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From the Road: Conservation in Action

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To celebrate our 40th Anniversary, we're teaming up with the Student Conservation Association (SCA) to take our commitment to volunteerism and the environment on the road, literally! The following is their constantly evolving story from the road.  

Mission: Houston

Our Houston service day was sunny and warm, a fitting end to our cross-country tour. The team was both excited and sad as we climbed out of the RV on the morning of our last day in service together. We were expecting a lot of volunteers for our grand finale, so we enlisted some extra help for the day and we were happy to reunite with staff from SCA Headquarters and SCA Houston.

Tour 40 HOU

We had a great event planned, and we had 80 Southwest employees join us to remove leaf litter and debris around Memorial Park Forest at the Houston Arboretum. We worked together to create a “defensible zone” to protect the beautiful nature center in the event of a wildfire. As always, the Southwest volunteers worked super hard and had a blast the whole time! Even SWA CEO Gary Kelly put on a volunteer shirt and joined in the fun!

As the day was coming to a close and the team was wrapping up our service project for the last time, we couldn’t help but high five each other and feel proud of the awesome summer we just had. But before we could get too nostalgic, we had the Anniversary Party at the Space Center to attend!  To celebrate our accomplishments, we hung out with nearly 3,000 of our favorite Southwest Airlines employees and let loose on the dance floor.

Big thanks to Southwest Airlines, American Eagle Outfitters, Sony, and SCA for this crazy fun summer of service. I can’t believe how much work we got done in just a few months! Be on the lookout for our final work tallies on the blog soon. 

Mission: Panama City

The Tour 40 team traded in Orlando and Disney World for the Gulf coast near Panama City Beach for our next project. The RV pulled into its spot for the night…and then the next day we headed for the beach! Soft sand, clear water and bundles of furry dog friends awaited to refresh us for the project on Monday at Pine Log State Forest.

ECP

Monday morning, we were met by some familiar faces since we got to work with the Florida Trail Association for the second time in a row. The oh-so-familiar loppers, helmets, eye protection, and gloves graced us again with their presence as we prepared to battle palmetto, errant branches, and all else that would encroach on the trail. This time though, we were also outfitted with some “Florida Trail” orange paint to refresh the blazes that marked the trail.

The team was completely split up leading 5 groups of only four or five people each, a bit different from what we’re used to, and set out to widen and clear different legs of trail. The team had a great time with the Customers, Employees, military personnel, and even two friendly dogs that came out to help today. In the end, 3 miles of trail received a makeover thanks to our amazing volunteers!

Mission: Orlando

The Tour 40 Team just wrapped up our 22nd city: Orlando! With the tour coming to an end, our energy and warrior spirits are still high serving our country the best way we know how, conservation projects. On September 15, 2011 the team completed yet another service project in the most magical city in the country, Orlando. Instead of hanging out with Mickey and Minnie Mouse, the team worked along Southwest employees and the Florida Trails Association (FTA) at Charles H. Bronson State Forest to help blaze a section of the Florida National Scenic Trail. This gorgeous trail stretches from Miami, Florida all the way to Pensacola, Florida culminating over 1,000 miles of trail. It is truly a beautiful trail with scenic landscapes and diverse species of plants and animals.

Our service project consisted of working on four sections of the Florida National Scenic Trail. During the wet season in Florida, grasses and other plants such as palmettos grow extremely tall and dense, thus making the trails virtually impassable. Our job was to make these trails passable, and that is exactly what we did. The FTA volunteers blasted out the grasses with their lawn mowers while the Southwest employees lopped off any intruding branches from the surrounding plants. At the end of the day, this fantastic group of volunteers helped maintain about two miles of trail through their hard work and dedication to service. Thank you to everyone who participated, we honestly cannot accomplish anything without your hard work and commitment to this project. Your attitudes and willingness to dedicate your precious time is truly a magical thing. 

Mission: Greenville/Spartanburg 

I don't think we could have ordered a more perfect day for the Conservation in Action Tour Stop in Greenville.  The morning greeted us with a beautiful sunrise with the promise that the weather would be ideal for our project—painting the cabins at Camp Buckhorn at Paris Mountain State Park. The cabins were originally built in the 1930's by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and were in need of some updating and TLC.  Camp Buckhorn has been a place where families on a limited budget can meet and have the experience of living in the outdoors.  The Camp is also used for weddings and special outings for various community service groups in the Greenville-Spartanburg area. 

We were greeted by a wonderful, helpful, and enthusiastic staff of SCA Volunteers who had everything ready for us at the work site.  After a safety briefing and a short history of the Camp by Paris Mountain State Park Ranger Jason, we went to work on our project with gusto and cheer.  Our project was to get two to three cabins painted before noon.  Time truly does go by when you're having FUN!  When we were told it was time to clean up and wrap up our project, we had actually painted ten cabins!

