Maintaining a high standard

Impressions count – and they last. Minnesota has a well-earned reputation as a great place to enjoy the out-of-doors, and part of the mission of Conservation Corps Minnesota & Iowa (CCMI) is to help the state keep that lofty standing. 

After a day on the Mississippi, hiking or enjoying other recreational activities, no one wants to encounter a campground that’s been neglected, without expected amenities or otherwise in disrepair. Lynzi Daly, 23, leads a young adult field crew that recently did a three-day sweep of eight Mississippi River campgrounds in the Bemidji area. They loaded canoes with chain saws, lawn mowers, other landscaping equipment and assorted supplies. At each campground, they cut downed trees into firewood; cleaned fire pits, stocked amenities with supplies (toilet paper, for example) and otherwise made each a welcoming place. The job even included removing graffiti.

These campground facelifts might not be glamourous work, but Lynzi appreciates their importance.

The eight-campground cleanup included manicuring around various amenities.

The eight-campground cleanup included manicuring around various amenities.

“Camping – and the recreation that happens around it – is about the total experience,” she says. “CCMI and other groups do great work restoring shorelines, building rain gardens, eradicating invasive species – the list goes on – but that’s all compromised if the camper has a bad experience somewhere along the line.”

Lynzi sees a bigger picture, too.

“The crew and I are learning new skills, having new experiences and gaining a real respect for the land and the environment,” she continues. “We’re also learning to work with others, and – most important – we’re learning about ourselves.”

 

Maintaining a high standard

Impressions count – and they last. Minnesota has a well-earned reputation as a great place to enjoy the out-of-doors, and part of the mission of Conservation Corps Minnesota & Iowa (CCMI) is to help the state keep that lofty standing. 

After a day on the Mississippi, hiking or enjoying other recreational activities, no one wants to encounter a campground that’s been neglected, without expected amenities or otherwise in disrepair. Lynzi Daly, 23, leads a young adult field crew that recently did a three-day sweep of eight Mississippi River campgrounds in the Bemidji area. They loaded canoes with chain saws, lawn mowers, other landscaping equipment and assorted supplies. At each campground, they cut downed trees into firewood; cleaned fire pits, stocked amenities with supplies (toilet paper, for example) and otherwise made each a welcoming place. The job even included removing graffiti.

The eight-campground cleanup included manicuring around various amenities.

The eight-campground cleanup included manicuring around various amenities.

These campground facelifts might not be glamourous work, but Lynzi appreciates their importance.

“Camping – and the recreation that happens around it – is about the total experience,” she says. “CCMI and other groups do great work restoring shorelines, building rain gardens, eradicating invasive species – the list goes on – but that’s all compromised if the camper has a bad experience somewhere along the line.”

Lynzi sees a bigger picture, too.

“The crew and I are learning new skills, having new experiences and gaining a real respect for the land and the environment,” she continues. “We’re also learning to work with others, and – most important – we’re learning about ourselves.”

 

Summer Youth Corps: Fluberance

By: Teresa Butel

In the spring of 2014, I applied to be a crew leader for Conservation Corps MN on a whim. My sister was working in St. Paul at the time for an organization that worked in the same building as the Corps and she recommended that I look into their summer program. SYC was the first job I applied to without having personal connections to tell me about what I was getting myself into or to recommend me to the organization. I didn’t know anything about the program beyond the Corps’ website’s advertisement to “provide hands-on environmental stewardship and service-learning opportunities” and my sister’s impression that “they seem to have a ton of fun” from her limited creeping on their work in her shared office building. To my amazement, I was accepted. I began joking with my parents about how I was heading back to summer camp, which, in some ways, I was.

My memories of summer camp are fleeting but surrounded by the happy haze of recalling how the one or two weeks I spent living in cabins with complete strangers upended my daily routine. Fortunately, it is a feeling I am able to share with other people I went to camp with or really almost anyone who has ever been to camp. The feeling that ‘camp is magic’ resonates with so many people that it has become cliché. The feeling is unique for each person who experiences it; yet, it is one of the most common descriptions of camp.
Many camps develop distinct language in order to avoid describing such an incredible feeling in generic terms. For SYC, the word is fluberance.

