News Gc Wildlife Club Takes A Memorable Spring Trip - Garrett College

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Campus News

April 23, 2019

GC Wildlife Club takes a memorable spring trip

Participants see the Southwest while working on conservation project

Garrett College Wildlife College

Group photo taken overlooking Aravaipa Canyon. From left to right are: Bruce McClelland, Emily Blubaugh, Mike Mosser, Dakota Knott, Marlee Shumate, Jenna Smith, Jeremy Martin, Aryssa Corby, Khristyn Towles, Quinn Iden, Drew Keller, Jacob Sweitzer, Adam Crayton, Hunter Witmer.
Photo by Kevin Dodge.

WILLCOX, Az. – Amazing natural beauty, unique species, habitat restoration activities – and a marriage proposal.

Yes, the latest Garrett College Wildlife Club spring break trip had a little bit of everything.

Kevin Dodge, GC's director of Natural Resources and Wildlife Technology, and NRWT program graduate Bruce McClelland took 13 students to Arizona for the club's 30th spring break trip over the last 32 years. The trip, according to Dodge, was not meant to meet set learning goals but rather to let the learning evolve naturally out of the event.

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Hunter Witmer and Quinn Iden use a soil auger to prepare holes for planting sacaton, a native grass.
Photo by Jenna Smith

"Our [NRWT] program is so intense and it has no electives. This trip is just to go have an experience – to learn, but not be forced to learn," explained Dodge. "It's all about experiencing a different part of the country, and expanding their horizons. It's about a different culture, different cuisine, and all the different kinds of plants and animals that they encounter."

Club member Samuel Reckart said the expansion of horizons covered a wide gamut of events.

"When I went the first time [on a previous spring trip], I had never flown before or been outside of the three-state area," Reckart observed.

Hunter Witmer, another club member who went on the trip, said each day's activities actually encouraged voluntary learning.

"We'd see different species of birds and reptiles during the day," said Witmer. "We didn't have to look them up, but we were so interested that we'd pull out the books at night to find out more about them."

Many participants talked about the value of the trip as a bonding experience.

"We spent 10 days with the same people – and no cell phone service," noted club member Jenna Smith.

The trip started with a day at Catalina State Park, which sits at the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains and features 5,500 acres of foothills, canyons and streams. According to the park's website, it's home to more than 150 species of birds.

"We went to classes all day Tuesday, then left the College for BWI around midnight Wednesday morning and arrived in the Tucson area Wednesday afternoon – by that time we'd been awake for forty-some hours," said Dodge. "But I still get them right out hiking and exploring in the Catalina State Park that very first day, seeing lizards, snakes and some very cool birds."

The second day was spent at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, ranked as a Top 10 Museum by TripAdvisor.com with 85 percent of its experience outdoors, according to the museum's website.

Garrett College Wildlife College

Marlee Shumate, Mike Mosser, and Drew Keller planting Sacaton, a native Arizona grass.
Photo by Kevin Dodge

"It's a combination zoo, botanical garden, and aquarium," Dodge said. "It's a great opportunity for the students to learn about the plants, animals and ecology of the region."

The bulk of the trip was spent at the 9,000-acre Aravaipa Canyon Preserve, which is owned by The Nature Conservancy. It features a wide range of elevations (from 2,800 feet at the bottom of the canyon to 6,150 feet on Table Mountain), a 10-mile-long central gorge and the Aravaipa Creek, according to the Preserve's website.

"A lot of streams and rivers out there are a shadow of their former selves," said Dodge. "Aravaipa Creek is one of the region's healthiest streams – it's beautiful."

Dodge said his group exchanged work project hours for lodging on the Preserve – a "win-win" for everyone.

"The Nature Conservancy staff who run the Preserve say our students can accomplish in a few hours what it would take them days to do because of the number of students we bring," said Dodge.

"We were planting [native grasses] in barren areas to try to bring back more grasslands that had been degraded by invasive species and lack of natural fires," explained club member Jeremy Martin. "We were trying to restore destroyed habitats to their original glory."

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GC student Jeremy Martin (right) proposes to Aryssa Corby (left) overlooking Aravaipa Canyon in Arizona.
Photo by Jenna Smith.

Jacob Sweitzer, another club member who participated in the trip, said the work was so enjoyable that "we all did extra work" at the Preserve.

"In other years, we've repaired fences, removed invasive species, cleaned up debris washed in during flood events, restored natural stream channels, and plugged arroyos or gullies caused by erosion," said Dodge.

Dodge said the relatively high rainfall in the region over the past fall and winter – 13 inches – made a big difference in the area. Emily Blubaugh, a student who was also a participant on last year's trip, agreed.

"The wildflowers had bloomed; everything was green," said Blubaugh. "It was much different than last year."

Which brings us to the proposal. Martin proposed to fellow GC student Aryssa Corby, who said the proposal "was a total surprise."

"I had it planned out since last year," said Martin, who successfully proposed on a hilltop which oversaw the entire property. "The hardest part was getting her to go on the trip."

In addition to the memorable experience, Dodge said the trip had practical value for the participants.

"I tell the kids, 'It's all about your resumes. Everybody takes classes. These out-of-class experiences are every bit as important a part of your education as what you do in class,' " said Dodge. "'Your resume is like a tool box. Every work experience, every skill, and every bit of knowledge you gain, is like one more tool in your tool box – and when you go for a job interview, I want you to have the biggest, baddest tool box possible."

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Overlooking Aravaipa CanyonPhoto
Photo by Kevin Dodge

Garrett College Wildlife College

Saguaro at sunset at Catalina State Park
Photo by Marlee Shumate

Garrett College Wildlife College

Overlooking Aravaipa Canyon and Nature Conservancy guest house where the Wildlife Club stayed during the trip.
Photo by Marlee Shumate

Garrett College Wildlife College

Waxing gibbous moon over Aravaipa Canyon
Photo by Jenna Smith