AmeriCorps 2020: Training

This post is part of a series detailing my time in Boulder, Colorado, performing trail work and ecological restoration through American Conservation Experience and AmeriCorps. Since my primary goal in Boulder was to work, please excuse the relative lack of photos in this post.

A tree on a hill in the morning
Looking out from my OSMP-supplied house on July 9, 2020.

Following my arrival in Boulder on July 6, my next two days with American Conservation Experience (ACE)/AmeriCorps consisted of PowerPoint presentations. As riveting as those slideshows were, I’ll skip them and head to my first day of field training on July 9.

We had to be ready for work by 7 A.M. on the 9th. Since I enjoy tranquil mornings, I was up by 5 so that I could sip my coffee in peace. I was soon joined by our Project Manager, Victoria, and the rest of our crew trickled in as they awoke.

We were in the ACE van at 7, and a 45-minute drive brought us to the South Mesa Trailhead. Our task that day was to clear out a series of drains along the Homestead Trail, which was a good way to get in shape while learning the basics of trail work.

Once our Open Space and Mountain Parks (OSMP) partners arrived, we began the hike to our worksite.

The trek wasn’t long, but the terrain was steeper than I was used to, and the elevation higher. Those factors combined to seemingly empty my lungs of air, leaving me gasping for breath during much of the hike in.

I was thus relieved when we reached our destination, although this feeling wouldn’t last forever.

Our main OSMP contact, Hillary, showed us the drains that needed attention, and told us what to do at each one. We then broke into groups of 2-3, with each group assigned to one drain; I ended up with Nick (one of our Crew Leaders) and Victoria as my partners.

Victoria, Nick, and I returned to the first drain that Hillary had shown us.

This drain was supposed to capture the water that ran off of a steep hill, and then direct it away from the trail to minimize erosion. However, the gradual accumulation of sediment had made the drain too shallow for its intended purpose.

Thus, the three of us had to broaden and deepen the drain in critical areas, while shaping it in such a way that it caught and redirected as much water as possible.

A pick-mattock
A basic pick-mattock. P1020119.JPG by dervish. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

It would’ve taken me an eternity to figure out how to repair this drain on my own, but luckily I had two experienced team members with me. Nick and Victoria showed me how to use the pick-mattock, our main tool, safely and effectively.

I first had to adopt a wide stance, planting my feet firmly apart.

Victoria and Nick then had me hold the pick-mattock at head height – with one hand at the base of the handle and one near the top – and then drop, rather than swing, the pick forward. As the pick was swinging (or rather, dropping), I had to sink my legs as if I was performing a squat, while also sliding my top hand downwards until it touched the hand at the base of the pick-mattock’s handle.

It took me several tries to sync all of these motions, but Nick and Victoria coached me along. They also developed a system, so that we took turns using different tools, which prevented us from overusing particular muscle groups.

A man using a pick-mattock.
A man demonstrates how to use a pick-mattock. Note the wide stance and bent knees. Tool Use Demo: Pick Mattock by Julie AJ Viola Downey. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The three of us worked on this drain for several hours, carefully producing the angles and depths that Hillary had specified.

The pick-mattock work was hard on my arms, and I frequently had to switch to an easier role, but Nick and Victoria were patient with me. They didn’t chide me for working too slowly or tiring too quickly, but offered positive reinforcement and many pointers.

After we’d finished our first drain, Victoria, Nick, and I hiked up the winding trail until we reached a section that was somewhat flat.

Here they gave me a smaller drain to repair, explained that it should be easy, and left me to work on it by myself.

The ‘easy’ drain turned out to be more complicated than it appeared, and I was unable to finish it that afternoon. I needed backup and heavier tools to finish the job, which I received the next day.

I currently have limited internet access, so I apologize if it takes me longer than normal to respond to your comments.

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