By Melissa Gearman
In May of 2013 I started out my time with Conservation Corps in their Apprentice Academy program, having just spent the past several months cooped up in a florescent-lighted cubicle. Needless to say I was ready to get outside and get a little dirty. I guess you could say I was ready to restore some resources and change some lives. For two and a half years I did just that.
Conservation Corps has given me experiences I could never hope to find and lessons I could never hope to learn anywhere else. To say the Corps is full of diverse working experiences would be a gross understatement. Here is just a short list of the projects I’ve been a part of: woody obstruction removal, buckthorn, oriental bittersweet, Japanese barberry, prescribed burning, garlic mustard, cedar revetment, willow staking, rain garden maintenance, trail maintenance, community garden upkeep, seed sorting, campsite maintenance and river access maintenance. Even in a single week my crew would jump from buckthorn removal to spraying Japanese barberry to working a prescribed burn to scouting for invasive species.
I was lucky enough to spend two terms working on the Water Trails Crew. I found myself on numerous lunch stops laying in the sun on a sandbar along a river wondering how I got so lucky to get such a job. Where else could I say that I chainsaw from a boat? Or that I get to travel and camp all across Minnesota? In no other job have I done such cool-sounding work and met such interesting and unique people. Throughout my time on water trails there are definitely people that stand out, such as Judy the free candy bar hardware lady from Lester Prairie, or the hippie retired teacher from Montevideo who had a great story about why he called the Pomme de Terre the Pomme de Terror. I will forever remember the people I have met along the way.
Most importantly, the Corps has taught me many, many valuable lessons. It has taught me the importance of teamwork and trust, especially when you have someone operating a chainsaw a foot from you on a small boat. I’ve learned what it takes to be a good leader: confidence even if I don’t know what’s going on, patience particularly when something goes wrong and flexibility to change plans at the drop of a hat (and a continuous supply of chocolate also helps). Finally, I learned the importance of hard work and making a difference in the world. The work Conservation Corps does is not easy but it is definitely worth the time and effort when you see the positive impact this organization has on those lucky enough to join.