The Youth Conservation Crew (YCC) offered by Aldo Leopold Charter School (ALCS) provided paid internship positions for 85 youth ages 14-15 including ALCS students in grades 9-12. Their projects included: trail building, eco-monitoring, garden crew, water harvesting, and mural design and installation.
Under the direction of local craftsman Dickey Sanchez, the crews completed two projects: the juniper tree trail next to Ritch Hall on the Western New Mexico University (WNMU) campus and phase one of the Silva Creek Nature Trail connecting the historic Waterworks site to Penny Park. At the Ritch Hall site crew members gained experience in trail design and installation, including building stairs using boulders and flagstone.
At the historic Waterworks site, the crew navigated some steep terrain and large debris fields left from previous floods to build a series of switchbacks and a stairway, creating a gentle transition along the Silva Creek bed. Crew members engaged in the engineering and installation of the trail which involved dry stacking several large boulders and back filling with soil. Sanchez brings over 20 years of masonry experience and many years of coaching youth basketball to the project. This trail is the result of the crew’s partnerships with Bridgette Johns and Southwest New Mexico ACT, James Marshall from the Town of Silver City, and the easement provided by Silver Consolidated Schools.
Trails crew member Micah Jo Huerta states, “This was my first year on the crew. They really made me feel like I belong.”
Bridgette Johns says, “This team and this project have brought an immeasurable sense of joy. Their energy infuses the entire project with hope, dedication, and passion for community-based projects.”
Thanks to WNMU President Joe Shepard and Alex Brown of the Town of Silver City, Diana Ingalls Leyba of the Youth Mural Program, ALCS alumna Mia Estrada, and Jess DeMoss from Scratch Paper Signs with 20 youth made progress on the mural at the Child Development Center and restoration of murals at Penny Park. Ingalls Leyba is looking forward to continuing both projects in the fall and will be connecting with area schools to make more clay hands for further restoration work at Penny Park.
The eco-monitoring crew, under the direction of conservation biologist Mike Fugagli, focused on riparian ecology and bird studies. The crew has been banding birds, mapping songbird territory in riparian habitats along the Gila River, and water quality monitoring the Iron Creek Bridge Preserve. They have also been working at San Vicente Creek to further their restoration efforts.
The garden crew had three main areas of work. Most of their time was spent enhancing the ALCS school rock gardens with native trees, shrubs and perennials. Garden crew has gradually been transforming this area into an outdoor living classroom. They planted a Texas Live Oak to eventually shade the basketball court and a Texas Redbud and six locally grown fruit trees. They also built cages around all the fruit trees to protect them from deer browse and fenced in an area for a future vegetable garden. The kids learned many techniques, such as how to look at the land before planting to take advantage of any rainwater harvesting, sheet mulching for the rock terraces, and how to build a mulch basin for large trees and fruit trees.
The second project was working with the Gila National Forest on restoring native plants in the upper Cherry Creek Meadow restoration project. Two different crews on two separate days went out to plant native perennials, Bluestem willows, sedges and rushes. The plants were grown by Lone Mountain Natives Nursery, which is co-owned by Tricia Hurley. Tricia supervised YCC Garden Crew activities, along with Aldo Leopold Charter School teachers, Nate Shay, and Antoinette Castanon.
The last worksite was at Big Ditch Park where more native plants were installed in the terraces created last year and this spring. Crew members also watered many of the plants that were planted by last year’s summer YCC crew in Big Ditch Park.
Some students also learned how to identify native plants by taking samples of leaves and flowers for miniature herbarium sheets. Allison Siwik gave a presentation on nature journaling where students learned how to use tools to help record flora and fauna of a local area. Garden Crew also finished their veggie start fundraiser with their last trip to the silver city farmers market, where they took donations for veggies. The remaining plants were offered to staff and student families.
The Water Harvesting crew headed by Aaron Myers and Kristin Lundgren of Motherland Shaping partnered with Martha Egnal of the Stream Dynamics, Susan Campbell from the Gila Native Plant Society/Silva Creek Botanical Garden, Peter Peña and Eddie Diaz of the town of Silver City, and Rohan Stites of Adobe Techniques. This crew focused on revamping a pair of storm water harvesting basins. Their work area next to and in the Silva Creek Botanical Gardens is the drainage site for an over 75-acre watershed and will serve to support and hydrate wildlife habitat, a thicket for insects and birds.