To be clear, SYC is not actually a summer camp. Instead, it is a three-month program that hires around 140 high school students and 20 AmeriCorps members each summer to tackle conservation projects in state and national parks, forests, and recreation areas across Minnesota and neighboring states. High school students are hired for one-month sessions and assigned to crews with two AmeriCorps leaders alongside seven to eight other crewmembers. For the first few days of each session, these crews come together to train at SYC’s base camp in St. Croix State Park. This base camp at St. John’s Landing has been the home of the program for over 30 years. Each session, 70 high school students arrive at St. John’s from across the Midwest to live with complete strangers in cabins. For many youth, as it was for me back in 2014, this is the first job they’ve gotten outside of a family connection. For some, it is their first job period. 58% of program participants come from greater Minnesota. For some, it is also their first time meeting people from a different background – backgrounds they may have only learned about through the media. I have heard students shocked when people from the cities are not like Keeping Up with the Kardashians or when people from small towns are not like Duck Dynasty.

The introduction to diverse people that happens at camp strengthens when the youth are sent out to accomplish a variety of natural resource projects on assigned crews. The small size of each crew allows youth to receive an incredible amount of professional development while working directly with their AmeriCorps supervisors. The small size also allows youth to really get to know everyone on their crew. At the end of the 2015 program, one youth told the story of how they were initially waitlisted, until the day the program actually began and then got a surprise phone call saying they were hired! The youth was not mentally prepared nor particularly enthused about the prospect of working. They also had autism and were concerned about struggling with social cues as folks on a crew spend significant time together – working, learning, playing, and living in close community for four weeks. For most of the session, that youth adopted the refrain, “GUESS WHAT, I don’t care,” when asked about work or engaging in other activities. Nonetheless, their crew leaders and peers recall “bombarding them with enthusiasm” every day until the end of session when this youth shared about how much the program had meant to them. Wrapping up their reflection, they said, “and GUESS WHAT…” to which his crew shouted in unison “I don’t care” – he paused and corrected them, “no, I do care.”

As our world becomes increasingly regulated by technology, SYC holds onto a value of disconnecting from the outside world in a way that allows these month-long communities to truly support, challenge, and grow together. In some ways the camp culture can feel exclusive – especially if you end up alone around several people reminiscing about camp. The memory sharing can make it feel like only the people who experienced the program understand the feeling of fluberance. In spite of that hazard, I believe that fluberance in its mixture of fun and flexible exuberance has an incredible power to bring people together. In my third summer with the Conservation Corps, I am still awed by the moments where I witness youth joking with people they would have never met outside of SYC. I have seen fluberance aid in the transformation of youth and staff alike, allowing them to embrace enthusiasm, to foster inclusion, and to leave behind their feeling of needing to be cool. As one of the youth I worked with in 2014 asserted with an end-of-session poem,
“Nothing & definitely no one is excluded from the great feeling of what we call fluberance.”

Our favorite places to get outdoors

Check out where our staff love to spend time outdoors! Where are your favorite places to get outside? GO EXPLORE!

Carrie Danner: My favorite outdoor destination is the bank of the Chippewa River on which my uncles cabin sits in Ojibwa, Wisconsin. It’s my favorite place because it’s the perfect place for fishing, tubing, canoeing, and every time I go I see at least 3 bald eagles and approximately one gazillion stars.

 

 

Brian Hubbard: Minnesota has world class parks and trails! My favorite place to hike with Monty and Vahti is Split Rock River Trail, Two Harbors, Minn. We love the trail, access to the river and awesome views! 

