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.