Laughing and smiling happily, we were graciously thanked by our SCA Volunteer team.  We returned home with our "Bag of Swag" to remind us of this FUN-filled day and the happy feeling you get inside when you know you've done something good for your community.   And yes, in typical Southwest-style, we’ve got the t-shirt to prove it!

- Laurie Snow, GSP Customer Service Agent

Mission: Washington, D.C. 

Hello, our fellow land lovers and tree huggers. We are happy to be addressing you straight from our nation’s capital (Washington, D.C.). 

DC Group

We worked at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, which is a National Park dedicated to the cultivation of aquatic ornamentals. Here, we completed four different projects! You heard it right, we said four! Becca took her group on a “tropical vacation” to install coconut fiber logs in one of the ponds. This prevents the banks from eroding away during flooding. We had a very surprise guest make an appearance as we were splashing around his backyard. Mr. Beaver was not happy with the commotion, so he fled from his hole, crashing into volunteers and going right through Tyler’s legs! He made his way on to the shore and had a stare-down with Andrew. Andrew gave in and slowly backed away, allowing Mr. Beaver (now angry beaver) to waddle into the next pond. Luckily, no volunteers (or animals!) were harmed in this encounter. We managed to install 190 feet of coconut fiber logs. The second half of our morning consisted of picking up trash along the Anacostia River. Knee boots were required for this job as we were tromping around in the muddy banks. The volunteers picked up seven bags of trash and three bags of recycling.

Tour 40 DC

Diana’s group managed to stay out of the water on their “riverside retreat” by planting native grasses along the edges of Mr. Beaver’s ponds. They also planted grasses in a nearby meadow as part of a restoration project. Diana, Kim, and Marchetti had a great time planting and chatting with other volunteers. Diana’s group managed to evade any close encounters with wildlife during the project. We spent the night with Kim around a campfire next to the RV while the rest of the group went out and met friends. Tyler tried his hand at Bikram Yoga, and he said his pores were very thankful. We have a few more days here to enjoy Washington, D.C., before we are off to South Carolina!

- Becca and Diana

Mission: Philadelphia 

We just wrapped up our project in the City of Brotherly Love at John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge, and it had anything and everything we could ask for in a service day. That includes sun, fun, and a large group of the hardest-working volunteers out there. 31 SWA and SCA volunteers showed up to dedicate their time to the refuge by removing an invasive plant called wisteria from an open field. Wisteria is a nasty, invasive plant that grows in the form of vines. It sprouts from the ground, wraps itself around healthy trees and strangles them, taking away their necessary sunlight to photosynthesize. These vines not only suppress sunlight from the trees they latch onto, but also out-compete native trees for resources like water. In addition, wisteria removes native floral habitat for many bird species and wildlife. The removal of this plant was vital to the health of the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge’s ecosystem.

When I mentioned that we had a large group of the hardest-working volunteers, that was no joke. The citizens of Philadelphia removed 5,000 square feet of wisteria, helping to halt the advancement of the harmful plant. On one section of the field, the wisteria plant blocked all visibility into the surrounding forest, but after only several hours of service we could actually see into the woods. Lori Weingartner, a staff member of the refuge and our leader for the day, could not stop describing how quickly and efficiently the volunteers moved through work.  She even mentioned that today’s group was one of the best she’s ever worked with. So I’d like to say thank you to the Philly Volunteers for making this a great service event for the Tour 40 Team! You make us look good!

Once again, thank you all for coming out and helping serve your community with us. Each and every project is a blast and it means a whole lot to be able to share these experiences with you. Keep on serving, and keep on pulling that wisteria!

Marchetti 

Mission: New York 

The Tour 40 Team took the Big Apple by storm this week, tackling two projects at Hempstead Lake State Park on Long Island. We worked around Hempstead Lake picking up trash brought to the shoreline from flooding as well as clearing parts of an overgrown equestrian trail that circles the lake. A special group of volunteers from nearby American Eagle stores came out to help us during the event. Their presence was much appreciated, and they were a blast to hang out with and talk to throughout the day. In total, we cleared a half mile of trail and picked up close to 20 bags of litter from the shoreline.

NY Tour 40

After the event, we travelled into the city to check out our billboard in Times Square! I could not believe how huge the billboard looked in person… it looked awesome! We all lined up and took photos in front our group picture, each of us striking the same pose as what was up above us. We stuck around waiting for passing tourists to come take pictures or ask for our autographs, but I guess everyone was too shy or star-struck to approach big-time celebrities like the Tour 40 Team. For dinner, we got some real NY-style pizza at John’s “No Slices” Pizzeria near Times Square and some of us had room for dessert at the Mr. Softee’s ice cream truck.  We all had a blast in the Big Apple and are now on our way to Philadelphia, looking forward to some cheesesteaks (Pat’s or Geno’s?) and brotherly love! See you there!