 

Dorian.jpg

 

 

Dorian Hasselmann: Bryant Lake Regional Park has a recycling container at all the tee-pads for my excessive “soda” consumption! It is also well marked, and has a good mix of open and wooded holes. Also, some of the views almost make up for the number of extra throws I need to finish a round of disc golf.

 

 

Megan Zeiher: Butterwort Cliffs Scientific and Natural Area: During my service term with the SNA Program of the MN DNR I got to visit several SNAs across the state and see so many of Minnesota’s most wild places, but this was the most enchanting of them all. The crayon box of colors certainly added to its charm, but the peaceful crashing of waves and solitude of the space is what makes it one of my favorite places to get outside.

 

Eric Antonson: My favorite place to get outside is the back 40 acres at my parents’ house. I grew up playing and exploring in those woods. Much of my sense of where I came from and who I am is rooted there. It is good for my soul to get back there and wander around. As John Burroughs said, “I come here often to find myself. It is so easy to get lost in the world.”

Jerry Buker: BWCA – Peace and quiet, and great scenery and fishing.

Hollis Emery: Lots of places I love, but one of my favorites is still Banning State Park. One of the first parks I really explored in Minnesota when I moved to Moose Lake to be part of the Corps. And also one of the first times I hung out with my husband. Of course, I really really love Lake Superior. However, it’s hard to beat some of my favorite places back home in California – especially the ocean and mountains! – and Southeast Alaska, which is a place I got to live because of working for another Corps!

Andrew Dale: Superior Hiking Trail! Challenging, rewarding, rugged and mostly remote, yet not too far from creature comforts (great restaurants and breweries) in Grand Marais, Two Harbors and Duluth. I spend every spare weekend that I can up there. In the photo my dog Sam and I are overlooking Bean Lake, a couple trail miles into Tettegouche State Park. Sam is looking the wrong way as usual.

Kellie Lager: I love living in Minneapolis, because there are so many great places to get outdoors right in my backyard! Lake of the Isles is one of my favorite places. That rainbow was captured perfectly over the shoreline, and the flowers and rushes are beautiful this year. But of course, I can’t get out of here without a single picture of northern Minnesota! The sunset in the last picture looks like fire over the snow.

Bailey Erickson: I love going to the North Shore! My favorite thing is hiking up creeks and rivers to find waterfalls. Being by the water makes me feel more content, creative, relaxed and happy. I also love picking wild blueberries on Palisade Head, having bonfires on the beach and kayaking on Lake Superior. Photo taken by my favorite travel partner, Paul!

Nicole Zyvoloski: One of my favorite outdoor places is Eagle Mountain, near Grand Marais. It's the highest point in Minnesota, and I love the view! Another spot near and dear to my heart is Cascade River State Park - the river, Lookout Mountain, and Lake Superior all in one :-)

Recreating Conservation

By: Kou Yang

A giant has fallen. It lays across the width of a river. Erosion, beavers, or—simply—time may have been the cause. To us, the number of generations since the thundering fall is unknown. What is known, however, is that a world of unseen beauty lies just beneath the surface. Millions of organisms of all shapes and sizes find shelter in, on, beneath, above, or around every inch of this tree. It is now called “home” to the critters that inhabit its wood. This single tree, if left undisturbed, will provide to the overall health of the river—who in turn—will help nourish earth’s land. Today, my crew and I will cut and relocate bits and pieces of this giant for safe passage.  

………………

I gaze into the broken reflection of the river below. The sun shows no remorse as it stares intently at the back of my neck. Starved mosquitoes swarm my body with hopes to nourish their own. The sweet juices of a river’s musk are nulled by the expansion of exhaust filling the air. No words are spoken. All that is heard are the deafened sounds of water, and the idle of the saw. 

………………

Habitat restoration was the bulk of my first year as a Conservation Corps member. Countless hours of buckthorn, months of aspen girdling, weeks spent scouting and harvesting native wildflowers. With such previous feelings of accomplishment, the idea of disrupting functional and crucial habitat for the joy of humans gave me feelings of unease. Is this truly conservation work? How much stress and hurt am I putting on this river? Questions, upon questions remained unanswered. For a while, the quietness, the independent nature of our work kept us distant from those who knew these answers. 

