ACE’s First PCT Project of the season is a success

Each year, the PCTA partners with the American Conservation Experience (ACE), a non-profit organization dedicated to providing rewarding environmental service opportunities for youth, to help maintain the Pacific Crest Trail. ACE recruits and supports crews of 18- to 25-year-olds as they travel throughout California, and sometimes Oregon, tackling significant maintenance and reconstruction needs along the PCT. They’re accompanied by an experienced trail professional from the PCTA who oversees the work—this year that’s me, Allegra Torres.

PCTA Technical Advisor Allegra Torres

A Maine native at heart, I’ve blazed my own trail westward. My career has taken me to many paths including the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, The Lineville Gorge Wilderness, fault mapping in Nevada and thru-hiking the Arizona Trail and the Appalachian Trail. I’ve worked with the Maine Conservation Corps, on a Bureau of Land Management/U.S. Forest Service Wildifire Engine crew in Colorado, and most recently three seasons with the Forest Service working on the Trails/Wilderness crew in Aspen, Colorado.

My specialties in trail work are rock work and using my hands to create functional art for the foot and hoof alike. You can find me hiking, paddling, or learning about herbalism and geology in my area. The paths I touch are my connections to the earth and I love working outdoors. I use my passion for trail conservation and education to propel me into my current and future professions. I am looking forward to sharing my knowledge with the next generation of trail workers and hopefully inspire them to enjoy and work in the conservation world.

April 28th – May 5th, 2021: The ACE crew becomes masters of tread work.

In this first project of the season, the ACE crew tackled 2.2 miles of trail in the Southern Sierra: widening the tread, benching and brushing the areas that needed the most attention.

While some parts of the tread were being widened, a retaining wall was also built, one rock at a time. The crew became very invested in working together to get the job done. Crew leader Hannah L. helped teach the importance of how to make the foundation of the wall solid, so it stands the test of time. Her technical rock skills included piecing together the underlaying rock and “jointing” the next on top for a secure structure. Crew Leader Hanna P. also helped with the project by using her “trail eyes” to determine the best grade for the new tread. After approximately two tons of dirt and crush, a 55-foot long retaining wall was completed and a new path was born.

The ACE crews during our Trails Training Week: (front row, R-L) Hannah L. (Crew Lead,) Donny, Tennaya, Gabby, Jackie (back row) Hanna P. (Crew Lead) Brett, Manon, Ryan, Jason, Liam. ACE’s Covid-19 safety protocols allow crew members to quarantine, then travel and work as a household unit.

Before (left) and after tread work, south of Bird Spring Pass in the Southern Sierra.

After eight days of digging and setting rocks, the crew still had smiles on their faces and were still laughing even after being in the hot sun and moving endless bags of dirt. The daily stretch circle was helpful to discuss safety concerns and also loosen our bodies before a full workday. A high point (and a mid-week pick-me-up) of the trip was special guest and local PCTA volunteer, Howard! Having a volunteer join us for the day (at a safe distance) gave an opportunity for the crew to show and teach Howard what they’ve learned so far. Everyone worked together, learned more about each other and Howard shared his local Ridgecrest knowledge of fun places to visit on their days off. All in all, a great day—on to the next project!

See the steps in building a retaining wall

The ACE crew hikes to the location where the retaining wall will be built (and admires treadwork done earlier).

Learning to use a rock net to transport stone.

The crew then learns to move and set rocks for the wall’s foundation.

The rough outlines of the wall take shape.

Hannah helps Tennaya with precise rock placement.

A happy ACE crew stands over the completed retaining wall.

Special thanks to the partners and corps crews at ACE, the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management who make this work possible, especially during the pandemic.