- Diana

Mission: Boston 

Yesterday wrapped up our very quick trip to Massachusetts. Tyler, Diana, and I drove there on Monday afternoon in our stylish mini-van designed for the ultimate soccer mom. This was Tyler’s first time to Boston so he took half a day and explored the city with a climb up the Bunker Hill Monument, miles of walking, and catching up with an old friend. Diana and I took full advantage of our New England locale and made as many visits to Dunkin’ Donuts as possible.

Wednesday morning rolled in and it was project time already. We worked on Pier 1 of the Charlestown Navy Yard, and it was awesome to be working in such a historic place. The U.S.S. Constitution and the U.S.S. Cassin Young were docked on either side of the Pier, and the Boston skyline was in the background. We had a small but eager group of volunteers including Southwest employees, an AirTran employee, friends of Diana and Tyler, and an SCA employee. To start off the day, Park Employee Ethan gave a quick history lesson on the area and then Diana and I gave our safety talk—complete with flight lingo and hand signals to further clarify.

Our task was to remove weeds from hardscapes on the Pier to make the area more visually appealing for its millions of annual visitors. This may sound boring and tedious, but it was actually very relaxing and the morning went by very quickly. We were lucky: the weather cooperated and it was cloudy and cool throughout the morning. All in all, we filled two 55 gallon buckets with weeds. After the project Tyler and I enjoyed lunch at the Warren Tavern that dates back to the 1700’s! Tyler got his bowl of New England clam chowder that he was itching to try, and they had great vegetarian options too. Diana stayed in Boston to celebrate her boyfriend’s birthday while Tyler and I made our way back to Providence, RI to meet up with the rest of our team.

- Becca

Mission: Providence

Wednesday morning the Tour 40 team met with enthusiastic volunteers of all ages at Rome Point in the John H. Chafee Nature Preserve in Saunderstown, RI. After a great introduction to the area by Ranger John Downing, the group took a hike through the preserve on the way to what would affectionately be dubbed the trash pit.  The trash pit has long been an illegal dumping site in the area, and the low lying area was filled with a variety of trash including appliances, automobiles and decades worth of household refuse. The Southwest volunteers went to work in a fashion that the Tour 40 Team has become accustomed to: quickly and efficiently, filling bag after bag and wheelbarrow upon wheelbarrow .

We quickly realized that if there was one good thing about the trash pit, it was that it was filled with interesting trash. For the duration of the clean-up many volunteers participated in a Who Can Find the Strangest Item? competition.  Some of my personal favorite finds include a creepy doll head, a scuba flipper and an extremely bent up tricycle.

This day of service was wildly successful. After several hours of hard work from our volunteers, it looked like a brand new pit.  We took out over 65 bags of trash, 7 wheelbarrows of scrap metal, 2 refrigerators and a dryer. Thanks to the John H. Chafee Nature Preserve for hosting us, and as always, thanks to all the volunteers who came out and made this yet another awesome Tour 40 event!

-Andrew

A Break from the Road: Manchester's Moves 

10 Tour 40 Reasons Why Manchester Brings the Party 

  1. Free peanuts at 5 Guys
  2. The chants of the RV parkers performing the Cha Cha Slide at Luau Night at Pine Acres RV Park.
  3. Fried seafood. And lots of it.
  4. Project Leader Eric’s apartment (and all the movies he owns in it)
  5. SCA headquarters in nearby Charlestown (thanks for all the support…and the Panera Bread lunch!)
  6. Seagull chasing at Hampton Beach
  7. Joy riding on a golf cart around Pine Acres RV park.
  8. Tax free shopping fever resulting in matching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle shirts and beanies (see below).
  9. Familiar faces Bobby, Sam, and James from the TrACS crew showing up on some fancy wheels: a new motorcycle and a beast of an SCA truck)
  10. The gung-ho volunteers at our Manchester project in Livingston Park!

10 Reasons

Mission: Manchester

About two months after this internship started, we are finally on the East Coast! We battled through the heat and humidity of the Southwest and the Midwest, and were pleasantly surprised to find ourselves not sweating every time we stepped off the RV in Manchester. Not to say that we didn’t get our fair share of work done at our most recent project, though!

We had one of our biggest turnouts of the trip, 74 volunteers who blasted through the work at Livingston Park and one very special guest, Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas. Marchetti led one group who transported and spread gravel along the Dorr’s Pond trail to level out the ground there. Kim led the other group, who, after taking a 10 minute scenic tour by coach bus to the site at Stark Landing, cleared out about half an acre of Japanese Knot Weed and anything else in their way! In the process they also managed to collect 14 bags of trash, not to mention a couple pillows and other odd items.

Manchester
Before and After

Big shout out to the Manchester Community Crew who completed their part of the trail so fast, Andrew decided to play a couple games with them testing their inner ninja. The Tour 40 team also finally got to put some faces to names as we got a huge show of support from various SCA members and management who came to the event.

As always, thanks so much to all the volunteers who came out (SWA employees, Customers, friends, and family) Come see us in any of our upcoming cities! Boston/Providence is next!

