Project Highlight: Alex Bahr

By: Megan Zeiher, Recruitment Coordinator

The warm spring sun has finally arrived and Alex Bahr, who serves as a Crew Leader for the Youth Outdoors 3 Crew (YO3 Adult Crew), is happy to welcome it into his work days.

“My favorite part of the Youth Farm project was finally leading youth on a Saturday’s worth of field work. They had been asking for it and were happy to get their hands dirty and do something physical under the sun for a change after the long winter.”

Youth Farm, an organization based in West Saint Paul, recently acquired ownership of a small plot of land that had previously been used as a pollinator garden and wanted the help of Conservation Corps Minnesota & Iowa to transform it into a community farm. They hope the community farm will eventually supply fresh vegetables to the people of the neighborhood.

The Phalen Youth Crew, under supervision of the YO3 Adult Crew, was sent to the location to not only transform the space but also help with Youth Farm’s community lunch.

“We started with the usual stretch circle and learned a new game (called “Wah!”) from AJ, a Youth Farm staff member. After that we spruced up the garden, set up tables for the community lunch, removed the garden edging, transplanted the remaining plants from the garden into plastic pots (including A LOT of lilies), removed large stones that were used as a walking path, and reorganized their tool shed.”

The crews were actually so productive they finished early and were able to play ultimate Frisbee as a group and hang out in the sunshine amidst other everyday crew duties. Alex is looking forward to the remainder of the youth spring term, more sunshine, and the drop in tick activity as summer arrives!

All Things Invasive

By: Caroline Fazzio

Spring is here (hopefully), and the ice and snow are quickly becoming distant memories. Soon the outdoor scene so iconic to Minnesota will kick up once again, and the DNR’s invasive species program will be right on its heels. For the past couple weeks, the Department of Natural Resources has been ramping up in preparation for the summer field season. Though the recent snow has stalled the coming of summer, preparations are still active behind the scenes, particularly in the invasive species program where I spend my days. Aquatics have been busy permitting lake treatments, training watercraft inspectors, and preparing field equipment, while Terrestrials have been holding statewide trainings on how to identify pesky noxious weeds. In the meantime, I have been travelling around the Twin Cities in an attempt to learn as much as I can about all things invasive.

 Terrestrial noxious weed banners. Palmer Amaranth is already invading farm fields in southern MN. Giant hogweed is not known to be in the state.

Terrestrial noxious weed banners. Palmer Amaranth is already invading farm fields in southern MN. Giant hogweed is not known to be in the state.

The first stop was in Chaska, MN on the western side of Minneapolis. Some of my fellow IPs from DNR Central Office and I attended a Weed ‘em Out workshop to learn about terrestrial noxious weeds and how to identify them. Gathered in a lower room of the Chaska government court building, we learned about such undesired species as giant hogweed, a plant that is (thankfully!) not yet found in MN, but can grow up to 15 feet tall and causes such severe blistering when coming in contact with skin that people have been known to wear hazmat suits just to interact with it.

 MISAC Meeting

MISAC Meeting

The second stop was in Shoreview, MN on the northern side of Minneapolis. I attended a meeting of MISAC (Minnesota Invasive Species Advisory Council), a coalition of different federal, state, local, and non-for-profit organizations working towards managing and preventing the spread of invasive species. This group, responsible for authoring the Minnesota Invasive Species State Management Plan and co-organizing the Upper Midwest Invasive Species Conference (which is happening this October in Rochester), works to collaborate invasive species prevention and management action at a statewide level. The meeting I attended included discussion on ways to promote invasive species action through community-based behavioral changes, and discussion on what the group hopes to achieve in the long run.

Check out MISAC’s website here.

With ice-off nearing, and snow-free seasons just around the corner, it feels a bit like the calm before the storm for the invasive species program; if that calm is full of frantic scrambling to get everything prepped and ready for the upcoming outdoor season. After all, the best defense against invasive species is getting ahead of them from the start.

 The plant with the white flowers growing well above the head of the man is giant hogweed. The protective clothing is not a fashion statement—this plant causes severe burns and should not be trifled with. We don’t want it in MN.  *photo courtesy of New York State Department of Environmental Conservation

The plant with the white flowers growing well above the head of the man is giant hogweed. The protective clothing is not a fashion statement—this plant causes severe burns and should not be trifled with. We don’t want it in MN.

