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Summer Camp Photos and Recap

Cory Skuldt

URBAN ECOLOGY CAMP AT THE CIRCLE ACRES NATURE PRESERVE

JUNE 13 - 17 : 9AM - 1PM : AGES 5 - 10

 

Our camp is done for this summer, but watch this space for future camps (including a fall "camp day" for grown ups to have the fun when the kids go back to school :). We were lucky to have incredible photos from this year's camp donated by Green Wheels Studios - Check them out below.

About Urban Ecology Camp at Circle Acres:

Join Ecology Action for a fun filled week of nature play, exploration, and learning. Enjoy exploring our beautiful nature preserve with the deer, turtles, and birds, and participate in fun games and projects, learn about ways we can care for our environment

When:  June 13th - 17th, 9AM - 1PM

Who: Kids! Ages 5 - 10 (elementary school)

Who: Lead Counselor Thora is the Austin Discovery School EcoWellness teacher, and spends her days teaching kids of all ages in an outdoor setting. She has also a permaculture expert, and Wilderness First Responder!  She will be assisted by Katie Jo (Registered Nurse, family and child photographer, and mom) and Cory (Ecology Action Director with experience in community education design, nature based art installation, professional childcare and homeschool assistance)

Where: Circle Acres is located conveniently off of Hwy 183 and is adjacent to Roy G. Guerrero Colorado River Park. It is just 15 minutes from downtown Austin, and less from anywhere on the East Side.

Cost: $200: $250 to register, $50 refunded with feedback survey at the end of the week)  Contact us if you or your business can sponsor a scholarship to make this camp accessible to more kids!) 

Registration Deadline: Monday, May 16th to guarantee your spot, space available basis after.

 

THE CIRCLE ACRES NATURE PRESERVE IS A 9 ACRE PRESERVE IN SOUTH EAST AUSTIN’S MONTOPOLIS NEIGHBORHOOD. IT HOLDS A STRIKING RANGE OF FOREST, WETLAND, AND GRASSLAND ENVIRONMENTS. TODAY IT IS A HAVEN FOR WILDLIFE AND HUMAN VISITORS ALIKE - YOU’D NEVER GUESS THAT IT SUFFERED YEARS OF MISTREATMENT AS A LANDFILL AND BROWNFIELD. WE’LL LEARN ABOUT THE REMEDIATION OF CIRCLE ACRES, AND ABOUT HOW WE CAN ALL HELP PROTECT, CARE FOR, AND ENJOY THE NATURAL WORLD AROUND US.

 

  • Connect: with nature through immersion and adventure in our beautiful, secluded environment.
  • Learn: about brownfield remediation and preservation with fun, hands on activities, building science skills and understanding.

  • Explore and Create: Discover the secrets of our forests and wetlands as we examine the world around us with all of our senses and create artwork with found materials.

  • Play and Restore: Fresh air, active play, and low-pressure time in a beautiful natural environment. Give your kids the opportunity to start summer off right with this restorative week in the nearby wild. Structured learning activities will be balanced with relaxation, free play, fort building, games and walks in the woods.

Questions? Please contact us

Summer Camp Updates, Tree Walk this Saturday

Cory Skuldt

A few updates from Ecology Action this week:

  • Camp Registration Deadline Monday

For your friends who haven’t completed registration yet:  We can guarantee spots until then, after that it’s on a space/staff available basis. Register at http://www.ecology-action.org/ecocamp/

Cost of camp is $200 for the entire week - $250 required to register but you’ll get $50 back as soon as your quick post camp survey is complete.

  • Camp Staff

Lead Counselor: We are thrilled to have Austin Discovery School’s EcoWellness Teacher, Thora Gray joining us for this year’s camp. Thora is a skilled educator devoted to the whole child philosophies and enjoying time outdoors. She has many years of experience in permaculture and and outdoor play and learning, with kids of all ages. Thora is also a Wilderness First Responder - your kids will learn a ton with her, have a great time, and be in very safe hands.

Assistant Counselor: Katie Jo Dixon is a Registered Nurse, talented family photographer, and awesome mom!

