Volunteers at Arches National Park can help transplant Indian ricegrass and other healthy plants, as well as harvesting living biocrust to help restore another area of the park. [Gary Monroe / U.S. Forest Service]

As the number of visitors to Arches National Park and other spectacular public lands continues to grow, park officials are offering tourists and locals alike an opportunity to give back on Service Saturdays once a month. On Saturday, May 22, volunteers can help preserve the beauty of Arches National Park by harvesting native plants and delicate biological soil crust from an area slated for construction and transporting them to restore another area of the park.

“We do try to offer a public volunteer opportunity on the fourth Saturday of the month,” said Karen Garthwait, NPS ranger overseeing interpretive media and volunteers in the park. Garthwait said that Service Saturdays are usually all-ages, simple activities like trash pick-up that allow public land supporters to contribute to keeping the park beautiful.

“Something like picking up microtrash in the parking lot might not sound like a big deal but it makes such a big visual impact for everything to be clean and for our wildlife to be safe,” she said, noting that most volunteers at the events are tourists and travellers passing through the area.

“These are people who love our national parks and so volunteer events like these are a chance to show that stewardship,” said Garthwait.

The upcoming project at the Double Arch trailhead on May 22 is a bit different than the average project, she said.

“This one is kind of special,” said Garthwait, “It’s much more than a trash pick up.”

The project was triggered by an upcoming construction project to increase the amount of available parking at the Double Arch trailhead in the Windows section within Arches. The project adding parking spaces is an attempt to address the increased congestion that has accompanied increased visitation.

“Of course, rather than just bulldoze the area we are harvesting the native plants that are in good condition, then relocating them to a place in the park that needs restoration,” said Garthwait. And the plan goes beyond just native plants, but biocrust will be harvested and transplanted as well.

During the first half of the event, park staff in the Division of Resources Stewardship and Sciences will show volunteers how to carefully harvest native plants and living soil crusts from the area. Staff will teach how soil crust functions and how to identify common local plants.

“I can’t wait to be taught how to harvest biocrust without destroying it!” said Garthwait. Biocrust is a community of living organisms that create a stable surface for plants to anchor into the soil. “The crust really just colonizes the top 2 to 5 centimeters of the soil and it’s so delicate that a footstep can crush it,” said Garthwait. “Without it, a lot of this area would just be sand blowing around.”

Participants may choose to just attend the first half of the event. In the event’s second half, the salvaged plants and crust patches will be moved to an area near Lower Courthouse Wash.

“Ideally, if we get a lot of people to show up we can salvage a good number of plants and some folks might take plants home,” said Garthwait. “We’re going to focus on Indian ricegrass. It’s an iconic native bunchgrass and it has a good rate of success after transplanting.”

Participants are encouraged to arrive at Arches National Park before 7:45 a.m. to avoid long lines at the park’s entrance. Information on upcoming Service Saturdays can be viewed at www.nps.gov/arch/getinvolved/volunteer.htm. For more information and to sign up, contact Sofia_Nicholson@nps.gov or call 435-719-2214.

Event information

What: Service Saturday: Volunteer Native Plant & Soil Crust Salvage

When: Saturday, May 22 at 8:30 a.m.

Where: Double Arch parking lot, Arches National Park

For more information, go to www.nps.gov/arch/getinvolved/volunteer