………………

A child sits in the bow. An older, wiser man in the stern. I am perched in between silently listening, speaking, and remembering.   

………………

He said to me, “you are the ones who will lay the stepping stone for future generations. You will give the opportunity to young stewards to return the favor and continue the fight”. At this point in time, conservation changed. It was no longer just countless hours of buckthorn removal. The picture was much larger, and I felt like such a fool to have not seen it before. Recreation became conservation. 

I learned of the true importance of our water trails work. Endless days of what felt like seem less cutting, broken bodies, and tempered minds. It all came together in the end. We maintain water trails so that others do not have to worry about the same risks and dangers we encounter. We strive for people of all ages to enjoy and experience the natural awe of our existing ecosystems. We do this in return of the duties and hardships that those before us endured. We conserve recreation today in light of a brighter future.  

………………

The sound of flowing river, everlasting. Kingfishers visit with greetings of laughter as they pass by the gunnels of our craft. Leaves of silver maple sway and dance to the melodies of the wind. The gentle crashes of paddles against the flow of current creates a song of sweet percussion. The air is warm, and fresh. An eagle—perched—flies from the tops of trees, guiding and leading our journey. 

Long Story Short: a music video

Here's a shout out to all the alumni and current members who've gotten lost in the woods at work. Here my band Second Story vamped up a tune I wrote about one of those experiences. Corps for Life!

"To the Conservation Corps of Minnesota for teaching me so many amazing things, introducing me to so many awesome people, and for sending me on so many incredible adventures. Long Story Short is a song about one of those adventures, and I am proud to say the Conservation Corps helped shape me into the man I am today." ~ Sterling

Written and performed by Second StorySterling HaukomTimothy KlineMike Terrill

Director: Psychedelic Saint
Producer: Mike Terrill
Editors: Mike Terrill, Sterling Haukom
Cameraman: Tyler J. Aug
Dolly Operator: Ben Birkey
Props: Phirum PheakLevi WaltzLaine Lovejoy
Glitter Reaper: Kellah Mason
Transportation: Jon Lohmann
Support: Sheila Terrill, Emilia and Desmond Terrill
Crime Fighters: Mikey DohertyEmily Pihart

Music Producer: Second Story and Erik Henriksson
Studio Engineer: Erik Henriksson

Also special thanks to William Forsman and Café Steam: Ya’ll rock, thanks for the water!

secondstorymn.com
facebook.com/secondstorymn
secondstorymn.bandcamp.com

Keeping Minnesota Waters Swimmable, Fishable- and Enjoyable

Ecology is a discipline very interested in “parts per million” of this and “desirable levels” of that. So, it’s somewhat surprising the litmus test for the “swimmability” of a Minnesota lake is very straightforward: Are people willing to swim in it? Because Minnesota has so many lakes (generally, either side of 12,000) and so many different types (e.g., “prairie pothole” vs. cold, deep glacial), the answer varies widely.

Ecologists have divided Minnesota into seven ecoregions. One, “Northern Lakes and Forests” – roughly the upper-right quarter of the state – contains 46 percent of the Minnesota’s lakes, and 92 percent of those are fully swimmable. Conversely, in the state’s southwest quarter, lakes are naturally shallow, high in nutrients and heavily impacted by agricultural runoff. There, 81 percent of the lakes do not support swimmable use. 

Tourism and recreation are a large part of Minnesota’s “brand”. They contribute more than $12 billion annually to the state’s GDP and support 245,000 private-sector workers – compelling reasons to assure folks on our lakes and waterways have healthy and enjoyable experiences.