Mission: Chicago

MDW Tour 40

We couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful day for our Chicago service project at Theodore Stone Forest Preserve. The sun shone through the clouds and blasted us with some good ol’ vitamin D. We had another great turnout with 33 volunteers, 5 of them SCA crewmembers from the Indiana Dunes team we trained with in Washington. It was great to show them exactly what the Tour 40 Team has accomplished this summer.

After acquainting ourselves with old and new friends, it was time to get to work. Theodore Stone Forest Preserve provided us with two projects: clearing out a hiking trail and removing  two nasty invasive plants, European buckthorn and bush honeysuckle. These two plants possess no natural predators, so nothing kills them. They thrive and out-compete native plants that support the ecosystem of the park. Removal of these plants is necessary not only for the health of the park, but also the health of Chicago. European Buckthorn and bush honeysuckle block sunlight for understory plants, which causes these organisms to die. With no understory plants, bare soil is exposed and then washed away by rain, draining into Chicago’s water supply. The additional soil in the water decreases the water quality and can add pollutants to the water supply, thus the removal of these plants is key to a healthy water supply for the inhabitants of Chicago.

MDW Tour 3

With the hard work and dedication of Southwest volunteers alongside SCA leaders, the two groups ended up removing five 6-foot by 8-foot piles of European buckthorn and bush honeysuckle, which equates to about one acre of invasive plant removal. The trails crew also paved over 450 feet of new trail for visitors to enjoy a nice walk after a picnic. Overall, the day was a success and everyone went home with a big ol’ smile on their face.

Mission: Milwaukee

I recently had the privilege of volunteering with my two kids, Paige and Brandon, at the Conservation in Action Tour Stop in Milwaukee. They were so excited about helping out with dad's Company and I couldn't have been more proud of them. They even wanted to share their experience with all of you, so together they wrote the following which summed up the day.

Mark Tolkacz

Tour MKE

On Thursday July 28th Brandon, my dad, and I woke up knowing that we were going to do something good for the community in my dad’s hometown: Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  We traveled from Phoenix to participate in the Conservation in Action Tour in Milwaukee!

It was about a thirty minute drive from my grandma’s house, where we stayed during our visit, to the park. When we got to Washington Park, we saw the Southwest/SCA RV parked there proudly.  As we walked up to the registration we saw a group of hungry geese walking across the sidewalk. When we arrived at registration we were greeted by smiling faces—we were ready to work! There were two projects for us to work on: the prairie and buckthorn.  As we waited for the rest of the volunteers, we drank lots of water and got to know each other.

Tour 40 MKE 3

When we were ready to get started, we went outside to take a group picture and learn the safety instructions for the tools.  The SCA intern who gave us the safety instructions was very funny.  When the safety instructions were done, we headed out to the prairie and the buckthorn.  Brandon and I switched off pushing a wheel-barrow full of shovels.  It was surprisingly light!  When we got to the prairie, the Urban Ecology Center staff described the most common weeds in the prairie and told us how to pull them up.

When he was done explaining, everyone who was in the prairie group grabbed a shovel and got to work. The buckthorn group grabbed helmets and headed over to their spot. We were in the prairie, and we worked together to get rid of as many weeds as we could.  About an hour and a half later of fun community work, we took a break.  There was water, fruit and other yummy snacks to eat.  Half an hour later we went back out to finish another hour of community service.  When we were done, everyone stepped back to admire their work. We filled up 33 wheel barrows with weeds and invasive plants!  We headed back to the Ecology Center, sweaty, dirty, and happy that we helped the community.  We said our goodbyes and headed off for a well needed shower.

Tour MKE2

This was such a fun and rewarding experience! We got to spend the weekend with our relatives and do something good for the community.  And we capped it off with a visit and tour of Lambeau field!

Thanks SCA and Southwest for this great experience.

-Brandon and Paige Tolkacz

 

Mission: Kansas City 

We had a short lived and busy day and a half in Kansas City, Missouri. After we got out of the mud in Denver, we got right on the road for Missouri and arrived at our campground at about 12:30am on Tuesday morning. We stayed at Weston Bend State Park, where we would also host our service project. After getting the RV all tucked in for bed, organizing ourselves, and some pre-slumber chatter, we got to sleep around 2:30. The next day brought us the usual pre-project planning and an RV overhaul to get all the mud and dirt out of it that it acquired from the field in Denver. Marchetti and Eric spent their evening off going to a Royals game and Kim, Tyler, Andrew, Diana, and I went to Jack Stack BBQ for a very late dinner. Kansas City looked very nice and I wish we had more time to explore. Jack Stack was good- even though I’m vegetarian. We got fried mushrooms to start and then I indulged in a veggie kebab and French fries. The meat eaters got burnt ends and I think the favorite dish of the night was the baked beans. Andrew and Tyler both drooled over them.

