not pretend zombie-killing practice, I will have to take it away from you if I see them used wrong’. This warning sobered the youth up quick, but I could still see their imaginations running. Helmets on. Gloves, glasses., Tools in hand. One of the most important qualities is making sure the students can move with the tools. Imagine 40 fourth grade students marching down a trail, holding tools as long and heavy as they are! Most people think we’re crazy for doing this. In a line, we practiced walking and keeping the right distance from person to person and how to hold and discard a tool safely. This troop of 4th graders looked like professionals, and with a final check, we were on our way.     

The trail found its way switchbacking uphill toward the south toward the Catalinas. Here late winter rains swept rock and debris onto the trail. We broke into teams, McLoeds working to remove the rock, loppers working to clip overgrowth, and pick mattocks to build drainages. The goal of the day was to teach the students how to use the tools rather than complete a big project. If we can get them familiar with the tools now, then later in their years they will be more likely to help repair and maintain the trail. The students were excited, and taking turns they removed so much loose rock from the trail. The pick mattocks built wonderful drainages allowing water to flow off the trail pulling the loose rock with it. And the loppers properly clipped the overgrown areas so shins and arms could pass scratch-free. We worked for a very nice length of time in fact, until there was no work left to be done. 

We finished by eating a late lunch under the shade of a massive mesquite tree while sitting on comfortable granite boulders. This seemed natural for the students, who were very proud to complete the work they did. From the switchbacks we had just finished working on, something fast blurred down the trail making loud noises. It caught our attention, and the students were getting curious about what was ripping down the path. We looked carefully, and suddenly a man on a mountain bike comes flying from the trail. He stops abruptly near us and peddles over. I get up to greet him, answering his logistical questions before commenting on his accent. I asked him if he was visiting from somewhere and he happily replied ‘Spain!’ I asked him if he would speak to the kids and he was delighted to. The students were so impressed that this man came from the other side of the world to ride his bike through their state, on their trail, and through their city. He gave them so many compliments on their work and their town, and the kids were so excited to share with him the details of the day. It was such a fantastic conclusion to the day, and one the kids were not going to forget.