Outdoor recreation is getting a boost through the efforts of eight volunteers who are spending the summer in Nogales, Rio Rico and Tubac.
They are members of an AmeriCorps team who are lending their muscles and enthusiasm to locally chosen projects from May 21 to July 15.
This week the volunteers are improving a 1.3-mile walking trail at Rio Rico High School that circles the athletic fields.
The opportunity to volunteer and travel made sense for Kaitlyn Sargent of Grand Rapids, Mich., a team leader who is completing the second of two 10-month volunteer stints.
“I had never been away from home. This is my time to have an adventure before settling down into a teaching job. I loved my first year so much and it was awesome to travel and do all sorts of things,” she said.
Volunteer Josh Ernst of Springfield, Mass., said, “We’ve loved this area. We spent some time in Arizona a couple of months ago in the Casa Grande area, and ended up getting shifted into disaster relief area on the East Coast.”
Staying in Santa Cruz County has been “one of our best experiences in AmeriCorps,” Ernst said. He described their housing at Hacienda Corona de Guevavi Ranch bunkhouse as “awesome.”
Ernst said the sponsors have been “incredibly helpful and supportive. We’ve had a really good time … getting involved in the community and really getting a good sense of what this community is like and what it’s about, and the opportunity to make an impact in this community has been something that’s been a constant joy.”
A top memory, so far, was the team’s work next to the Gabilondo-Zehentner Centennial County Service Center in Rio Rico.
“It was really cool building the trail for Santa Cruz County,” Ernst said. “The first day we were there it was just desert. By the end of the two weeks there’s a ramada, and we built a couple of picnic tables, we constructed almost a mile of trail. There was a real sense of accomplishment.”
Next week, the team returns to working on Anza National Historic Trail improvements along the Santa Cruz River, and to building trails at Las Lagunas nature preserve in Nogales, near Grand Avenue and Country Club Drive. The volunteers already put some time into those projects in previous weeks.
Other activities include work at the Boys & Girls Club of Santa Cruz County such as light construction, painting, and building repair and maintenance; and a youth campsite at the Santa Fe Ranch, an educational foundation east of Nogales. The Tubac Presidio State Historic Park will benefit from one day of their service, too.
The sponsoring organization is the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension-Santa Cruz County, said Darcy Dixon, that agency’s director. The local UA extension joined with other community partners and identified a variety of service activities that benefit residents.
Viviana Sanchez of Boston, a May 2012 college graduate, signed up for AmeriCorps and began last October. Once her current project ends, “I’m coming back as a team leader,” she said, which will be an additional 11-month commitment since leadership training adds a month.
“I’d never been in the desert before. Coming here and seeing the mountains, and the heat, it’s amazing. I’m excited to see the rain and clouds that are coming,” Sanchez said.
At the Boys & Girls Club in Nogales the team removed old stored materials. “We cleared out an area in the back and they said it will be the first time the kids could be outside in the back. That was exciting,” she said.
Sanchez liked working on the Anza Trail in Rio Rico, saying: “I got familiar with all these mesquites and I got to use the wood chipper. We also painted some ramadas.”
She said she enjoyed meeting Anza Trail Coalition officers Karol and Ed Stubbs. “They’re amazing; they worked right alongside of us showing us exactly what to do.”
The work this week at Rio Rico High School is to finish a walking and running trail that was unofficially created several years ago for the school’s cross country teams to train on. It’s open for community use, said Steve Schadler, director of curriculum and instruction for Santa Cruz Valley Unified School District No. 35. Neighbors started to use it after school and it was decided to make it more visible and invite the community, he said.
There are two trailheads, one at the football stadium parking lot, and one near the Little League field on the west side of San Cayetano Elementary School. Named RIBS Community Fitness Trail, it’s 0.9 miles long and with the loop to San Cayetano, it covers 1.3 miles. RIBS stands for Run, Invigorate, Breathe, Sweat, Schadler said.
The dirt is being covered with pecan shells and the trail will be lined with rocks and with railroad ties, although the entire portion won’t be completed at this time. Schadler said he hopes that community groups in the future will add benches and trees along the trail.
The other volunteers include Tia Burbach, Meaghan Keffer and Cedar Bushue, all of Washington; Felix Bailey of Georgia, and Hannah Raines of North Carolina.
AmeriCorps has several types of programs. The volunteers who are here are part of the National Civilian Community Corps, a full-time, team-based residential service program for individuals ages 18-24.
NCCC member benefits include room and board, living allowance, health benefits, Segal AmeriCorps Education Award of $5,500, student loan deferment, training, uniforms and gear, the website says.
Members of this team, along with 27 other Denver-based traditional AmeriCorps NCCC teams, began their term of service in October 2012 with a month of pre-service training. Prior to traveling to Nogales, this team completed several other assignments, including building homes with Habitat for Humanity in San Antonio, trail building in Casa Grande, Ariz., Hurricane Sandy recovery and cleanup in Queens, N.Y., and others. This is the last of four long-term service projects they will complete before graduating from the program on July 26.