The Spring in photos

By: Kristina Luotto

The summer solstice is upon us and the first full season of the Conservation Corps term is in the books. Throughout the spring season, I have traveled all over central and southern Minnesota (and even spent one day in Wisconsin!). I have seen the landscape transition from winter to summer, met many new people, and put in a lot of hard work. Here are some photos of the places the Conservation Corps has taken me.

Late March: The wind chill had everyone bundled up for this project. We were working on a calcareous fen, a unique wetland area with lots of rare plant species. The fen had become overgrown with buckthorn, choking out all of the cool, rare plants. We spent the day cutting down large buckthorn and dragging them out of the fen to a wood chipper. The hard work helped to keep us warm!

Early April: Burn season was upon us! The snow had melted, leaving dry prairie grass ready for restorative burns. A crew from the Northwest district joined our Rochester crew and we traveled to Wisconsin for this burn. The fire was hot and spirits were high.

Mid April: Temperatures were moving above freezing, allowing the ground to thaw for some spring tree planting. Our work planting these little seedlings helped set up a University of Minnesota research study that will evaluate control methods for reestablishing flood plain forests. We ended the day covered in mud, but also feeling accomplished with the thousands of young trees, like this oak, that we had planted.

 

 

Late April: April turned into a wet month with a lot of rainfall. This day near Marshall, MN was supposed to be a burn day, but the wet weather set back our plans. Pictured is the crew with a Minnesota Department of Agriculture employee checking the sites where the invasive Palmer amaranth plant was reported last fall.

Early May: Burn season resumed with a week spiking in Paynesville, Minnesota. Our crew worked with a crew from The Nature Conservancy to do prescribed burns on lands they manage. Since there are so many lakes in central Minnesota, there was always a water source near the burn unit we could draft water from. Here, a crew member is filling up our type-7 engine with water from a nearby lake.

Mid May: The world came into bloom! After a long winter with bare tree branches, we were graced with green leaves and fragrant blooms. One of my favorite parts of the Conservation Corps is walking through the woods and admiring all the flowers. May was full of fresh blooms like this cherry tree.

Late May: Garlic mustard season was in full swing! Garlic mustard is a super invasive plant that can carpet entire woodlands. In the spring, we spent time pulling the plant out by the roots and hauling them out in garbage bags. One upside of this work is hiking through beautiful wooded areas. With the weather warming up in late May, we stopped to dip our feet in this natural pool while out in the woods pulling garlic mustard one day.

Early June: At the beginning of June, I was able to attend the Minnesota Fire Academy and take the Firefighter Type I class with other Conservation Corps members. On the way back to Rochester, we stopped at the Hinckley Fire Museum, an important site in the history of fire in Minnesota.

Mid June: The days are long and warm. My crew has been spike camping at Sibley State Park, where the sunsets over the lake are beautiful. The work day consists of work on an esker, an ridge created by glacial flow, to preserve the prairie. Sumac (pictured), a short shrub, creates shade all summer long, shading out the native prairie plants. Our crew used brush saws to set back the sumac in order to allow the native prairie plants to grow.

Bridges and bugs

By: Erika Birnbaum

Stretching over 300 miles, the Superior Hiking Trail starts south of Duluth at the Minnesota/Wisconsin border and winds up the North Shore to just south of the Canadian border. It is a part of the Arrowhead spur of the North Country Trail that starts in New York and follows the Great Lakes ending in North Dakota. While the maintenance of these trails is managed by local volunteer groups, the National Park Service is the head overseer of the North Country Trail. 

The Duluth crew was part of this cooperation of volunteers and NPS to start work on new bridges just north of Grand Marais. While final construction won't happen until materials can be brought in by snowmobiles, Duluth completed the footings and cribbing for the new bridges. One bridge was prepped over a deep ravine next to the existing bridge. The other bridge had been washed out underneath at its current location so a new site/short reroute of the trail was in order.

