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Alternative Spring Breaks: Flagstaff, Arizona

Working to preserve the Colorado Plateau

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Cathedral Wash Hike: (from right) Brittany Schwartz (CAS’13), Sara Woolcock (SAR’12), Meaghan Kilroy (COM’14), Katie Laux (CAS’11), Anna Mulry (CFA’12), Miranda Ciarrocchi (CGS’11), Ann Liu (CAS’13), Keith Esposito (CAS’11), Andrea Bartunek (CFA’11), Carrie Belden (SED’12), Marit Engebretsen (COM’13), Manuela Toro (CAS’14), and Kenny Karas (CAS’12). Photo by Lauren Berutich, Grand Canyon Trust

More than 300 students volunteered in this year’s BU Community Service Center Alternative Spring Breaks program. Now in its 24th year, ASB pairs students with 36 organizations around the country, rebuilding homes, assisting at animal shelters, and working at food banks, among other projects. We are bringing you first-person accounts of some of those trips, described by both students and coordinators as unforgettable. Readmore.

Where do I begin? Two weeks ago I embarked on the most amazing journey with 16 of the greatest people I have ever met. We traveled to Arizona to work with the Grand Canyon Trust to help preserve the Kaibab Plateau in northern Arizona, part of the much larger Colorado Plateau. Now I face the difficult task of sharing our ASB memories with the rest of the BU community. It’s almost impossible to capture in 1,000 words or less. For nine days we surrendered ourselves to our work and our surroundings.

Our journey began on March 12, when we flew to Phoenix, Ariz. Looking back, it is funny to realize how uncomfortable we were with each other at that time. Unfortunately, the plane ride did not offer us the same opportunities to get to know one another that a van ride would have. Nevertheless, the awkwardness dissolved during a hike in Papago Park, 1,200 acres of hilly desert in Phoenix and Tempe. The park features many geological formations, including the landmark Hole-in-the-Rock, or as Katie Laux (CAS’11) liked to call it, “the Hole-in-the-Wall.” Miranda Ciarrocchi (CGS’11) referred to it as “toe rings for life,” which got us all laughing. In the days that followed, we realized how important it was to have a strong group dynamic. The next day, we bid Phoenix good-bye and headed north to Flagstaff, arriving at Kane Ranch in the Kaibab Plateau, where we would spend the week. We were greeted by Lauren Berutich and Steve Till, two employees of the Grand Canyon Trust (GCT).

The Grand Canyon Trust was founded in 1985 to protect the 130,000 square miles that make up the Colorado Plateau, which runs along the Colorado River in Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico. The Kaibab Plateau, where we were to work, borders the north rim of the Grand Canyon.

Along with Lauren and Steve and their canine companions, Lily and Pepper, we became what we referred to as “the Kane Ranch family,” a quirky family, but family nonetheless. After all, someone who helps you check the outhouses for black widow spiders is most certainly your family.

After a night camped out, we crawled out of our tents, or in my case, fell out (my tent did not easily accommodate someone of my height). Following breakfast, we began work repairing the pronghorn fence, a fence that allowed the antelope-like pronghorn to roaming the plateau freely, Lauren explained, unlike barbed wire fences. These fences had a layer of smooth wire through which the animals could crawl, but it was uneven in most places. Our task was to repair the fence so that it was feasible for pronghorn to pass through, but impossible for cows. The project’s climax came later in the week, when we out-fenced a group from Northeastern University. They had previously repaired 800 meters of fence, but we completed 1,200 meters. While I reveled in our victory, I realized that the real accomplishment was that we had worked together as a team to serve another species—in this case, the pronghorn.

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When we weren’t repairing the fence, our workdays consisted of ranch cleanup and plant removal. At nearby Soap Creek Trail and Cram Ranch, we discarded old kitchen fixtures and gathered wood for burning. At Rachel’s Pools, a series of small springs located in the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, we assisted in the eradication of an invasive plant species called the tamarisk. Steve explained to us that the tamarisk was introduced to the region as way to fight off erosion, but was later found to inhibit the growth of native plant species. We were responsible for removing the tamarisks limb by limb so that indigenous plants would have a chance to thrive there.

Interestingly, the majority of those on our ASB trip grew up in cities and towns east of the Mississippi River. The desert was not a site that we were familiar with. We could not believe that people like Steve and Lauren and places like the Kaibab Plateau actually existed. We were astounded when we discovered petroglyphs and pottery in the cave behind Kane Ranch and saw condors atop the peaks of the Vermilion Cliffs. It seemed unimaginable that we were seeing those things outside of a museum.

Lauren and Steve had brought a week’s worth of food for the group with them from Flagstaff. Each night we dined on local produce and meat from nearby ranches. Everyone took turns helping with the cooking. The temperature—which could reach 80 degrees during the day, plummeted to as low as 20 degrees at night. I slept in my coat most nights, huddled into a heavy-duty sleeping bag from REI.

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On our final night at Kane Ranch, a handful of AmeriCorps volunteers joined us for dinner. Over the coming months, they would continue the work that we had been doing in the Kaibab Plateau. It is difficult to put into words how much I wanted to be one of them, able to dedicate months of my life to projects like these.

After the AmeriCorps volunteers left, we decided to forego our tents and sleep on the porch of the ranch so that we could watch the stars.

At school I had grown so tired of sitting at my desk. I needed to get out and be somewhere where I could sleep under the stars. I needed to be in a place occupied by 16 empowering individuals, and of course, two wonderful canines. I needed to choose my own adventure, something Steve had encouraged us to do. Thankfully, ASB Flagstaff and the GCT provided me with that opportunity.

If only our adventure could have lasted longer.

Meaghan Kilroy can be reached at mkilroy@bu.edu.

4 Comments

4 Comments on Alternative Spring Breaks: Flagstaff, Arizona

  • ann on 03.28.2011 at 12:46 am

    this is such a sexy article

  • Carrie on 03.28.2011 at 11:13 am

    Yay!

    Best week ever!

  • Rory on 03.28.2011 at 7:29 pm

    It sounds like you chose a great adventure!

  • mary and joey kilroy on 03.29.2011 at 1:49 pm

    Hi Meaghan, what a great article, it sounds like a wonderful experience.

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