You can make a huge difference for habitat and have a lot of fun when you put 13 enthusiastic Defenders’ volunteers (including 3 Boy Scouts) into a magnificent National Monument site! Led by myself and four National Park Service rangers, our volunteers drove more than 85 miles each way to spend the day refurbishing heavily eroded trails, trimming overgrown paths, and replacing the Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument’s signage at this ancient site in New Mexico–the Quarai Ruins. The oldest of three missions built during the late 16th to early 17th centuries, Quarai began about 600AD as an Indian pueblo and salt trading center. The trails within the monument bring visitors into close proximity to the ancient stone ruins and the quarries that yielded the red sandstone of the mission’s soaring walls. With hundreds of visitors each day, the trails and habitat quickly become eroded, tempting monument visitors to leave the designated pathway. When park visitors venture from established trails, they can disturb wildlife that may be nesting or foraging, and cause these already-established species to leave the monument territory. Many types of wildlife live here, including great horned owls, common nighthawks, spiny and collared lizards, porcupines, and even black bears and coyotes.
Provided with five yards of dense wood mulch, our tenacious team quickly assessed how to get the job done! A relay team of three Scouts and six Defenders’ volunteers filled multiple loads of mulch into wheelbarrows, unloaded the contents into the ruts, raked the material smooth, and tamped down the mulch. We’re not sure if the Scouts liked pulling and pushing the wagons up the hill more, or riding (accompanied by shrieks of delight!) the wagons down the hill to have them refilled. It seemed obvious that the adults wished they could have done the same. While the mulch team made quick work of the trail repair, four volunteers took their clippers and loppers to rid the path of dead branches and overgrown bushes. This provided our ‘garden’ experts a chance to use their deep knowledge of trimming and pruning!
After a great lunch in the meadow and a chance to identify the birds that were everywhere (we saw everything from warbling vireo and spotted towhee to western bluebirds and a black-chinned hummingbird), the team organized the plan to replace the old, faded signage with the new signs that the rangers had placed throughout the site. This gave each of them a chance to see all parts of the ruins, as well as a chance to discover the story of how the site evolved from a salt trading route to a colonial religious center. With the work done, the rangers were more than impressed that our Defenders’ volunteers and the Scouts completed everything we committed to doing. They wanted to know when we were coming back to the other two sites!
Carol Baumgartel is the New Mexico Outreach Representative for Defenders of Wildlife