Snowy mountains as seen from the Old Baldy Trailhead. Photo by Jonathan Patt.

Written by Elly Fisher, Wild Stew Field Crew Member.

Wild Stew peeled off into two crews this hitch to tackle projects in the Superstitions and the Santa Ritas. Lauren, Jonathan, Dexter, and I continued to maintain the Old Baldy Trail in the Mount Wrightson Wilderness Area 40 miles Southeast of Tucson, while Lexi and Joe joined Taylour Stephens, Lead Biologist, and Jordan Zweig, Conservation Associate, to remove invasive species in the Tonto National Forest just East of Phoenix.

Before and after, Old Baldy Trail. Photos by Jonathan Patt.

Working on Old Baldy Trail, one of the most popular trails in the Coronado National Forest, has highlighted for me how rare it must be for folks to encounter a professional trail crew. Many hikers were curious as cats about the work that we do, and I could recite the answers to their questions by heart now. No, we are not volunteers. We’re paid, full-time employees! No, we aren’t with the Forest Service — though they are our gracious partners in this endeavor. We are a small, state-wide nonprofit with projects all over Arizona. No — we aren’t taking the rocks out of the trail. We are using them to build check steps to hold the soil where we want it so the trail doesn’t continue to erode, and to make the grade of the trail less steep, more sustainable, and easier to walk on. No, we are not installing an elevator. Yes, we did earn this lunch break! No, it is actually quite common for women and femme-presenting people to be on conservation crews, and we do not need help from our male coworkers to move rocks, use the tools of our trade, or “look after us”; nor do we need unsolicited advice from passers-by about how to best do our jobs.

Lauren getting ready to use the double jack. Photo by Elly Fisher.

All strange, silly, and sexist comments aside — most folks we encountered were as grateful for the work that we do as we were to see such a diverse range of people recreating on public lands. In addition to putting in more check steps on Old Baldy, Wild Stew hosted a volunteer event to remove an old retaining wall that was no longer functioning. This retaining wall was made out of pipes and T-posts, and took most of the day and four trips down trail to carry out. It was a lovely group of people, and chatting with them made the day fly by.

Volunteers Ric and Eileen gettin’ after some T-Posts! Photo by Jonathan Patt.
Before and after removing the pipe retaining wall on the Old Baldy trail. Photos by Jonathan Patt.

We also spent several days helping a Student Conservation Association crew based out of California work on several retaining walls on the slope next to the trailhead parking lot. These structures will make it possible to hold enough soil to do some live planting on the slope and get it back to looking its best! We hope the rest of your season goes smoothly!

Taylour, Lexi, Joe, and Jordan braved hot and windy weather and long walks with heavy loads to get to work on a 109 acre invasive species removal project near the Broadway Trailhead, just outside of Apache Junction in the Tonto National Forest. This project was funded by the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management and is targeting grassy and brushy non-native invasive species that are particularly susceptible to wildfire. With seemingly ever-present drought conditions in the wildland-urban interface, this project is important to maintaining a robust desert ecosystem, as well as protecting people’s homes. Electing to hand spray this area ensures that the least amount of chemical is used with precision and care. Backpack spraying is hot, dirty, and takes both physical and mental stamina. Thank you Jordan, Taylour, Lexi, and Joe, for putting in some hard hours!

Lexi sprays invasive stinknet in the Superstitions. Photo by Jonathan Patt.

All in all, it was a week well spent moving heavy things, talking about rocks, bonding with like-minded conservation folks, and celebrating TWO birthdays. THANK YOU to our lovely crew member Lauren for making sure there were plenty of birthday baked goods to go around.