The next morning, the alarms rang at 5:30 and we all silently started getting ready. Our group is not the most chipper before the sun rises. We took the 2 minute drive down the road of Weston Bend State Park to the site where we would be working. We had 24 volunteers show up. A lot of them were from VML, an advertising company that does a lot of work for Southwest Airlines, so it was great to have them there along with SWA employees.  I was in charge of photos and videos for this project, while Diana and Eric roamed amongst the groups. I really enjoyed walking between the groups along the trails. The smells were great and I got to see some cool wildlife including an ebony jewel wing damselfly which I was very excited about. They’re so pretty!

VML Crew

Andrew, Tyler, Marchetti, and Kim were our project coordinators. Andrew’s group installed 20 water bars along a trail. The volunteers didn’t know what water bars were so they had no idea what they were getting themselves into until they hit the trail. At the end of the day their shirts were sweat stained and caked in mud but they definitely felt a sense of pride and accomplishment at getting all 20 bars put in. Kim’s group stained a wooden overlook with a beautiful view of the Missouri River.

Overlook

What’s even cooler is that there will be a wedding at that overlook next weekend so their work will be seen and appreciated by a lot of people.  Marchetti and Tyler took a group of volunteers out on a 3 mile trail to clear brush from the sides and top of the trail. They covered a lot of ground and at the end of the day they were able to cover 2 miles of trail! I give all the volunteers, my team members, and the Park employees and volunteers a lot of credit because today was extremely hot and humid but everyone powered through it and made a huge impact on the park. We completed 3 to 4 weeks’ worth of work for the park staff in a mere 3 hours. Great job Kansas City!

-Becca

Mission: Denver 

Guess what everyone?! We’re finally out of the mud and rolling to Kansas City, Missouri! For all of you Tour 40 Junkies who couldn’t join us in Denver, how about I tell you a little about it

A day before our Denver project we just had to stop at the Denver Porch at Skyline park. It was a great time with great food! We passed out information about the tour to passers-by and enjoyed the beautiful Denver weather. Who wouldn’t want a free Tour40 seed packet and temporary tattoos? Well, believe it or not, a few people preferred that we not interrupt their crazy lunch hour commute. That’s when we sent in the reinforcement that no one could say no to: Molly, the daughter of a Southwest Employee and our youngest and cutest Tour40 recruit. Thanks for all your help, Molly! 

Molly in DEN

On July 16th the tour 40 Team arrived at Barr Lake State Park, and we had planting trees and seeding a grass field on the brain. Too bad those thoughts were quickly erased due to the fact our RV got stuck in the mud. In order to make room for all the volunteer’s cars, the team needed to park our RV in a soggy, wet field. The sheer weight of our RV caused it to sink into the muck where it sat for the whole project (and a couple of days).

DEN Stuck in the Mud

It’s all good though; the Tour 40 Team gave a new meaning to the word “flexible.” A muddy RV could not stop us from completing our conservation project with Southwest Airlines Employees and Barr Lake State Park staff and volunteers. While the boys went to work with shovels and wooden blocks to get the RV out of the mud, Becca, Diana, and Kimbo held down the registration table and organized our volunteers, textbook style. It was a race against time to get the RV out on schedule for the service project, but we needed more man-power than we had. Thus it was time to call in the reserves: Southwest Airlines Employees! We rallied up 15 Southwest Airlines employees for an attempt to push the RV out of the mud, but that failed as well. No matter what we did, that RV just would not budge.

DEN Volunteering

Luckily, our fun and energetic volunteers took our minds off our RV woes. Instead, we focused on planting trees, seeding a grass field, and other tasks. We teamed up with Barr Lake State Park’s Lake Appreciation Day volunteers for a service day of epic proportions. With the hard work and dedication of the volunteers of Southwest Airlines and the Barr Lake State Park Staff, we ended up raking and seeding 1/3 of an acre of a field, installing 12 concrete blocks for parking, planting 15 trees, and mulching around 35 trees. Talk about a productive day, right?!

In the afternoon, our superb volunteers were rewarded with a day of canoeing, archery, face painting, a BBQ lunch, and even a bounce house for the kids! Even though our RV didn’t recover from all the excitement until July 18th, the Tour 40 Team had a blast and a half with everyone who came out and volunteered. Thanks a lot everyone. You made a sticky situation spectacular!

P.S. We got to shoot some arrows at the archery range…be jealous 🙂

Marchetti

Break from the Road: Arches State Park, Utah 

The Conservation in Action Tour isn’t just work, work, work…  Tuesday, the tour team visited Arches National Park in Moab, Utah!  Our mission? Find the Delicate Arch!  It took some deliberation to decide which hike to take through the park, but with the threat of thunderstorms overhead, we decided to follow a 3-mile loop trail toward Delicate Arch in the evening.  I have never seen any landscape even remotely similar to that of southern Utah.  The rocks formations were bigger than I had ever seen and the way they were randomly placed on the land was really… puzzling.  Some of the rock formations had fun names like “sheep rock” and the “three gossips.”  It was a group effort and took a bit of imagination, but we were able to decipher the shapes.  I was lucky enough to be able to meet a friend from home, Lea, in Moab, so she came along with us on our hike.  The hike involved walking up a huge slick rock, along a cliff edge, and through sandy trails. Andrew and Tyler blazed ahead of all of us.  Lea, Diana, and I took our time and stopped to take lots of pictures of the gorgeous scenery.  Marchetti, Eric, and Kim brought up the rear of the group.  Throughout the trail there were a lot of piles of stones that I thought tourists had made just for fun.  It turns out that they actually have a purpose: they’re called cairns and they are trail markers.  Pretty cool!

