September 11th was a National Day of Service and Remembrance in honor of the victims, survivors, and first responders of September 11, 2001. All around the country, Americorps members and other volunteers got together for a moment of silence and a day of work to benefit their communities. The SCA’s Hudson Valley Corps took it a bit further and spent the 9th-11th together, camping and working on several different projects at a park- one of my parks! Back in the Spring, Brian, Kristin and I (all interns at the same site) came up with a proposal to have the National Day of Service event at a recently purchased property that needed a lot of help before it could be opened to the public. Our proposal was approved and we spent months making tool lists, emergency response plans, and recruiting other SCA interns to help lead and organize the project.
Regular readers of my blog (and people I know in real life) will know that my high school’s unofficial motto, “Function in Disaster, Finish in Style,” becomes a mantra for me in stressful situations, and the weeks leading up to the project were definitely that. One team was going to build a bench- no, a different type of bench- no, the materials won’t arrive in time- no, they will arrive, but we need to come in on Labor Day to paint the slats- ok, but we can’t pour concrete because it’s going to rain- oh, did I mention that we were camping and had planned outdoor activities- oh wait, it’s not rain, it’s thunderstorms, on our only full day of work- and so on. Miscommunications, disappearing tools, team members’ sickness and weather were just some of the obstacles to this project. But we made it to Day 1, the interns from the rest of the Valley arrived and set up camp.
For some of the interns, this was one of the few times in their internship they’d be using tools and sweat to get stuff done. I’m not knocking Education interns- they do a vital (and very difficult- ack, screaming children) job, getting kids and adults to know more and care more about nature, but some of the tools Trails interns use every day were a bit foreign to them. On the other hand, some of our Hudson Valley Corps members are alumni from the New Hampshire and Massachusetts Corps, who go on long backcountry trail hitches and know way more about trails and tools than I do! We divided into groups and I took my group up to the trailhead for a trail my supervisor and I had flagged out in the weeks before. We began the hard work of clearing grass and roots from a trail around a meadow.
And we found an adorable newt! Taking pictures with it was a welcome break from trail work.
The trail later went through the woods- slightly easier than pulling up all the grass but it had its own rocky and hilly challenges.
The first night we had a speaker tell us the history of Scenic Hudson and the environmental movement in the Hudson Valley- Reed Sparling, a writer for Scenic Hudson and a great storyteller, made an appearance as the sun set and the ominous clouds loomed. Was this the end of our service project? Would we be cowering in our cars, afraid of being struck by lightning while carrying heavy metal tools?
The only casualty of the storm was a porta-pottie. No, really.
When we got back to camp it was raining a fair amount and we ran for our tents. A few people had planned to sleep in their cars or trucks, and were setting up in the parking area when CRACK BOOM CRASH. A HUGE limb (about the size of a tree) from a gigantic tree on the edge of the clearing fell- about 10 feet from the parked cars….. right on top of the porta potties. We all rushed out of our tents, flashlights waving, took a roll call- nobody was in the porta potties, everyone was accounted for, and no cars had been damaged. We moved the closest cars FAR from the giant tree and a few people even scooted the more accessible porta pottie away from its entrapped neighbor. The night seemed anti-climactic after that: there were very faint booms of thunder in the distance but (as far as I could tell) no lightning nearby, none of the tents collapsed, and the rain was over by morning.
The second day was cloudy but productive- the teams continued work through the morning and early afternoon, returning to camp when someone reported rain and unsettling radar predictions. Still, we got a lot done- one of the teams reported being almost finished, despite the day being cut short, and we had spare time to play games (baseball with hard hats as the bases, and card games for those of us who didn’t feel like standing up anymore.) Later that night we had a chili cookout and played a survival game, some staying later to watch a movie and some returning to cozy (if slightly damp) tent-homes.
Day 3 was September 11th, and we began with a moment of silence for the victims of the terrorist attack those 14 years ago. We had a few more hours of work, then regrouped for a group photo, sincere thank-you from the hosts (us) and tour of the completed projects!
The bench got built after all! Kristin (my roommate)’s group restored this old stone wall, creating a viewpoint for visitors to the park. They cleared the area of weeds and invasives and built a path to the overlook. We’ll come back later to pour concrete and make the bench m ore permanent, but the area looks great an will be a wonderful place to picnic when the park is open!
The invasive species team (lead by Olivia, a Natural Resources intern currently working on Long Island) cleared a LOT of invasives from this area (this picture is taken from the bench) and built some habitats for animals to move into. The stacks of brush and branches make a great space for mice and other small mammals, which in turn bring larger predators to the area- we already saw a few bald eagles while camping! This park is going to be great.
Our team, of course, built a trail. It ended up being half a mile of finished trail and another .2 miles of lopped corridor that just needs a few finishing touches. This picture doesn’t really do it justice, but it was really awesome to see an area go from woods, to having pink flags along a future trail, to having a nice, level walking surface that takes visitors from a meadow, through woods, to a lake!
The fourth and final team was lead by Megan and Laura, who stepped up to take on an impressive engineering/carpentry feat. This was slightly different from other types of bog bridges they’d seen before but they pulled through and ended up with this gorgeous curving 110-ft boardwalk in an area that floods frequently- then they found time to fish 31 spare tires out of the nearby marsh AND join up with the invasives and trails teams for a few hours. They awarded themselves small trophies and I think they were well deserved!
Tired and ready to go home, we were still excited to see the completed projects!
A sincere thank-you to the SCA for choosing our project and all the interns for coming out and contributing your hard work and positive energy- although it had its confusion and stressful moments (and porta-pottie near-misses) we made a lot of progress on getting this park ready to be open to the public, and I think we all learned a little more about trails, invasives, dry-stone masonry, carpentry, history, camping, or the glory of being woken up by wild turkey gobbles. Function in disaster, finish in style indeed!
Now I’m off to sleep for the whole weekend.