Duluth cleared trees on both sides then created a temporary bridge of rocks over the stream. The longest task was finding the best spot for the footing and getting both sides square to each other. Ready mix concrete was used to fill the frames. With the help of a retired skyscraper construction superintendent the crew members of Duluth all got the opportunity to learn mixing, pouring and folding the concrete to get strong footings. The one footing that needed a crib to get up to height had a template over it and rebar was set in while the concrete was still wet. After the concrete had set, the crib of 6x6 lumber was slid onto the rebar. Extra concrete and rock filled the crib to finish out Duluth's contribution to the bridges.

After finishing up the footings Duluth spent the afternoon making a short floating boardwalk in a low area. Since it had a tendency to be muddy instead of a running stream, a simple structure was done. Four by fours were cut and laid out on the muddy trail while planks were placed in pairs. The final result was a simple boardwalk that will move up and down with the changes in the trail.

During all of the work and at the crew's campsite at Devil's Track the bugs were out in full force. Long sleeves and big nets were the only successful way of keeping them from biting. As enjoyable as building the bridges was, Duluth spent the week scratching and swatting. 

Flower Power

By: Aimee Junget

As our crew has been romping around the woods picking garlic mustard, spraying vetch, and surveying habitats, I have been drawn to the many colors wildflowers bring to our landscape here in Minnesota. At first, I would continually pull out my phone every time I saw a flower. “Ok, Google, what is a purple Minnesota wildflower that blooms in spring?” It only took a couple instances of scrolling through hundreds of pictures of purple wildflowers while squinting through the glare of the sun off my phone screen before I hopped on Amazon and ordered my very own field guide (Stan Tekiela’s Wildflowers of Minnesota Field Guide). Now I revel in the constant scavenger hunt in the woods. I am even raising a couple native wildflowers, Hoary Vervain and Meadow Blazing Star, of my own right in my backyard. It is safe to say I have become a full-on enthusiast.

So this post is a tribute to all of our native wildflowers out there--not only making our state beautiful, but also contributing to natural ecosystems and biodiversity. Below are eleven lovely wildflowers we have in our state and some fun facts about them (once again, thanks to my handy field guide).

 

Four-O’Clock, (Mirabilis nyctaginea) Habitat: wet or dry, sun or shade, highly adaptive. Range: throughout Minnesota. Fun little plant with a fun little name as it blooms late in the afternoon.

 

 

 

 

Blue Flag Iris (Iris versicolor). Habitat: edges of wetlands, lakes, and rivers. Range: Throughout Minnesota. I spotted this flower at B.F. Nelson Park near Boom Island in Northeast Minneapolis. I watched as a pollinator passed under the plant’s male and female parts, completing pollination for this particular wildflower.

Wild Lupine.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

Wild Lupine (Lupinus perennis) Habitat: dry, sandy areas, fields, or prairies. Range: Southeastern half of the state. I captured these beautiful lupines in the prairies of Wild River State Park.

 

 

 

Spiderwort, (Tradescantia occidentalis). Habitat: dry, sun, meadows, prairies. A rather ugly name for a rather beautiful flower.  Odd fact: When exposed to pollution the flower turns from a blue to a purple.

Virgina Waterleaf.jpg

 

 

Virginia Waterleaf, (Geranium maculatum) Habitat: deciduous forests. Range: throughout the state, except for the northern edge. Early to bloom and one of the most prevalent I have seen in city and state parks alike.

 

 

 

Red Columbine, (Aquilegia canadensis) Habitat: rocky places, deciduous woods, shady areas. Range: throughout Minnesota. I was stunned with beauty as the tiny flowers clung to the cliffs of Interstate Park with the St. Croix River down below.

 

 

Starflower, (Trientalis borealis) Habitat: wet, shade, both conifer and deciduous woods. Range: Northern part of the state. Representing for the northern half of the state, these Starflowers were scattered all over my cabin on the Iron Range.

 

 

 

 

Prairie Smoke, (Geum triflorum). Habitat: sun, prairies. Range: throughout Minnesota where prairies are present. This wildflower is one of the earliest to bloom in prairies in the spring. The flower hangs like a bell until pollinated, upon which it stands up and waves its seed head like smoke in the wind.

