Reflecting on an Amazing Experience at SMEEC

By Aubrey Gardner 

The Field School Training Program that I participated in was a 16-week program that partnered with The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Phoenix College, American Conservation Experience (ACE), and Arizona Center for Youth Resources (ACYR). We received a certificate of completion in Conservation and Natural Resource Management through Phoenix College as well as gaining multiple certifications (Wilderness First Aid, CPR, Wildland Fire and Chainsaw Training, Leave No Trace Trainer, ROV Safety and Rider Training, and ACE Conservation Trails Skills & Restoration Training. Monday’s we would take our classes at Phoenix College (our classes were just the 5 of us), and Tuesday through Friday we would have a planned project site we would drive to and meet our project sponsor.

There we would camp out for the week in nature and it was incredible! We served a minimum of 640 hours on conservation projects that included at least 120 hours on Federal Public Lands. Some projects we were involved in included trail building, fence building/repair to protect Wildlife and Visitors, Desert Tortoise Habitat restoration, cabin restorations in Utah and Flagstaff, Graffiti Eradication Effort True Grit with National Park Service, Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge for Pronghorn catch and release, Protection of Native Riparian Corridor at the San Pedro Riparian Preserve. 

Our work at South Mountain was by far one of my favorites. I loved being in my home city and gardening is a passion of mine, so I thoroughly enjoyed the butterfly project and working with the Park Ranger on site who was super knowledgable on our native plants. I had never been to South Mountain before, which is funny because I live 20 minutes away! Our job duties that week were to turn the garden next to the Nature Conservation Center into a butterfly garden, re-naturalize one of the busy trail heads, remove vegetation in an area that was going to be turned into a garden, and give the vegetation around the Nature Conservation Center nature walk some love. We did removal of native plants at the butterfly garden and relocated them to an existing trail head and practiced vertical mulching in the butterfly garden as well as at the trail head. Rock bars and pick mattocks were used to place rocks in place at trail head. We also trimmed up vegetation that was over growing into the nature walk for a better experience for the visitors and removed vegetation in a future garden area. We also received a presentation on pollinators that was super informative and really enjoyable to be apart of. It was amazing getting to meet the Park Rangers and staff at South Mountain and hear their stories and receive knowledge from them. 

Hiking up to Dobbins was beautiful! One of my favorite hikes for sure! My crew and I had done this hike back in July when we were beginning to prep for the Field School program. It was a really special hike for me at the end of a hard working week with my crew and then completing the hike. Completing that hike again at the end of our program really made it special, since we had gone through a lot since July at our first time meeting. The hike the second time around was easy peasy and super fun! We loved having the Park Ranger who watches over the archeological sites there, give us a special look at it all. None of us knew any of those sites were there, and it was wonderful hearing the history. 

Working near your center was beautiful and I love that you have the center there! That is so important to have that there, it allows kids and adults to learn about our desert, our environment, learn the plants, learn our history,  and take home knowledge to spread! The people working there are so friendly and knowledgeable, you have a great team and I felt honored that we were able to feel apart of the team that week at South Mountain!