Camp Director (onsite): Cory Skuldt has many years of experience in childcare as a nanny, art educator, homeschool support specialist, community education organizer, and mom.

We have several additional counselors with a range of experiences who will be added if enrollment increases by Monday.

We’ll also have several guest activity leaders from Myco Alliance (land remediation with mushrooms), Little Herds (edible insects!) and more.

More events, volunteer days, and camp updates coming soon.

If you have any questions in the meantime, please get in touch.

-Cory (Interim Executive Director, Ecology Action)

The Next Fifty Years

Alden Larrick

Dear Friends of Ecology Action:

New years are opportune moments to talk about new chapters. And Ecology Action’s next chapter is a winner. As Ecology Action moves into its next fifty years, you can look forward to more innovative and worthwhile work from a nonprofit comfortable with and confident in re-inventing itself to meet the environmental needs of its community.

First, some reflection on the past year, full of transition and opportunity. As a dedicated supporter of Ecology Action, you already know about the closure of the recycling center last October. During its twenty years as a downtown fixture, the center diverted over seventy-eight million pounds of material from local landfills.

So, Ecology Action finds itself in the enviable position of accomplishing the goal of all socially conscious nonprofits: putting itself out of business. Ecology Action was founded in 1969 with the express mission of creating a culture of reduction and reclamation in Central Texas. Now, every home in Austin has a blue bin, and the City reports that 87% of Austinites recycle.

Certainly there are massive amounts of recyclable materials still not properly diverted, but by any standard there has been progress, and Ecology Action is proud of the leading role it has played. We are encouraged by the City’s emphasis on landfill diversion, allowing Ecology Action to shift its focus to other pressing environmental needs through a series of big initiatives.

There’s the Austin Materials Marketplace, facilitating business-to-business material reuse in Austin. There’s the Zero Waste consulting, helping public and private entities keep almost all discarded materials out of landfills. And then there’s land recycling, an innovation that puts Ecology Action back in the vanguard of environmental activism. The Circles Acres Nature Preserve is Ecology Action’s first major success in remediating a former landfill into a wetland preserve, learning space, and community park. Through our efforts at Circle Acres and the newly established Center for Sustainable Futures, Ecology Action is moving towards what we consider the future of recycling: stewarding damaged land and putting it back to communal use. Ecology Action’s mission to recycle land in 2016 shares the same sense of purpose as recycling glass bottles did in 1969, to put ourselves out of business, to find and fulfill the next environmental need.

Which brings us back to this special moment in this new year. Ecology Action is coupling its commitment to zero-waste leadership and land recycling with a recommitment to connecting with and expanding its membership. We want you to know that your support is meaningful to us. We want you to know that your support of Ecology Action makes you part of something unique and enterprising.

And, of course, we want to ask you for a couple of favors. Please continue your financial support; a gift of just $50.00 allows Ecology Action to continue its original and effective work. Also, please spread the word about Ecology Action’s impact. Please help us grow our ecologically minded community here in Central Texas.

For information about Ecology Action, and a calendar of upcoming events, please visit ecology-action.org, or visit us at the Austin Earth Day Festival at Mueller Hangar on April 23, 2016.

Thank you,

Eric Dieter, Ecology Action Supporter & former Board Member

CLICK HERE to donate to Ecology Action today! 

 

Numbers Game

Alden Larrick

The land at Circle Acres has withstood a lot of human abuse over the past century.  For the past few years, Ecology Action has been working to rehabilitate the site and to return it to something more closely resembling its original biological health. But how does anyone recognize or measure that sort of health, or any changes in it? That is undoubtedly one of the enduring questions in the field of ecology.

Of course, part of the answer is to determine as precisely as possible just what biological elements – plants, animals, microbes – are present on the land, what their numbers are, how those numbers change. As a small part of that effort, since December of 2012, I have periodically canvassed the numbers and species of birds at Circle Acres and reported my counts to an internet site called eBird, maintained by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Over the years, the eBird system has compiled millions of checklists from birdwatchers all over the world, including (as of January 1) 72,175 from Travis County. Cornell scientists use this data to study the distribution of bird species and their population trends. Obviously, some errors in counting and identification are bound to creep into this huge volume of checklists, but eBird has statistical and analytical methods to account for this.