Arches State Park

As we were walking along the cliff’s edge I was soaking in the view and not even thinking about Delicate Arch, but a few steps later we rounded a large rock and Delicate Arch appeared in front of us.  I was blown away.  It was so much more beautiful than I had imagined.  It was magnitudes larger than I expected, and it sits right on the edge of a cliff.  It was picturesque.  We spent a lot of time just sitting around the arch and exploring.  Of course, we had to take a group picture under the arch.  Diana scared all the other tourists half to death when she did a handstand under it.  I heard gasps around me as I took the pictures.

This morning we did another short hike to the windows in Arches.  It was a great way to start the day.  Our wildlife encounters included a very large beetle and a chipmunk.  Andrew is always talking about Utah and now I finally understand why.  It’s so easy to fall in love with the land there.  I hope to go back in the future and spend more time exploring, but right now duty calls and we are on our way to Denver, Colorado!

Until next time,
Becca

Mission: Las Vegas 

Working in LAS

Greetings from hot and humid Las Vegas, Nevada! We finished up another Tour40 project at the Las Vegas Springs Preserve this morning where we assisted their gardening crew in mulching, sweeping and litter clean up. The volunteers arrived full of energy and ready for anything the day would bring them. It was difficult pulling them away from the work site at the end of the day! Due to a storm blowing through the preserve yesterday, there was an extra amount of debris covering the pathways and some trees had been blown down. By the end of the project we had spread mulch over a large majority of the gardens and public walking areas and picked up ten full bags of litter! A big thanks to everyone from the Springs Preserve for all of their help during  and after our service event!

Kids in LAS

We pulled into the city that never sleeps on Friday evening where we checked into Bally’s Resort and Casino for the next three nights. Our free time was spent strolling the infamous Strip, winning (and losing for some) money at the casinos and even catching a Cirque de Soleil show at Treasure Island! We also indulged in a 24-hour buffet pass which granted us unlimited access to seven different buffets across the Strip. From 7pm Friday night to 7pm on Saturday the only thing on all of our minds was when and where we were going to eat next. I think we consumed enough prime rib and King crab legs to cater an entire wedding!

Breaking News: We have added a temporary 8th member to the Tour40 road team! We welcomed Bill, our resident videographer into our RV family this morning , where he will be riding along with us all the way into Denver! He will be a great new addition and we heard rumors that he’s a fantastic cook! Just what we need after our Vegas Buffet marathon!

Welp, That’s all for now…See y’all in Denver!! 

Mission: San Francisco  

I was one of 45 volunteers who went out to Share the Spirit in Oakland and San Mateo, California, on Wednesday, July 6.  Let me tell you: the Conservation in Action Tour is really making a difference in communities around the country.

We arrived at Coyote Point Park on Wednesday morning at 7:45 a.m., bundled up in jackets and jeans.  I’ll take summer in San Francisco over 100-degree days in Texas any day!  We got to work immediately, painting benches and planting trees, all with the help of the SCA intern team and the park’s rangers. 

I could go on and on about the project, but I thought I would break it down to “The Bay Area by the Numbers,” for those who might be more mathematically inclined…

7: SCA interns and project leaders, fearlessly heading up two projects in the Bay Area

SCA in SFO

1: RV wrapped to resemble a Southwest 737

RV in SFO

80: total number of trees planted by the two teams

Digging at SFO

3: the age of the youngest volunteer at the San Mateo project.  Goes to show that you’re never too young or too old to Share the Spirit!

Zoe

We’d all like to say a big THANK YOU to San Mateo Parks at Coyote Point Recreation Area in San Mateo, CA and East Bay Regional Parks at the Tidewater Boating Center in Oakland, CA.  And of course, to the SCA team and Southwest Warriors who came out to the projects!  Next stop?  Viva, Las Vegas!

