Putting the fun in alternative spring break

25 03 2015

It is alternative spring break time again in Missouri and Colorado! This is the awesome time of year when the weather is fabulous and the University of Missouri sends us several of their marvelous students to do good work on San Juan public lands. This includes Spring Creek Basin Herd Management Area, managed out of Tres Rios Field Office in Dolores.

This is the fourth year students have helped us rebuild the basin’s southeastern boundary fence. Here are some more stats: This is the third straight year for student leader Chalen (who got married right before coming to Colorado – congrats!). It’s the 19th year of the alternative spring break program here; that means next year will be the 20th year! Wow. Kathe Hayes, leader extraordinaire and volunteer coordinator with San Juan Mountains Association, has been organizing this program for “16 or 17 years.” She may have said 17 years last year, so she may be underestimating her dedication to this super program.

Chalen said Mizzou sent 138 crews out of Missouri this school year for projects in the USA and abroad. Wow again!

As always, we are incredibly appreciative and wonderfully humbled by the students’ enthusiasm and get-‘er-done attitudes. Most come with little or no fence-building experience, but as Kathe noted at the start of the day, they all came equipped with excellent footwear!

Let’s take a look at their progress Tuesday:


Zach and Evan were two of three boys (including Chalen) on the crew this year. Here, they’re carrying a roll of wire and a tamp bar to the start of the to-be-worked-on fence (we should measure this – probably half a mile from the road? – and it ain’t flat). Jessi follows them with buckets of tools. Check out the awesome fence beside them, built by last year’s crew.


Putting their muscles to work right off the bat. It is NOT easy to carry those wire rolls.


BLM herd manager Mike Jensen demonstrates the use of fencing pliers to the girls: Miranda, Sarah, Mary, Lauren, Jordyn and Aloe.


SJMA’s Kathe Hayes and BLM’s Dave Sanders walk along the fence where Sarah, Miranda, Mary and Aloe are undoing the wire pieces that hold old barbed wire strands to fence posts.


After they removed the wire, they had to roll the wire – again, NOT easy. Sarah, Aloe, Jordyn and Jessi keep their strands untangled.


It’s hard to tell what’s going on here, but Mike and Chalen are moving an old tree away from the fence line. It fell in such a way that previous fencers used one spike of a root to stabilize wires. It was cool! But ultimately not very appropriate. Sigh. If you must …!


Kathe demonstrates the start of the wire roll to Mary.


On any fence-building project, there’s a little bit of this – carrying rolls from brace to brace. Chalen and Zach carry the wire while Mike follows to keep it smooth.


Before the new wire gets strung, the old wire must be rolled. Lauren shows off a perfect roll!


Do these girls know how to have fun or what? Lauren (right) and MK rolled one strand of wire from either end and met in the middle, where Miranda stepped in to separate the two.


Sarah shows off her wire roll while Miranda prepares to photobomb!


Kathe heckles the photographer …


… then shows off her mad fence-post-pounding skills!


It’s not ALL about work. We do allow a few minutes for lunch, during which, we got to know a little more about the students and what they’re studying at Mizzou. This year, students span all classes – from freshmen to seniors – and have a variety of majors: accounting, photography, journalism, forestry, exercise science, health science, anthropology/international studies. Most are from Missouri, but others are from Illinois and Texas (interestingly enough, a town in the same county as yours truly’s parents call home).


After lunch, it was right back to work. Sarah, Miranda and Zach (and others) took turns pounding through shale to dig a hole for a new brace post. Talk about sweat equity!


Students coined a new term this year: fox-holing. Instead of using what was decided to be the most inefficient tool of all time – the post-hole digger – students shoveled dirt and shale out by hand.


Hole-digging is an arduous process, especially through rock. Justin Hunt (BLM range tech) and MK Thompson (SJMA) double their digging.


Mike drills a hole for a spike to be pounded to attach the brace post to the tree while Chalen steadies the post. Readers may remember that the southeastern fence line is wholly within McKenna Peak Wilderness Study Area, where no mechanized or motorized tools are allowed.


After the hole is drilled, Jessi pounds the spike. The drilled hole eases the way, but it still requires some muscle!


Tightening the wires on the braces is fascinating stuff! Go, Mike! Jessi, Kathe, MK, Chalen and Jordyn appreciate the effort. Note the fancy duct-tape circling Jordyn’s jeans-clad leg, which fell prey to a barbed-wire barb – a hazard of working with the stuff.


Yep, there was more of this with Zach and Evan doing the heavy lifting and Mary keeping the wire flowing free.


The students built two braces yesterday. Jordyn, Kathe and Aloe help Mike (out of sight behind the tree) while Justin and Miranda (background) feed the wire from the roll.


Kathe pounds a staple to attach wire around a tree at a brace (out of sight to the right). She soon switched from fencing pliers to a bigger mallet.


This post was pretty wobbly with a rotten bottom. MK rocked it out of the ground, and Dave sawed the rotten bottom off with help from Evan. When they flipped it (the former top went bottom-down in the new hole), they wanted it to look pretty for the mustangs! Always thinking about the horses – love it!


Old wire out (and rolled) – check. Braces built – check. New wire strung – check. Clips attaching wire strands to T-posts (and staples to wood posts) – check. More new wire strung – check!


Sore arms are a given after a day on the fence line (and they’re coming back today!). Sore cheeks from smiling? Yep, those, too. MK and Justin attach wire to the tree to run to the next brace.


Jordyn and Mary use a measuring stick to attach the top wire of the new fence. Students are following wildlife-friendly fence-building concepts; the top and bottom strands are smooth-twisted wire (for wildlife), and the middle two strands are barbed (to deter cattle). The bottom strand is 16 inches off the ground to allow fawn and (elk) calf movement, and the top and second-from-top strands are wider spaced to prevent legs from getting twisted in the wire when jumping the fence. Note the helpful “UP” note on the measuring stick.


Note the great smiles! In the background, Mike and Kathe admire the students’ handiwork.


Kathe, Mary and Sarah carry old-wire rolls back to the trucks at the end of the day.


By the time we got organized enough to take a group pic with the wire proof of their labors, Evan, Aloe and Jordyn already had headed for the trucks. We’ll get a group pic today with everyone! Front row from left: Kathe, Sarah, Lauren and Mary. Back row from left: Justin, Chalen, Miranda, Dave, Zach, Jessi, Mike and MK.

THANK YOU, Mizzou students! Every year, you impress us with your energy and ability to make a mundane, labor-intensive job a whole lot of fun. This year is no exception, and we so appreciate that you chose to come to Southwest Colorado for your spring break, to work instead of party – though we hope you have a lot of fun!



3 responses

25 03 2015

Wonderful group of young adults respecting nature. Thanks TJ, for the photos and description of the works it takes to keep everyone safe.
Also, I missed some of the earlier photos this month – THANKS FOR THE GREAT PHOTO of Sundance. He looks healthy and fit!!!

25 03 2015
Kathryn Wilder

Wow–excellent work, all! And amazing writing–your reporting skills do not weaken in the wee hours, TJ! I am impressed (knowing you were still writing at 1 a.m.)!!!

25 03 2015
Lynn and Kathy

What a fantastic story! Kudos to each and every one involved! We are super impressed and very grateful to all of you for your hard work on behalf of the horses! Great story-writing and photography! 🙂

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