Users of eBird can report bird counts from just about any point of a Google map.  Indeed, many have compiled long-continuing surveys of their back yards. However, the eBird operators put greater focus upon pre-identified sites called “Hotspots.” These places are generally accessible to the public and have been assessed to have greater than normal potential for attracting birds. Circle Acres is a designated Hotspot, one of about 145 within or immediately adjacent to the Austin city limits.  Beginning on November 16, 2012, birders have submitted 211 checklists for Circle Acres (of which, I note somewhat sheepishly, I have submitted 193).  Each checklist represents sort of a “snapshot” of the bird population that the observer encountered during a visit of an hour or two at the preserve.

After I'd been surveying birds at Circle Acres for a year or so, and the cumulative species list for the site began to build up, I began to become preoccupied with the number 150. Of the 145 Austin Hotspots, only about 26 boast lists of 150 species or more – and those are identified on the website's Hotspot map with yellow-gold markers (or with orange or red markers for that handful of the 26 with lists of over 200 species). The gold markers seemed to me much more distinguished than the green and blue markers for sites with fewer than 150 species.  For various reasons, among them a strong component of juvenile competitiveness, I wanted Circle Acres to attain a gold marker.

At times, progress toward the goal seemed glacial.  On January 1, 2015, Circle Acres' list still included only 132 species.  By the end of November, it had reached 147. On December 1, during a particularly short visit to the site, I encountered two new species: dark-eyed junco and pyrrhuloxia. Then on December 26, after some recent heavy rains, I arrived at the site with a strange confidence that conditions were right for some different kinds of ducks to be swimming in the flooded bottomlands. I was not surprised to find a single female ring-necked duck accompanying the pond's usual contingent of wood ducks.  The gold marker for Circle Acres looks good on the eBird map now.

I'm not psyching myself up yet to press on to the next Hotspot level, which is 200 species.  Experience shows that to be a lot of birds for any single site in Travis County.  On the other hand, Roy Guerrero Park, right next door to Circle Acres, has a Hotspot list of 223.  Of course, at 300-plus acres, the park is more than 30 times the size of Circle Acres and includes more than a mile of Colorado River frontage. Still, who knows what is possible? – especially if more birders look at Circle Acres' gold marker on the Hotspot map and decide to give it a visit. The birding community has a curious term for the tendency of bird-sightings to compound themselves: “the Patagonia Picnic-table Effect.” 

Right outside Patagonia, Arizona, is a large preserve that is widely known for its wealth of bird species.  Many birders visiting the preserve stop at a nearby roadside park for lunch or a snack, and while there, some of them have spotted species of birds that are remarkably rare in the region.   In time, the roadside park itself became something of a birding destination, although most of those who stopped there didn't find a lot of birds.  In all likelihood, the incidence of rare-bird sightings at the picnic table is attributable more to the abundance of birdwatchers there than to any special abundance of birds.

I believe, though, that the abundance of birds at Circle Acres still greatly exceeds the abundance of birders – and that this is likely to become even more true as rehabilitation efforts continue to improve the site's habitat.  In the interest of maintaining a proper bird-birder balance, however, I will continue encouraging people to visit and appreciate the preserve – and perhaps to begin working toward that elusive No. 200.

- Mike Rogan

For Immediate Release: Ecology Action to Close Its Downtown Recycling Center Sooner than Planned

Alden Larrick

1 September 2015

Downtown Recycling Center to Close to the Public on Sunday, September 13, 2015

Ecology Action of Texas will discontinue operations at its downtown recycling center, at 707 East 9th Street, on September 13, 2015, instead of the previously released date of September 30th. This decision was made by the Ecology Action Board of Directors under recommendation by the Ecology Action Staff to allow for ample to time vacate the 9th Street property by the lease termination date.