Mission: Los Angeles  

What’s up LA!!? We rolled in to LA last Tuesday evening and are staying in Burbank (about 15 miles north of LA). Last night I went to Runyon Canyon with Diana and Marchetti in hopes of seeing celebrities. At least Diana and I were hoping to see celebrities, Marchetti could have cared less. We convinced him to come with us by conveniently leaving out the part about the celebrities.  The drive to the canyon was great. I drove by NBC and WB studios where lots of TV show magic happens I’m sure. Unfortunately Diana's and my dream of celeb spotting was not fulfilled but we got great views of the city and mountains from the top of the canyon.  After that we tried to make our way to Kim's house because her mom was cooking dinner for all of us. I was driving and took a wrong turn and ended up driving up Mulholland Drive. Kinda awesome! I tore that road up in our Chevy Impala rental.  The homes and the views from the hills are just amazing. After Mulholland Drive I proceeded to take another wrong turn and after about 15 more stressful minutes of wrong turns and backtracking I found the right road. Then I got to drive down Sunset Boulevard which was just coming to life at sundown. Dinner with Kim’s family was wonderful. The food and the company was great and it was nice to eat at a real dinner table again. I definitely took for granted the comfort of eating dinner around a table before this project.

Tour 40 Crew

Today was our Los Angeles project. We worked with Million Trees LA and Heart of LA (HOLA) to distribute 200 fruit trees to people in the community and judge an art contest. The art contestants were members and alumni of HOLA and the winners received SWA tickets to visit the college of their choice. I could tell how much these tickets meant to the kids as I was talking to them so I was really touched to be a part of the event. Marchetti and Andrew headed up the trash pick-up group while Kim was being paparazzi all day. Diana and I took care of a lot of the behind the scenes work with Eric, registering people, setting up the water/snack tables, and making sure everything ran smoothly.  After the event we had a great photo shoot with RJ, the SWA photographer. We were outside the RV alongside the road in Burbank. We were definitely a spectacle to cars driving by but we all had a good time and hopefully RJ got at least a few shots where we all look good. Thanks RJ! Tomorrow is our day off so we are ready to hit the town and see as much of LA as possible before we head up to the Bay Area on Saturday. 

Tour 40 LA

Mission: Phoenix  

Monday morning, a group of roughly 70 volunteers woke up with a common goal in mind.

What drove them to wake up as early as 5:00am to reach the Rio Salado Audubon Visitor Center? Was it the rush to beat the rising sun? Or maybe it was to get into an early rising routine?

Would you believe me if I told you that it was to perform service projects in their community? Well that sounds about right.

PHX

Our Tour 40 team worked alongside the Audubon Center and Phoenix City Parks and Recreation to develop three projects for the service day. These included: invasive plant removal, trash clean up and trail maintenance.

From 7:00am to 10:00am, teams of volunteers worked on all three projects while combating the desert sun. Water was provided at several locations throughout the project site to ensure volunteers were well hydrated. As the day progressed, volunteers continued to bring a great attitude to the projects.

We even had a visit from Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly! Gary and other Employees from Southwest Headquarters in Dallas were part of a great opening ceremony to start the service, worked alongside staff from the Phoenix airport throughout the volunteer day and helped close out the day on a high note.

PHX

The Tour 40 team was able to manage the project successfully thanks in part to the great volunteers who arrived eager to work and make a difference.

Overall 15 bags of invasive plants, 10 bags of trash, and 6 bags of recyclables were removed near the riverbed by the Audubon Visitor Center. In addition, volunteers helped the Phoenix City Parks and Recreation staff to rake 30 piles of brush for removal.

Thank you to all the SWA Staff and Volunteers for coming out and making this a great event in Phoenix. Thank you to the Rio Salado Audubon Visitor Center and Phoenix City Parks and Recreation for accommodating the project and for a great day!

We’re headed west; Los Angeles here we come!

Tour 40 Team

Mission: Albuquerque 

Well, our time in Albuquerque has already come and gone but the folks we met there didn’t need long to make an awesome impression on the Tour 40 Team.  We know that it should come as no surprise that volunteers from Southwest show up to an event enthusiastic about serving their community and prepared to work hard, but our team is blown away each time. If the Dallas and Albuquerque events are any indication of things to come then the Tour 40 should result in an incredible amount of quality conservation work.

Volunteers arrived bright and early at the beautiful Albuquerque Open Space Visitors Center where they met the Tour 40 Team, marveled at our awesome RV, and prepared for the day with sunscreen application and ample hydration. These folks were on top of group safety! Before getting down to business the group heard from some of our excellent hosts at Albuquerque Open Space, Jim and Steve. They gave us a brief introduction to Open Space, some history from the area and prepared the group with project specifics.  The volunteers were charged with improving a wetland area by removing non-native plants that steal vital nutrients and growing space from local flora and then planting saplings that will grow into a natural wind break for the area, a challenge they were all willing to accept.

Now came the moment everyone was waiting for, time to grab tools and get to work. Becca’s crew made it a bad day to be a weed at Albuquerque Open Space. With hawk like vigilance her crew removed five truck-loads of non-native plants. The banks along the wetland looked totally different after this dream team rolled through. At the same time this was happening Andrew and his crew were digging holes and prepping saplings for planting. Sounds like a simple task doesn’t it? Well the hard Albuquerque ground had other ideas. Despite adversity the volunteers powered through with smiles on their faces and at the end of the day there were sixteen new trees in the ground.