Conservation Corps Minnesota & Iowa (CCMI) did its part recently on a project that supports yet another way to enjoy Minnesota’s natural resources. At a recent project at Wood Lake Nature Center in Richfield, CCMI crews stabilized one of the park’s 22 culverts to prevent sediment from washing into the marsh and the local watershed. This meant removing invasive buckthorn and hazard trees and planting 75 new trees and shrubs. The crew was particularly eager to remove several trees that were slowly sliding into the culvert, as displacing their root systems would ultimately inflict considerable erosion on the culvert’s banks. A second initiative focused on improving the Center’s prairie habitat, which joins the marsh and woodland areas as the park’s three types of environments.

The Center’s variety of habitats is critical to its educational mission that also includes learning about the importance of water quality, especially because the preserve serves as the base of the local watershed. And, thanks to CCMI’s efforts, they also can now easily see roaming wildlife – not possible when a thick wall of buckthorn had blocked the view.

Project funding was provided by a Clean Water Fund Grant and a three-year Conservation Partners Legacy Grant. Crews will return over the next two years to manage buckthorn regrowth.

Shawn Conrad: Alumni turned project partner

Member, leader, field specialist, assistant district manager and project partner. Shawn Conrad has worn many Conservation Corps hats. The latest? Assistant park manager and Corps project host. Shawn’s career trajectory is the perfect model for Corps success. What better person to host our crews than one that’s been through our program!

Inspired to join the Corps simply because “the work sounded cool,” Shawn started as a crew member in the NE district in 2001 and was hooked! Shawn has built his career over 15 years with Conservation Corps. In 2015, Shawn accepted a new position as the assistant park manager with the Scenic, Schoolcraft and Hill Annex Mine State Parks. Luckily, Shawn’s connection to the Corps didn’t end. He continues to work with crews as a project host. Last year, Shawn hosted a crew at Chase Point to prevent future erosion. See more about that project here.

Corps projects that stand out the most to Shawn are those where project hosts are involved and engaged with the crews. This perspective makes him an excellent project partner. “I get out to work with the crews as much as I can,” says Shawn. He is dedicated to providing the same kind of experience he got as a crew member.

Another major impact the Corps had on Shawn was the opportunity to gain teambuilding skills. As a self-proclaimed introvert, working as part of team did not come naturally to him. Being a part of a crew gave him confidence when working in groups, a skill that is essential in his work today. “The hardest projects I did with the Corps are what I learned and grew from the most,” says Shawn. “It puts any other challenges I face into perspective.”

Shawn loves his job with Scenic, Schoolcraft and Hill Annex Mine State Parks. He continues to wear a lot of different hats within his role as assistant park manager and is excited to wake up each day not knowing what work will bring.  He has taken the lessons he learned with the Corps and embraced them in his current role. Conservation Corps truly prepared him for this next step in his career.

On the way to a dream job

By: Shelby Kilibarda

What does service mean to me? I probably would have answered this question a lot differently two years ago, before I got my first position with the Conservation Crops of MN & IA (CCM). I think of service as giving back to your community in ways that will benefit their well-being and what they hold most dear. Connecting people to nature, giving them a reason to care about the environment, is what I enjoyed about working for CCM most.

During my first term with CCM, I got a position as a field crew member, where I restored habitat by removing invasive species, improved water trails by clearing tree snags, improved canoe-in campsites, constructed and maintained raingardens, stabilized stream banks/erosion control, planted native trees and fought wildfires. My second position with CCM was in the Individual Placement Program, where I was placed with an organization called Monarch Joint Venture (MJV). I assisted with outreach activities and events, created content for social media channels and the MJV website, assisted with writing news posts, responded to general inquiries about monarchs, planned meeting logistics and participated in monarch habitat monitoring activities. Below I have highlighted a few of my projects:

Although I am sad to be leaving CCM and MJV, I have secured a job with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) as a LTE Wildlife Biology and LTE Wildlife Technician. My dream job is to be a permanent Wildlife Biologist for the DNR, so I am on my way to making that happen! I thank CCM for helping me gain the experience necessary to land these amazing positions. I am excited for what the future holds!