The recycling center, established in the mid 1990s, is a familiar presence along the southbound frontage road, offering Austin citizens and businesses an option for recycling that is accessible twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. The Ecology Action recycling center currently diverts over 100 tons of recyclable material from area landfills each month. For information about other recycling resources in Austin and Travis County, please visit www.ecology-action.org/recycle.

Ecology Action, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization, has played a foundational role in building an eco-aware culture throughout Central Texas, establishing Austin’s first recycling program nearly fifty years ago. Since its founding in 1969, Ecology Action has been and will continue to remain an active and innovative contributor to environmental education, protection, and community building. For additional information about our upcoming endeavors, please visit Ecology Action’s website at http://www.ecology-action.org.

 

 

Press Release: Ecology Action to Close Its Downtown Recycling Center

Alden Larrick

Ecology Action of Texas will discontinue operations at its downtown recycling center, at 707 East 9th Street, on September 30, 2015 and will continue to accept recyclables from the public until that date.

The decision to close the recycling center was made by the Ecology Action Board of Directors under recommendation from Ecology Action Staff. The City of Austin’s notification that it will not renew a contract with Ecology Action to operate the downtown recycling center and increasing costs of renting valuable downtown property have prompted the timeline for the closure.

The center, established in the mid 1990s, is a familiar presence along the southbound frontage road, offering Austin citizens and businesses an option for recycling that is accessible twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. The Ecology Action recycling center diverts over 100 tons of recyclable material from area landfills each month.

Ecology Action has played a foundational role in building an eco-aware culture throughout Central Texas, establishing Austin’s first recycling program nearly fifty years ago. Since its founding in 1969, Ecology Action has been and will continue to remain an active and innovative contributor to environmental education, protection, and community building.

In addition to running the downtown recycling center, Ecology Action, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization, provides management and expertise on the Austin Materials Marketplace project, along with the  U.S. Business Council for Sustainable Development and the City of Austin. This initiative facilitates the exchange of material by-products between businesses and organizations in Austin and Travis County, furthering the City’s goal of 90% landfill waste diversion by 2040. Ecology Action also provides onsite zero waste consultation and recycling services for events and commercial businesses, and is developing an environmental curriculum for educational outreach to a variety of age groups.

Ecology Action is most proud of its efforts to recycle land. Remediating ecologically damaged land is where Ecology Action sees itself making significant future impact. Ecology Action’s current brownfield remediation project, Circle Acres, is a 9.7 acre former landfill in the Montopolis neighborhood in southeast Austin. Ecology Action continues to serve as stewards of this land that is now a healthy wetland, bird and wildlife sanctuary, environmental education facility, public recreational space, and model for building “green” in urban spaces.

The upcoming ending of both the current lease agreement and city contract indicates that now is the logical time for Ecology Action to bring deserved attention to its many other projects and goals.  

Ecology Action supports the City of Austin’s efforts to implement a forward-looking zero waste plan, which includes the implementation of several recycling drop-off facilities throughout the metro area. We encourage Austin citizens to contact their City Council representatives to say that they also support these important initiatives. As the City develops its recycling capabilities, Ecology Action will offer advice and alternatives to area residents for the responsible handling of their recyclables. Throughout the summer, we ask everyone to keep an eye on our downtown location, website, and social media for more details.

We look forward to continuing our ecological work that, even with the closing of the center, shows no sign of slowing down or being less necessary. Thanks to our devoted staff, volunteers, and supporters, we believe that Ecology Action is well-positioned for the next fifty years.

 

Reflections from AmeriCorps NCCC Earth 4 Team Member, Myrna Lincoln

Alden Larrick

It has been an unforgettable experience working with Ecology Action.  My team and I had the chance to camp in what I think is the coolest bit of land just south of the city at Circle Acres. This reclaimed landfill is now a thriving wetland and a sanctuary to many birds and native plants. It has been the most refreshing experience to be so close to nature but at the same time close to the city.