We can’t thank those who came out enough. The Tour 40 Team had a blast meeting you and serving alongside of each and every one of you. We hope that we will see you all again at a stop down the road.  Thanks for everything Albuquerque! For now, on to Phoenix!

Mission: Dallas, TX  

SCA Dallas

Thank youuuuu Dallas! The Tour 40 team just kicked off the Conservation in Action Tour and wished Southwest Airlines a happy 40th birthday by celebrating in true SWA and Student Conservation Association (SCA) style with three different service projects and a huge party…in an airplane hangar. Gotta LUV working with an airline company!

At 6:30 Friday morning, after scarfing down the hotel breakfast buffet that we all had come to know and love, the SCA team donned yellow staff shirts and was ready to divide and conquer…our three Dallas service projects, that is.

Diana and Becca were leaders at the Texas Trees Foundation, the largest urban non-profit tree farm in the nation, where over 300 canyon blue clad volunteers arrived at 8 a.m. to the sounds of a DJ, SWA CEO Gary Kelly, and the sight of over 500 trees ready for a new home. Becca took charge of showing volunteers how to repot trees that had outgrown their planters, and Diana worked with a group who dug holes for larger trees. All in all, after a flurry of activity from eager volunteers, a month’s work was done in only a couple of hours.

Gary SCA

Kimi flew solo with her team over at the Trinity River Audubon Center, complete with a wonderful LEED certified building in a beautiful setting next to the Trinity River. We never would have guessed it used to be a landfill. One man’s trash is another man’s gorgeous conservation site! The 100 or so excited volunteers worked all over the site, helping repair fences, widening trail, planting native grasses, collecting seeds, and even removing some dead Christmas trees.

Over at Rochester Park, Andrew and Marchetti’s crew of 100 volunteers followed in the footsteps of a previous SCA crew that had first created the trail system bringing new life to a park that had been overrun by off-highway vehicles (OHV). The Tour 40 Team cleaned up that same trail by collecting about 50 bags of trash, 20 bags of recycling. They also cleared over 1500 feet of trail and restored a vandalized kiosk.

Thanks to everyone involved in our first project, from the SWA Communications Team that gave us a second home at headquarters to the SCA community that flew in from all over the country to support us for the day. And of course, the amazing volunteers who showed us the Southwest Warrior Spirit in 100 degree weather and learned our most important rule: stay hydrated! The RV, thankfully, is nicely air-conditioned and taking us away to Albuquerque for our next project. One project down, 38 more to go! Can’t wait to (as the Texans say) see y’all out on the road!

SCA RV

 

From the Road in St. Louis

We wrapped up our 10th project at Dr. Edmund A. Babler Memorial State Park yesterday afternoon after a fun and messy morning painting two of the buildings at the special needs camp. The beautifully green Missouri park really hit home with Tour 40 Team member, Becca.  In fact, she felt like she was literally AT home in the park. We were not expecting Missouri to look so similar to the Northeast. Watch out St. Louis, Becca will be coming back!

The park was located a bit further out from the Southwest station than most of our other projects, but volunteers were still more than willing to make the trip out. For the first time, the majority of the volunteers were Southwest Customers instead of employees. Looks like Customers are sharing the LUV!

By the end of the day we ended up doing more work than we thought we would be able to get to. Despite the lingering wasps and the heat, the volunteers painted the exterior of one 4080 square foot building and painted the front of another.  A big thanks to everyone at Babler State Park for all of their help throughout the day!

By the way… any suggestions on getting paint out of jeans? 😄 -Kim and Diana

 

Check out www.southwest.com/Tour40 to see our schedule and to register to volunteer with us!

 

 

7 Comments
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A great job, but that monstrous RV doesn't look very environmentally friendly.
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nice blog!!!
Employee
Employee
Ben, the RV runs on bio-diesel fuel; much better for the environment than your typical RV. Hope you get to join us at one of our stops! www.southwest.com/tour40
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Hey... Arizona's State Parks would like to host the Student Conservation Team and SW Employees doing 40 projects in Arizona's State Parks. We have trails, trees and travelers in the parks and all need love.. Why not adopt 40 trees at Slide Rock State Parks in our apple orchard and then come pick apples in the fall! Or adopt 40 saguaros at Lost Dutchman State Park, they are offering cacti to babysit.. No fruit picking though... We have 800 trails in the State Trails System and I bet you could get 40 hikers to traverse 40 miles!! Love your environmental programs and combined with exercise that is 40 healthier people! Ellen Bilbrey, PIO Arizona State Parks
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Great job! You're making the world a better place and marketing your business, I would say that is a solid win-win for everybody. I run a website on small business (milehighbusinessplans.com) and will make sure to share this idea with everybody.
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Enjoyed working with the SCA crew at Weston Bend State Park today - hot, dirty sweaty work but we improved some trails and got the overlook area stained so a good effort by all concerned. Be safe - have fun - keep up the good work.
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great they just doing a fantastic job and nice pics i like them a lot really amazing