Sunrise Nature Trail at San Pedro Campground
Blazing a Trail in a National Park
All four SCA members are assigned to the Education and Resources Management Division at Amistad National Recreation Area. Jack Johnson is the archeological intern for the Cultural Resources Program. Shannon Garard is the museum curator intern, also working with Cultural Resources. Melissa Webster is the division’s cultural resources web intern while Amber Beamer is an education intern who teaches monarch butterfly awareness at local schools. Two months ago –not one of them knew anything about trail building; but as they all frequently said “where there’s a will, there is always a way.”
On a beautiful fall day, this 4-member SCA group supervised a crew of more than 100 local volunteers during an all day project to build the initial sections of the trail. The Air Force Junior ROTC program at Del Rio High School sent a 55-person squadron to take part in the project. More than a dozen active-duty service personnel came from Laughlin Air Force Base and a like number of community-minded students from Southwest Texas Junior College were also among the many volunteers. Park staff members Eric Briske, Joe Labadie, John Little, and Lisa Evans assisted where needed.
Known as the Sunrise Trail, this pathway will eventually link the National Park Service campground at San Pedro to the Visitor Information Center on U.S. Highway 90. It was the SCA members that came up with the idea to blaze the new trail. Park staff was receptive to the basic idea, as long as it didn’t interfere too much with their regular duties, and encouraged them to develop the concept further. The basic trail layout was designed by them using digital maps and GIS software which was then ground-truthed by way of several field surveys before the final trail route was flagged through the southwest Texas scrubrush and cactus.
Logistics for the project were daunting; so was getting the right equipment for a 100+ volunteer crew and getting it staged along the trail route where it, and crews, would be most effective. The Ridge Line crews used sledge hammers and pry bars to build the four-foot wide trail more than 50 vertical feet up a rocky, limestone hillside and then along the ridge for a scenic overlook of Lake Amistad. The Trail Head crew moved rocks, trimmed trees, and removed vegetation where the trail begins at the San Pedro Campground. And in between was the Grassland Crew –who had to deal with both rocks and vegetation.
If you think logistical planning can be difficult, try planning lunch for such a large crew. Except for the 250 pieces of fried chicken prepared by a local store, the remainder of the lunch menu was baked, cooked, and prepared at home the night before by the SCA crew. It took over 20 gallons of ice water and Gatorade to wash the meal down –the nearest water source was several miles away. The 13 dozen (double-chocolate) brownies vanished in a manner of minutes as trail crews met at the San Pedro group pavilion for a communal lunch.
When completed, the 1.8 mile Sunrise Hiking Trail will traverse 5 separate thematic and environmental zones. Interpretive trail signage, also spear-headed by SCA interns, were written and designed for the enjoyment of future trail hikers. The signage highlights the birds, plants, mammals, butterflies, and insects found in each environmental zone. Additional signage will focus on thematic areas along the trail and will explain paleontology and archeology in the area-visually interpreting the structural remains of what once was a historic ranch headquarters with stock tanks, water troughs, and fenced enclosures. The National Park Service has invested over $6,000 to produce the trail signage; these baked-porcelain enamel signs mounted on steel posts should last for many years.
Future hikers will be able to download detailed trail information before arriving at the park. A cooperative venture between the park and the Art Department and the Digital Academy at the University of North Carolina Pembroke will result in the creation of an interactive digital exhibit that will be available for download from the park website, including an IPOD version. Website visitors will be able to see pictures of, and hear the unique calls for, the most common birds to be found along the trail. Photographs, illustrations, and text descriptions of the behaviors and locales for several dozen insects and butterflies will also be featured. A 10-minute DVD ROM production of the website, to be shown in the theater at the park’s Visitor Information Center, will be narrated by two animated spotted ground squirrels.
By the end of that beautiful fall day in September, more than one mile of the Sunrise Trail had been hacked out of the wilderness adjacent to the lake shoreline using shovels, axes, spades, picks, and rakes. Although there were plenty of blisters and a few aching backs and sore feet to go around at the end of the day, everyone expressed their deep personal satisfaction at having made a real difference at a National Park that has long been known for its lack of hiking trails. And, if it had not been for Jack, Shannon, Melissa, and Amber, it would have just been another day at Amistad National Recreation Area.