A year in the life

By: Danielle Yaste

First off, I would like to forewarn you that I am getting a little overly sentimental about my Conservation Corps term winding down.  With that being said, I think the sentimentality is warranted, and I would like to tell you why. 

At our spring training our district manager told us this: “This year, it’s a once in a lifetime experience, you may not see it now, but you will.” 

I thought about it a lot over the next seven months, and she was right, at the time I really did not see it.  I was skeptical.  It was getting to be summer, we were treating invasives, planting endless amounts of trees, and I swore we were never going to leave the Munger trail.  I was tired.  But, as the months passed, she proved to be right in more ways than one.  Through the hot summer days of invasives, trail maintenance, and back country trips, to the cool days of chainsaws and construction projects, the Conservation Corps has proven to be more than a job, more than “something to do for a year.” It has been a challenge, a perception change, an opportunity to get to know myself more than ever before.  I have never truly had to test my physical ability or my technical skills, and have rarely been pushed out of my comfort zone.  This past year challenged that, my program staff challenged that, and my crew challenged that.  Jenna challenged my fear of trying something new when faced with the possibility of inadequacy.  Katie challenged me to keep trying when I felt weak (you should have seen me the first time I picked up an ax).  John challenged my occasionally linear thinking mindset, and Ben challenged the need to always be right (sometimes, at the beginning, I swore my chainsaw was broken, I really just needed practice).  And that was just our field staff; I cannot even begin to describe how thankful I am for my crew.  They pushed me to try new things, they made me laugh, often until I cried.  Many days they were my cheerleaders (in a really masculine, cool way), my teachers, and my honest, sassy critics. 

I gained so much from my term of service—more than I could have imagined.  So thank you Jenna, Ben, Katie, John, Jerry, and Chris—thank you for teaching us both technical and soft skills, for guiding us, and encouraging us.  Thank you to the entire Northeast District, particularly Arrowhead, for being quirky, unique, talented, and for letting me hang with you.  Most of all, thank you Amber, Nick, Josh, and Jack for being unapologetically yourselves; adventurous, crazy, hilarious, skilled, and most of all, an extension of my family.

Now that my sentimentality is over, I invite you to take a look at what a year in the life of a corpsmember looks like, through the eyes of the Moose Lake crew. 

The Detours: Fire, Flooding, and Frost

By: Danielle Yaste

As the amount of months remaining in our term continue to wind down, my time spent reminiscing over the year has already increased.  What I’ve began to realize is that the detours, the projects or events that weren’t originally a part of the plan, were some of the most memorable.  Three detours in particular stick out the most, and they involved fire, some flooding, and a little bit of frost.

During this past spring I wrote about our time working as a prescribed burn crew, but the morning I submitted that post was the first day of our Minnesota Interagency Fire Center or MIFC deployment.  We left our project on Wednesday and on Thursday we found ourselves in Nimrod, MN on the Lyons Fire.  We spent a few long days at the Lyons Fire, we arrived when there was still flames and the highest ranking incident command team in the state was present and when we left we were the last crew assigned to the cold fire.  We met new people, and crossed paths with DNR staff we had met before.  We even celebrated a crew member’s birthday.  From Nimrod we were resource ordered to the Cloquet region, where we stayed until it rained.  Our MIFC fire deployment was one of the road marks of the year.  During fire season we spent 28 of 30 days together, and it solidified us as a crew.

After the fire season, came the wet and stormy season that wreaked havoc in the Northland.  It began to rain one afternoon while we were working in our shop, within minutes we were running to our vehicles trying to get home before flooding stopped us.  The next morning required alternative routes to navigate the flood, the boys on our crew found themselves stranded from a washed out driveway.  The DNR staff divided to assess damage, and once our crew had all arrived, we were asked to check on a forestry road.  Through various unfortunate circumstances, we found ourselves rerouting around flooding for hours, turning an hour drive into a four-hour drive.  Amidst the stress, we found ourselves problem solving, and choosing to be positive together.

Lastly, As I was writing this blog post over a week ago, I experienced one of the best detours thus far.  Last Sunday, a crew needed someone to bump onto their crew for an eight-day spike in the Boundary Waters, maintaining the Border Route Trail.  I volunteered, and found myself packing for a trip in the last few minutes before I go to sleep, not totally aware of the adventure that lay ahead.  Two of my favorite things are hiking and crosscuts.  This trip involved a whole lot of both.  The boundary waters is a place that always bring me peace, and that feeling was intensified by the low number of travelers this fall.  And if you think the boundary waters are beautiful, you should see it with autumn in full swing.  The hills are speckled with green coniferous, and firey deciduous.  Add some frost to that, and its pure magic.  Our spike was filled with mornings where we couldn’t feel our toes, and days that took our breath away.  Each day brought new surprises of what additions Sean could make to the tarp shelter and we spent nights seeing how many clothes we could fit on our bodies.  We sat around a fire with wood split by Sean and the self-described “Swull Austin.”  One night, as we sat as close to the fire as physically possible could without being on fire, Austin posed the question “Despite the cold, sleet, and frost, is there really any other place you want to be right now?”  And the answer was unanimous, “No.”   

