Southwest Conservation Corps Heads to the Bluff Park

For 10 days out on the Bluff Park in Westcliffe residents and visitors alike might’ve seen a crew wearing yellow hard hats. Those belonged to the Southwest Conservation Corps who were working to fix erosion issues at the Park.

 

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Following the intense rains of this summer, erosion had become a problem at the Bluff Park in Westcliffe, creating concerns about trail stability and safety. Deep rills had formed on the trail and on the sloping edges of the trail. Small efforts had been made to repair small segments, but it became apparent a larger undertaking was necessary. The area needing the most attention was along the northwest corner of the Bluff trail. Because of the steep slope, and narrow work area (the property fence lines runs directly at the base of the slope) we decided to hire an AmeriCorps trail crew from Southwest Conservation Corps.

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The Southwest Conservation hand crews have the ability to work in constricted areas and can perform more detailed work than machinery. In addition, they are fairly inexpensive, and are a great job training experience for college aged youths. The crews build in time for education. I gave a presentation to the crew about potential education and job opportunities following their service, and they learned about the work of San Isabel Land Protection Trust and our efforts to protect the land and waters of this region.

Several years ago, I served on a trail crew in Arizona. It was my introduction to environmental stewardship and kindled my interest in a natural resources career. Because of my trail crew experience, I joined the Peace Corps, earned a Master’s Degree in Forestry, and rejoined AmeriCorps, becoming the VISTA volunteer at San Isabel Land Protection Trust.

The wall started off with a 3’ by 3’ base of rocks, fitted tightly together by hand for stability, then backfilled with large gravel, and the addition of a special cloth which allows for water flow but reduces soil material loss. The slope was re-profiled to a gentler angle. “Rip rap” – smaller loose rocks - were then laid on the slope and the open spaces between rocks filled with the remaining gravel material.

We finished the rock wall on September 15th, in addition to several water bars and drainage canals to disrupt on-trail water flow. A few efforts are still underway, and maintenance will always be part of managing the Bluff Park.

Future plans include a mix of topsoil with grass and wildflower seeds on the rock wall and drainage channel near the observatory to create a more natural appearance.

The work was enjoyable: late summer days overlooking the Wet Mountain Valley while hay was cut and baled below. Everyday a great blue heron flew past the site to the pond below – a reminder that the final destination for much of this eroded material was the riparian habitat below – his home.

About the author: Martin Aksentowitz joined San Isabel in February 2015 as an AmeriCorps volunteer. He is supporting San Isabel with a variety of new initiatives, including the development of interpretive signage for the Bluff Park in Westcliffe and stewardship and restoration projects. 

 

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