My team and I did the majority of our work at Ecology Actions’ drop off recycling center. Personally this was my first exposure to the after life of “trash”. Previously my ideas about the material I was throwing away ended at the trashcan, or the one stream-recycling bin, eventually to be forgotten about. My hands on experience with Ecology Action has taught me a great deal about the materials we are using and how they can and cannot be recycled. Moreover how communities and consumers can come together to effectively produce the smallest amount of waste.

It has been a privilege to work alongside TJ, Alden, Joaquin and Carlos. Their attitudes, knowledge, and commitment to reclaimation and sustainability have been inspiring.  I look forward to the great things Ecology Action is going to accomplish.

“The problems of the world cannot possibly be solved by skeptics or cynics whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities. We need men who can dream of things that never were.”– JFK

To learn more about the AmeriCorps NCCC program, please visit their website! We hope to have the opportunity to work with many more AmeriCorps NCCC teams in the future.

Recycling in Pictures

Alden Larrick

Thanks to the photographic talents of one our volunteers, this blog entry is dedicated to our 707 E. 9th Street Community Recycling Drop-off Center. This is what recycling looks like at Ecology Action! 

These photos were taken last week and are pretty indicative of the impressive amount of material that Ecology Action was able to recycle during SXSW. Take our word for it, it was a lot. In fact, our amazing recycling center staff, volunteers and visiting AmeriCorps NCCC team are hard at work as we speak (it's been almost 48 hours since the festival officially ended) still sorting recycling from local music venues. 

Fun fact: last month we recycled over 150 tons of material. We can't wait to get the numbers in for March! 

*photos courtesy of Andrew J Gonzales

Reflections from the AmeriCorps Earth 6 Team

Alden Larrick

Ecology Action has already had the privilege of meeting two AmeriCorps teams in 2015! Earth 6 left last Thursday and Earth 4 arrived on Friday. Due to the unpredictable winter weather, Earth 6 spent the first few weeks of their stay here in Austin at Camp Mabry, finally moving into their campsite at the Circle Acres in their last week. During their stay, they have been able to experience all that EA has to offer from daily operations at the Recycling Center to workdays at Circle Acres.

To get a better feel for what it's like to be an AmeriCorps team member working at EA, we asked a couple of them to write a reflection piece encompassing the whole experience. Funny, informative, and wholly inspiring, here's what they had to say:

Chloe:

This project has been a wonderful experience, much more than I expected. Coming into it I was a bit upset we weren't camping but as soon as we started work all my worries went away. The work was incredibly diverse and fulfilling, and I feel like I've learned so much over the past six weeks. From the weeks spent at the Recycling Center and Circle Acres learning the true importance of landfill diversion; to the week spent at the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve developing an appreciation for endangered species and the work that goes into keeping them alive and well. Ecology action is a creative and inspiring non-profit organization that I've been blessed to work with. I will always remember the service I did in, Austin, Texas, and I look forward to seeing Circle Acres become a tool to teach future generations about the importance of protecting to world around them.

Hunter: 

From putting the roof on a pavilion to pulling a mattress off of a hill to wondering if we could all have a man-bun as glorious as Joaquin's, there is never a dull moment working with Ecology Action. For me, at least, coming from an environment where single-stream recycling (if any recycling) is pretty commonplace, seeing a recycling center involve the community in the sorting process, making them think a little more about what happens to their recycling and just what goes into making reusable items, was fascinating.

In the same vein of community involvement, the idea of turning a landfill into a nature preserve to be used to educate the community about how we view and use land was hugely motivational to the team. Everyone wanted to be a part of seeing Circle Acres take off, and I think everyone realized very quickly just how difficult something like that can be.

We are the third Americorps NCCC team to come and work with Ecology Action, and we will not be the last. It was a privilege to work with Ecology Action and even spend a few days with the Balcones Canyon Preserve team assisting them with habitat restoration. It has been such a positive experience for our team, and though we are leaving Austin, we are all taking with us a greater awareness of how land restoration works, and a different way of looking at waste.

If you are interested in learning more about the Americorps NCCC program, visit their program website here or get in touch with us!