On September 24th, 33 volunteers joined with Big Bend staff to give back to their public lands in celebration of National Public Lands Day. Their goal was to follow through and finish up several previous park work projects.
During the peak of the summer fire season, National Park Service fire crews from Rocky Mountain National Park, Los Diablos from Mexico, and U.S. Forest Service personnel from Montana, Arizona, and California cut approximately 87 tons of brush away from the buildings in Panther Junction – a preventive effort to protect structures in the event of a fire at park headquarters. The brush was then hauled and piled along the Tornillo Creek badlands to be reused in a long-term effort to control soil erosion and re-establish native grasses.
The morning that dawned clear and cool soon turned into a typical Big Bend hot summer day. Volunteers (members of “Friends of Big Bend”, students from Terlingua High School, citizens of Terlingua, park employees and students from Sul Ross State University) were soon sweating.
The work began by turning over soil in eight-foot-wide strips following contour lines, mixing native grass seeds, and then spreading this mixture in long lines covering about three acres. Even harder work followed – the giant brush piles that had been sitting along the road to Persimmon Gap since the fuel reduction project were pried apart and thickly spread over the seeded areas to keep the grass seed from washing away and to serve as a bit of shade to allow seedlings to establish.
Gloves, sunglasses, long sleeve shirts, long pants and boots were the order of the day. In spite of these efforts, thorns and spines typical of desert plants were commonplace and very few volunteers escaped without a couple of battle wounds. The group contributed 152 volunteer hours on this grasslands restoration project. The four hours of hot, hard work utilizing the goodwill of many hands accomplished what would have taken a paid work crew of four a little over a week – a remarkable and valuable contribution.
One of the benefits of helping with National Public Lands and the grassland restoration is that, in years to come, these volunteers will be able to return to Big Bend to check on the progress of “their grasses” and feel a sense of accomplishment in the part they played in restoring this area of the park.