 

 

Daisy Fleabane, (Erigeron annuus) Habitat: Another highly adaptable plant growing in for conifer or deciduous woods. Range: Eastern half of the state. The genus name Erigeron combines the Greek words for early and old man, for the fact that it blooms early in the spring and gives the appearance of a balding, silvery head.

 

 

Large Beardtongue, (Penstemon grandiflorus). Habitat: sun, dry prairies. Range: throughout the state. A sight to see in the prairies at Wild River where our crew is removing vetch.

 

 

 

 

 

Canada Anemone, (Anemone canadensis) Habitat: wet meadows, prairies. Range: throughout Minnesota. A large patch of these little ones lined the boat launch into the St. Croix at Wild River State Park.

Learning to lead

By: Lauren Waldrip

Things are moving pretty quickly as Youth Outdoors wraps up their spring term. The last-day banquet for youth crews takes place in 5 days, and before then we will have completed our end of term service project, capstone report, and crew evaluations. Following our youth term, the Bridges crew will meet our two new crew members as we begin training for things to come this summer, and before you know it we’ll be in Superior National Forest for our three-week-long spike trip. Yet, with things moving so fast, I have to prepare to say goodbye to my youth crew members, and for that I could really use a time-out.

It’s funny looking back on my time with my youth crew. I remember feeling so anxious when they started. I had not worked in such a clear leadership role before, and without a co-leader to take the spot light off of me I thought my youth crew would be able to smell my fear. Our field specialist, Chris, graciously tagged along the first few times while I acclimated to the role of youth crew leader. A note on Chris: he is a walking Ice-breaker, no games needed. His quirky stories and off-the-wall questions made us all break into laughter, which really set the tone for our time together.

Despite my lingering nervousness, I learned to lead my youth crew. There were definitely a few instances where I felt unprepared, but those times became valuable lessons. For example, our first full-length field day we went to Lebanon Hills Regional Park to haul and pile brush for burning in the fall. This is the site where my adult crew had worked since we began in the field so I felt fairly confident. One catch: I’ve never made a brush-pile nor seen it being done. I’ve taken an honest approach with my crew members, and I told them what the situation was. On our hike in we had passed a few brush-piles from last fall and received some instruction from other crew leaders on how to pile brush, but being a visual learner, I knew I had to see it being done if I was going to lead my crew in this task. We tried winging it for nearly 30 minutes, and then I proposed a field trip around the other crews to see how it’s done. After leading a goofy parade, we returned to our area and set to work building the most legit brush-pile you’ve ever seen.

Not really, but we all felt pretty great about it.

When I look back on that day, I see how I could have been better prepared. If I had felt concerned about my lack of knowledge, I should have resolved that by asking more questions and looking for information before setting out to lead. However, I am also really pleased with our day. Only in retrospect can I appreciate that being straight-forward with my crew about my lack of expertise demonstrated that it’s okay to not have the answers, and that by including my youth in my “journey for the answers” (literally: walking around watching other people work) I encouraged them to take the initiative to seek out answers and ask for help. A little floundering led me to the discovery that I can be a capable leader, and I began to grow the confidence that I needed to fill that role.

I felt a lot of satisfaction at the end of that day. I was happy to have had the opportunity to teach my crew about hand tools and field safety while producing two hefty brush-piles. I was also happy to be able to teach them why the small task we were doing was important and how it contributes to the larger goal of restoring a habitat. Most of all, I was happy to spend the afternoon getting to know my youth crew members, and listening to them laugh and joke with each other.

And the rest of the term flew by...

A big thank you and good-bye to my crew members, Angel, Amanda, Abdi, Xang, Shaunna and Vasia.

I’m so glad to have been able to lead such a fun, friendly, smart group of young adults. You all have challenged and supported me, and I can only hope that I have done the same for each of you. I sincerely wish you all the best in whatever future you decide to pursue.