*photo courtesy of New York State Department of Environmental Conservation

Snowed-in Slumber Party

By: Ben Kleist

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The Spring Blizzard of '18 will go down in history as the day that many victories and defeats were had. Like many of the corps members, the perilous journey I was embarking on tested my limits in ways I had not imagined. Days before, a winter storm was predicted to wreak havoc (and sadness) across a large portion of the Midwest.

The day began normally, picking up my crew at the rec center. The wind and snow had been picking up, but in relation to the impending weather, it was literally the calm before the storm. The day progressed and the conditions continued to worsen, until it was near white out. As we returned to the rec center the youth found out many of the parents were having trouble just getting there. The last person ended up leaving about 45 minutes late due to the snow. I finally put my steel stallion of a van into drive and ATTEMPTED to drive away, but quickly realized I was not going anywhere. I tried everything short of putting it in neutral and pushing, but to no avail. I informed the others of my bleak situation, only to find that they were facing similar issues.

I would have been stuck and this story would have been over, but Tess saved the day. Through the wind and snow, she came trudging, shovel in hand. The shovel made quick work of the snow near the tires, and with a hard push the van leapt forward like an ambushing leopard. The victory was short lived, as it quickly became apparent the van could not make it up a gentle slope just out of the rec center parking lot.

I maneuvered the most tedious 180 feet of my driving career, and then promptly got stuck 100 feet later. For 45 minutes I struggled to get my van to move, until a stranger with an old jeep and tow rope saved me. The kind stranger pulled me backwards far enough to get a rolling start at the gentile incline ahead, and I slowly but surely started to accumulated momentum. From that point I knew I had to keep moving, or risk getting stuck again. The next 50 minutes would be a grueling test of the human spirit and determination. Skating over the Minneapolis streets in 4,500 lbs. of cold 15 passenger van fury revealed a post-apocalyptic scene of utter chaos. Cars, vans, busses, and even emergency vehicles scattered the landscape like buckthorn stumps after a massive timber massacre.

Finally I saw the towering smokestack of the Hamms brewery and was able to breathe a sigh of relief. As I pulled in to the parking lot, I saw many other brave crew members working together to dig out cars. A smile made its way across my face as I rolled past in my Ford spaceship. Although I had made it back, I was not out of the woods yet. The lot would be plowed by Tuesday, and any cars in the way would be towed. Additionally, the van needed to be parked but most of the spots were buried under 1 to 2 feet of heavy wet snow. With just 3 shovels, but exemplary teamwork, we were able to park the van and a few other vehicles in about an hour. While I was shoveling, I quickly became aware that my land-boat like Avalon probably wouldn't make it home. Turns out that other crew members didn't want to brave the elements as the sun was setting, so we decided to just stay at a nearby crew members house. A night of stories and board games were to follow, thus concluding the harrowing tale of the Spring Blizzard of '18.

Project Highlight: Aislyn Keyes

By: Megan Zeiher, Recruitment Coordinator

Winter feels a little longer for AmeriCorps Member, Aislyn Keyes, who serves as the Education and Outreach Corpsmember for Monarch Joint Venture (MJV).

“It's been a long winter without the monarchs, and I'm anxiously awaiting their return. I get weekly updates on their migration from Journey North. It's really exciting because I've never followed their migration so closely. I'm also looking forward to doing more public outreach—things start to pick up in the spring.” 

Although spring and the return of the monarchs have been on her mind, Aislyn’s work doesn’t halt in the winter months. Her days are filled with creating and posting social media content, writing news updates and website content, sending out educational materials and outreach handouts, informal communication with the public on monarch conservation efforts, tabling at public events, giving presentations to interested groups and whatever else comes up depending on MJV’s current projects. MJV’s newly released Monarch Conservation Efforts Map is one of those projects she’s had the opportunity to take the lead on this winter.

“Before the release of the map, I did a lot of data organization. I condensed multiple spreadsheets filled with a mixture of relevant and irrelevant information, and ended with five spreadsheets, organized identically, to be uploaded under the five categories. I helped with web and social media content associated with the map, as well as sending out the survey. Now that the map is posted, I'm in charge of approving new entries and coordinating with organizations that have multiple projects to contribute to the map.”

The map is a resource helping users visualize the education, outreach, habitat work, research, citizen science and other conservation activities happening for monarchs across North America. The map also provides a unique opportunity for people passionate about monarch conservation to connect. Users can zoom or search their zip codes to connect with local efforts. Since monarch conservation is always progressing, the map is a living resource and anyone can contribute their projects.

“Beyond its utility in connecting people, it serves as a constant source of hope and inspiration as we strive to stabilize the monarch population and migration.”