International students sow seeds of good intentions at Lees Ferry

Farm equipment near the Samantha Johnson Cabin. Also known as Emma's Cabin, Lee's Cabin, and J.D. Lee Ranch House, the cabin was built in 1881, photo undated | Photo courtesy of the National Park Service, St. George News

PAGE, Ariz. – On Jan. 10, more than 200 college students representing 13 countries will revitalize one of the most important historic sites on the Colorado River – the Lonely Dell Ranch in the Lees Ferry Historic District – as part of an education and service-based collaboration between the U.S. Department of State’s Community College Initiative Program and the National Park Service. The theme of the event is “Sowing Seeds of Good Intentions for the Future.”

The State Department’s CCI Program is an international exchange program, administered by Northern Virginia Community College on behalf of the Community College Consortium that provides participants with a one-year, nondegree academic program in workforce development fields at a U.S. community college. The CCI Program recruits participants from underserved and unrepresented communities, particularly women.

Since 2007, the CCI Program has hosted more than 2,800 participants from 21 countries. 

In conjunction with the Community College Initiative Program’s 10-year anniversary, and to commemorate 100 years of the U.S. National Park Service, this year’s 211 students and 22 staff will work together in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area to revive a historic orchard as a service learning event. 

Lees Ferry and the Lonely Dell Ranch

The historic orchard is located at Lonely Dell Ranch in the Lees Ferry Historic District, which is an integral part of the history of the earliest Euro-Americans settling along the Colorado River. Lees Ferry was established in the 1872 as the only viable crossing of the Colorado River for hundreds of miles.

Lees Ferry was used by early members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and other pioneers until 1928. A homestead at the mouth of the Paria Canyon, called Lonely Dell, still stands as a testament to the lives of ferry operators and their families.

The Lonely Dell orchard is watered by irrigation systems that were established in the 1880s, and is maintained by the National Park Service as part of the cultural landscape that contributes to the experience of history that people receive when visiting the Lees Ferry Historic District.

Today, the orchard at Lonely Dell continues to bear fruit and provide shade for visitors to Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. The orchard stands in stark contrast to the harsh desert landscape and reminds visitors what is possible when groups of people work together to seek creative solutions to life’s challenging problems.

The participants in the Community College Initiative Program will plant new trees in the orchard to replace trees that have died, prune and maintain healthy trees, and work on irrigation systems from three different historic time periods to keep the orchard green and lush for future visitors, many of whom are direct descendants of the original pioneers who established Lonely Dell.   

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