Notes from the Field: Spring Seeking with Peace Corps Coverdell Fellows

Since the most memorable years of my life were spent in the Peace Corps, I’m always excited to meet another returned Peace Corps Volunteer (“RPCV”), which happens quite often in Tucson!

These perpetual run-ins are mostly because of the University of Arizona Peace Corps Coverdell Fellows Program. The Coverdell program is a national fellowship that provides financial assistance to graduate students who have completed their full two-year service abroad with the Peace Corps. The University of Arizona has one of the largest programs with more than 50 graduate students each year. In addition to providing support to students, it also connects them to the Tucson community through their yearlong Outreach Assistantships with local organizations and All-Fellows service projects.

We’ve spent the past few months at Sky Island Alliance working tirelessly to monitor springs in wilderness areas throughout the Sky Islands using our new Spring Seeker survey. With the help of our ever-dedicated volunteers, we’ve visited springs in the wilderness areas of the Rincons, Santa Ritas, and Huachucas, as well as in some of the Sky Islands in Mexico. But due to this summer’s Bvig Horn Fire, we weren’t able to visit any of the springs right in our backyard—the Santa Catalinas.

Only recently did the Mt. Lemmon highway and some select trails re-open to the public. And thanks to additional and continued collaboration with Coronado National Forest, Sky Island Alliance staff finally had access to visit springs near the burned area.

Each small Spring Seeker team consisted of 1-3 Fellows, preferably from the same household.


When the Peace Corps Coverdell Fellows program reached out earlier this fall to see if Sky Island Alliance had a potential service project that they could collaborate on, it all fell into place. We could use a small army of adventurous and enthusiastic RPCV graduate students to get to some of the high priority springs in the Santa Catalinas. We also wanted to evaluate their status and any threats of erosion in recently burned areas, which ultimately will guide our future restoration and stewardship efforts.

After a virtual training on Sky Island springs and learning how to use our user-friendly Spring Seeker survey, the group was all set and ready to get out there and find water.

SIA staff Sami Hammer gives a Fellows team a brief orientation of the area around the spring they will be surveying.


Our Sky Island Alliance-Peace Corps Coverdell Fellows Service day went swimmingly. We visited 10 springs in the Santa Catalinas, including some adjacent or within the Big Horn burn perimeter, such as Mud Spring. Many of these springs had been visited by SIA staff and volunteers a few years ago, and a few were totally new to us! Either way, we were excited to collect data after the fire disturbance. We even found standing open pools and some running water which encouraged us, not only after a dry summer but in such proximity to the burned area.

Once all the groups went off to survey their springs, SIA staff Sami and Zoe got a chance to survey some of our own springs in the Santa Catalina mountains.


Sami is excited to find water that she’d never been to before!


Collaborations like this one show us just how much we can accomplish through partnerships. The day helped us lay the foundation for small group volunteer activities that can be made pandemic safe.

Thanks to the Peace Corps Coverdell Fellows for a great day and your valuable contributions!