By: Cholla Rose Nicoll, Borderlands Wildlife Preserve Lead Technician
The Dirtbags are an all-volunteer trail building group located in Patagonia, AZ. Founded about ten years ago and named after huge canvas bags used to haul dirt, they pride themselves on creating free access to natural areas to the public through creating expertly crafted hiking trails. Friends of Sonoita Creek, another Patagonia-based nonprofit conservation group focused on protecting, restoring, and educating people on the importance of Sonoita Creek (flowing seasonally from Sonoita to Nogales, AZ), provides the materials for the Dirtbags to do their fieldwork.
The Dirtbags adhere to a social contract of giving back to the communities they love. The gift given is access to beautiful, protected landscapes within the Sonoita Creek Watershed and surrounding areas. One of the areas they have enhanced with their trail building skills is the Borderlands Wildlife Preserve (BWP). The BWP, thanks to the Dirtbags, has a trail system consisting of three excellent and easy-to-access trails. In addition to building trails occasionally, one of the Dirtbags, Joe Watkins, creates and places wooden benches to enjoy the mountain views.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Joe about the bench building process and the experience of being a Dirtbag. Joe took a furniture building class back in the early 2000s and has been perfecting his craft of woodworking ever since. The latest creations now located within the BWP are two white oak viewing benches. One placed on the Smith Canyon Loop Trail and one on the Connector Trail. Designed after the famous conservationist Aldo Leopold’s bench designs, they create peaceful resting points along the trails.
These two benches took at least thirty hours apiece to craft and finish with UV protectant. The wood of Joe’s choice, Redwood or Cedar, was not available, so White Oak was used due to its natural insect repellent qualities. The planks are fitted together tightly to provide more of a water repellent design. With the help of the Dirtbags and Joe’s wife Barbra, the benches were placed on blocks on a rock patio to preserve the wood further. This process took about three hours, and Joe joked that the Dirtbag’s motto is “we don’t work fast, but we sure work cheap!”.
Borderlands Restoration Network would like to extend a special thank you to the Dirtbags for the fantastic work they do in this community. The trails and benches they build have opened access to nature to many and left our community a better place for all. Thank you to the Friends of Sonoita Creek for providing the materials for the Dirtbags to do their work and to Lou and Jim Schatz for donating the funds to create the two benches recently installed.
If you would like to know more about the Dirtbags and potentially volunteer with them, please reach out to Joe Watkins at (520) 377-7294 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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