Safford Field Office staff and volunteers use creative thinking to complete a clean-up project during COVID-19

When COVID-19 made it impossible for Ranger Heidi Blankenship to host a four-day, seven-person volunteer project, she got creative about completing her last big volunteer project at the Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness before she joined the team at the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah.

A five-strand barbed wire fence was lying on the ground, stretching from the wash at Deer Creek over to Aravaipa Creek on the south, across a wide bench popular for camping within the wilderness. The west-trending part of the fence had been removed by volunteers before the pandemic hit, but the south-trending part still needed to be removed to improve wildlife habitat and to increase safety for visitors.

a person stands next to piles of bundled wire
Volunteer Kim Barney with the first big pile of wire

Ranger Heidi started cutting and bundling the wire along with the help of volunteer Kim Barney. After three weekends of socially distanced working, they had the entire fence cut and bundled. They created a pile of the wire in a safe spot, away from areas frequented by hikers.

Once Heidi and Kim had a big pile, other volunteers came in as their schedules allowed, in pairs from the same households, to pack it out.

rolls of barbed wire on the ground with tarps and backpacks
Barbed wire ready to be wrapped up and hiked out.

Volunteers hiked to the site with empty backpacks and rolled the wire in canvas tarps, filling up their backpacks to hike out.
Volunteers piled the wire bundles at the Turkey Creek Trailhead, where others retrieved it and then disposed of the wire. Safford's Wildlife Biologist Casey Bruner got in on the action by carrying a load of wire to the trailhead and Park Ranger Rich Law met some volunteers at the trailhead who had wire, so he put it in his truck and disposed of it. 

a volunteer wears a backpack
Volunteer Aaron Mrotek hauls out the last of the barbed wire.

The project began November 21 and took 15 days over three months with nine volunteers and three employees. Volunteer (and The Nature Conservancy partner) Aaron Mrotek, removed the last few bundles of wire, thereby completing the project on January 23. 

Completion of this work means that wildlife and hikers can move through the area safely.