Arkansas Post

By: Kristina Beckham

Headed back into Arkansas one last time for the year we make our way into Arkansas Post, five and a half hours into the southeast corner of the state. While visiting the park in Gillett, Arkansas, we were on the constant hunt for Alligators while driving into and walking around the park. 

Our trip to Post consisted of backpack spraying two hundred and twenty acres while searching for privet and hardy orange. An interesting thing that we literally ran into were the amount of ticks in this park. While walking through just one pass we would collect about one hundred sea ticks crawling over our boots and making their way up our pants. All six of us have never seen so many sea ticks in one place until we went to this park. The tick problem was so bad that even the local deer have a problem fighting them off. Kirby McCallie, the park’s national resource manager, told us all a lovely story of how there have been multiple does that have died from the amount of ticks that they have had attached to them. 

On top of their growing tick problem they also have a problem with their raccoons, they have such a low amount of food to scavenge for that they will kill the turtles. So when the turtles come onto land to lay their eggs the raccoons would get them on their backs and devourer them (as seen in the photo below).

Below feel free to learn about one of my other crewmates Gabe Hernandez and his experience thus far at this park and working for the National Park Service.

Again here is a complete listing of what is going on at Arkansas Post National Memorial feel free to follow the link below: https://www.nps.gov/arpo/planyourvisit/calendar.htm

Also here are free entry days into the National Parks as shown in the link below, make sure to take advantage of these days before it’s too late: https://www.nps.gov/planyourvisit/fee-free-parks.htm

GABE HERNANDEZ:

  • What is your favorite part about working at Arkansas Post?
    • Post was exciting because every morning we would pass large pools of swampy waters searching for alligators.
  • Why did you join the Conservation Corp?
    • I joined to get some field experience under my belt and enjoy the beautiful outdoors.
  • What is your favorite park that you have worked at thus far? And why?
    • Thus far Buffalo National River has been my favorite park to travel to. If you want to experience the Ozark’s beauty, this is the place to be.

Till next time,

    -KB

Wild Rice on the St. Louis—Returning to Mecca

By: Danielle Yaste

“What’re you guys working on out here?” A passerby asked as we loaded our truck.

“We’ve been planting wild rice…” I answered, but before I could say anything further, they replied: “It’s not going to work, wild rice doesn’t grow here.”

However, the contrary is true.  Wild rice has grown here, on the St. Louis River, long before seed was ever planted by air boat.  There stands a few wild rice plants in the bays that historically were full of the grain, and now work is being done to restore those bays.  The St. Louis River estuary used to be utilized greatly by the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, but has been significantly affected by human activity over the last few decades.  The largest contributor to the destruction of the wild rice in the estuary has been industrial development, and recovering from this has been a slow process, but it is recovering none the less.  When wild rice was thriving in the area, there was 2,000 to 3,000 acres, now the goal is to have 250 acres over the next five to ten years.

This past week, as the resource management team would secure wild rice seed to plant from other areas in Minnesota, we would be called to board the air boats and plant the seed.  The project was unique because the amount of people they needed and when they needed them depended on the amount of seed that was able to be purchased from those harvesting seed elsewhere.  There were three days spent with a compilation of nine members of the Conservation Corps including every member of our program staff, our field specialist, and the Moose Lake Crew.  Together we planted about 10,000 lbs. of Wild Rice, adding to the total 12,000 lbs. planted this year.  This was the second year of a three year planting plan.  The first year showed that plants came up in every bay that it was planted, however, the geese population ate a significant portion of the first year’s plants.  There are currently plans in the works to mitigate that problem.

Though the work of planting the seed was fun and unique, a highlight of the project was working with Tom Howes, the band’s natural resources director.  Tom spent his morning teaching us about the cultural value of the St. Louis River and the wild rice.  While giving us a tour of the work being done thus far, he explained the responsibility the band had to care for the river.  He grew up being told that the St. Louis River was a Mecca to his community, a place of abundance, and when the band returned rights to the river based on the 1854 treaty, they were able to utilize the river and take care of it.  They needed to take care of the river if they are to utilize it.  Since the band has been successfully reestablishing wild rice for over 20 years, and has a dedication to the estuary, they were the ones called upon to restore the wild rice.

More can be learned about the Wild Rice project from Minnesota Public Radio:

https://www.mprnews.org/story/2016/09/21/wild-rice-comeback-effort-st-louis-river

And this coming week CBS out of Duluth (KBJR6) will be covering the story as well.