Challenge by choice

By: Lauren Waldrip

Pictured: Hiking amidst the pines affected by the 2011 Bastrop Wildfire March 2016 | Bastrop State Park, Bastrop, TX

Pictured: Hiking amidst the pines affected by the 2011 Bastrop Wildfire

March 2016 | Bastrop State Park, Bastrop, TX

My name is Lauren. I am a member of the Bridges Crew in the Youth Outdoors program, and I’m from San Antonio, Texas.

The Sunday before I left Texas it was over 80° F, and I was enjoying a nap by the pool. One week and 1,250 miles later, my boyfriend and I were walking our dog, Cash, through a snowy park in Saint Paul.

I can’t tell you how many frozen puddles I gleefully stomped on my first week in Minnesota, but I can tell you it was all of them.

I decided to join Conservation Corps primarily to gain hands-on experience in conservation work.

In 2014, I graduated from The University of Texas at San Antonio with a BA in Anthropology and a minor in Biology. Like most people, I bounced around a bit but broadly I was interested in behavioral ecology and human dimensions of conservation. I knew I eventually wanted to go on to graduate school, but I thought I should take some time to decide what exactly it was that I wanted to do in the future.

I was also searching for an opportunity where I could try a variety of projects and practice new skills.

Like blogging!

By mid-March, the Youth Outdoors 2017 crew had already

  • undergone an intro to The Art of Chainsawing,
  • practiced our skills at identifying native plants and trees,
  • completed certification in First Aid and Mental Health First Aid,
  • become licensed Pesticide Applicators,
  • practiced Youth Development curricula,
  • and engaged in a week-long Wildland Fire Training assembly at Camp Ripley.

So, when the opportunity to blog for Conservation Corps presented itself (thanks Bailey!), I thought,

Hey, I like to write. I should try this!

It will be something fun and new, and allow me to work on my writing skills.

My goal for myself this term- what I hope to achieve through this experience- is to get out of my comfort zone.

Pictured: Youth Outdoors Hooligans engaging in the brutal sport of Ninja March 2017 | Saint Paul, MN

Pictured: Youth Outdoors Hooligans engaging in the brutal sport of Ninja

March 2017 | Saint Paul, MN

Here is where I’m going to introduce the mantra of Youth Outdoors:

CHALLENGE BY CHOICE

“Choose your challenge”

“Find your level of optimal anxiety”

Technically, this is a job-training program, and, for most, it’s a way to find out if a career in Natural Resources is the right choice for them.

Yes, definitely- I undoubtedly relate to that. Surely there must have been some greater motivation for my decision to move across the country other than ‘profession-experimenting’. After all, I hadn’t willingly left the city where I was born before now.

My underlying driver for joining the Conservation Corps was the need to challenge myself. I want to do the things that I would normally say “no” to, to persevere through the things that I could easily excuse myself from. I have a tendency to let myself off the hook. As such, here’s another work-mantra, from a previous job, that still manages to haunt me:

 If you want to do something you’ll find a way, and if you don’t, you’ll find an excuse.

*Shakes fist at sky* Curse you, Dylan Patten!

One of the biggest challenges I’ve encountered so far has been learning to use a chainsaw.

Don’t get me wrong, actually using a chainsaw is great. It’s mentally and physically exhilarating. Learning, however, is a true test of character.

Our chainsaw-days became an excellent source for funny stories during my Skype dates with the bestie. From finding the scrench* you never realized you lost, to sacrificing your saw to the laws of physics (also known as ‘pinching your saw’), there has never been a shortage of learning experiences.

* SCRENCH /sk- ren(t)SH/ (noun)  

1.     A tool, used for the maintenance of chainsaws, that combines two wrench sockets and a screwdriver.

I wanted to challenge myself, and sure enough, I got what I asked for.

My favorite part of Conservation Corps has been the people I’ve met.

This sounds like such a cliché. And saying that also sounds cliché…CLICHÉCEPTION.

But really, I feel so grateful for the people I spend my work-days with. There is a great variety of personalities, backgrounds, and interests. Some days I get to spend entirely with my Bridges crew, learning more about one another as we complete our work. On occasion, we are joined by other crews and sharing their company is really uplifting.

Additionally, a perk to being a part of the Youth Outdoors program is that we spend several days a week in ‘co-lead pairs’ with a crew of 6-8 youth members. Youth crew members are high-school students who work with us outside of school-hours to gain work experience and learn more about natural resource work. This part of the job is particularly great because youth members have a totally fresh perspective. I get a ton of great questions from my crew that remind me of the importance of work that we do, and these days always end up being incredibly fun and engaging.

Pictured: The El Rio Youth Crew after a field day spent clipping Corydalis incisa April 15, 2017 | Como Park, Saint Paul, MN

Pictured: The El Rio Youth Crew after a field day spent clipping Corydalis incisa

April 15, 2017 | Como Park, Saint Paul, MN

 So, what’s to come over the next eight months of my term?

Right now, my crew is working on an invasive species removal and habitat restoration project at Lebanon Hills Regional Park in Eagan, MN. This is a continuation of the work completed by the Bridges Crew last fall. We’re cutting down and treating Common Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica) with herbicide in order to restore the area to the Oak Savanna habitat that existed before humans modified the area for ranching and farming.

Following the end of this project and the end of our Spring term with our Youth Crews, we will be moving into the “Bridges” component of our year. This is a summer program aimed at teens interested in a future career in the environmental field. Over the summer, we will participate in a variety of experiences meant to expose members to different career opportunities and help them form meaningful, professional connections. This program ends with an immersive three-week camping trip to Superior National Forest in northeastern Minnesota. Check out more on Bridges here!

Beyond Bridges, our 4-person crew will meet our final group of Youth Crew members in the fall of 2017. We will continue working on important natural resource projects in the Twin-cities and Dakota County area until the term comes to a close in December.

And after that? Well… let’s save that for another post.