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!

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!

Getting things done with Detroit Lakes DNR -Wildlife & our NW District

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) Area Wildlife office in Detroit Lakes, MN currently manages 52 Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) encompassing 26,995 acres in Mahnomen, Norman, and western Becker counties.  In addition to managing the WMAs, they work closely with county NRCS offices, watershed districts, local and state conservation groups, state and federal agencies, and private landowners on various wildlife projects. 

One of those collaborators is our Northwest District! In 2016, two notable projects were completed with the help of our NW crews.

  • Tree Removal:  Woody trees including invasive European buckthorn, cottonwood, box elder, and ash were treated or cut on 6 WMAs, helping to maintain the native grassland ecosystem.  On three of those WMAs; Hubbel Pond, Beaulieu, and Warren Lake, the DNR Roving Crew assisted with cutting, piling, mulching, and burning.  With funding from an Outdoor Heritage Fund (OHF) grant Conservation Corps Minnesota (CCM) cut and sprayed buckthorn on 3 WMAs improving 143 acres of prairie habitat.
  • Seed Harvest:  With the help of local cooperators, CCM crews, and the local Seed Consortium, 5,970 pounds of high quality local origin native grass and flower seeds were harvested on local WMAs.  All will be reseeded onto existing and newly acquired WMAs to restore and enhance prairie habitat in the Detroit Lakes Management Area.

Learn more about Detroit Lakes area wildlife.

The Mississippi and its unseen tributaries

“The Mississippi River towns are comely, clean, well built, and pleasing to the eye, and cheering to the spirit.”

– Mark Twain

To impose on a reader affirmations concerning the importance and historical significance of the Mississippi – our continent’s longest river – seems no more necessary than asserting the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Well documented are its contributions to commerce, history, literature and recreation. But less frequently considered is its contribution to the economic vitality of the cities through which it passes. Of course, in bygone days it played a huge role in transporting goods, and that continues. Today, “Ol’ Man River” is also the source of new opportunities that generate revenue, create jobs and enhance quality of life.

   The Mississippi is an important part of our state’s identity, and a clean, vibrant river is good for commerce and recreation – including a growing tourism trade. 

The Mississippi is an important part of our state’s identity, and a clean, vibrant river is good for commerce and recreation – including a growing tourism trade. 

Notably, the river has seen growing tourism. Cruise lines report increased bookings, as tourists – many foreigners among them – come to gather first-hand accounts of this important contributor to America’s past and to enjoy its majestic views as a backdrop. They’re drawn to upgraded ports of call like St. Paul, a city that greets them with a beautifully restored and modernized Union Depot and a bustling urban scene just a few steps away. Restaurants, bars and public spaces are also embracing the river, as locals start to discover for themselves what the tourists are coming to see.

So, beyond the important environmental reasons, when Conservation Corps assembled more than 100 volunteers to clean up the Mississippi at several sites just south of St. Paul, they were helping the river and helping the city, too. This annual Adopt-a-River event gave them plenty to do: They cleaned up enough trash to fill two 30-yard dumpsters – imagine a 14-foot by 14-foot room with walls eight feet high – that included large Styrofoam blocks, many bags of plastic bottles and more tires than in any previous year. (Also unearthed was a 1939 Chicago newspaper with accounts of an aggressive German leader seizing Czechoslovakia and otherwise upending the status quo in Europe.) The refuse list went on to include chairs, mattresses, fishing line and lures, shoes, old mop heads and plastic bottle caps.

Crew members report Styrofoam is particularly burdensome. One piece will disintegrate into six when touched, and the wind will quickly disperse some number of those. They’re not gone, though, and those shards will continue to besmirch the landscape in their new location or float downriver to compromise the scenery somewhere else. 

   This art – from debris pulled from the Mississippi and its banks – was created in 2012 and is now located at the DNR office in Saint Paul.

This art – from debris pulled from the Mississippi and its banks – was created in 2012 and is now located at the DNR office in Saint Paul.

To raise awareness of the problem, from 1994 through 2014, the Adopt-A-River program commissioned artists to make outdoor sculptures from found trash, which were exhibited near the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) building at the Minnesota State Fair and later put on permanent display at various locations.

The impact of the Mississippi reaches far beyond it banks. Help from Conservation Corps protects its ecosystem, but with a clean river and clean environs, it also helps the river pay proud homage to its history and be an asset to cities eager to capitalize on the new opportunities it provides.

You can volunteer for this year’s event, the 26th Annual Great Mississippi Riverboat Cleanup, on Thursday, June 15th from 8am to 2:30pm. Visit our website for more information and to register.

From its inception in the mid-1980s, the DNR Adopt-A-River program educated Minnesotans about caring for and cleaning up rivers and watersheds. Since then, 90,000 volunteers at more than 3,200 cleanups have removed 6.5 million pounds of trash from 11,000 miles of Minnesota’s public waters. In 2016, the program transitioned to Conservation Corps Minnesota & Iowa, a long-time partner of the Minnesota DNR.

Women of the Corps

By: Kou Yang

As of recent, the “green industry” has shown a tremendous rise in employment and economic growth. According to the US Department of Energy (DOE), employment rates for renewable energy and energy efficiency jobs have grown roughly 18-20% within the past few years alone (EESI). An outstanding 2015 statistic shows that, “3,384,834 Americans were directly employed by the clean energy industry…[while in comparison] an estimated 2,989,844 Americans were directly employed by the fossil fuel industry (EESI).” In the United States alone, it seems that people are gaining a greater interest and concern for climate and other environmental-related issues.

Although it is a great leap forward to see such a rise in employment, recent statistics show that women hold only 12% of the millions of jobs in the green energy industry (Forbes). According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, women make up 47% of the total U.S. workforce, but are much less represented in particular science and engineering occupations (USnews). For example, about 34% of environmental engineers are women (ngcproject).

The lower representation of women in the Eco-industry does not necessarily mean a lack of success, however. Eco-heroines from all over the country (and world) exist, and serve as influential role models for women of all ages and backgrounds. Majora Carter, founder of Sustainable South Bronx, works to improve the environment and the economic prospects of South Bronx while promoting environmental justice to neighborhoods that have been burdened with environmental hazards for decades ( Barbara Allen, at 71 years old, became the oldest person to hike all 2,180 miles of the Appalachian Trail. Lastly, 2004 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and Founder of the Green Belt Movement, Wangari Maathai, has employed thousands of African women and planted over 40 million trees since 1977 (Sierra Club). These inspiring women are only a few of the many influential women around the world who have made a great impact to themselves, their communities, and the environment.  

Haley Nomenan_Buffalo National River.jpg

Get to know women of the Corps

As a way of commemorating the women who have served and continue working for Conservation Corps, we asked some alumni and staff members what it means to be part of a green organization and to pursue a “green” career. The answers we received were quite diverse showing that women of any background can be interested in pursuing a career in STEM.

Both Maneena Xiong and Kate Marquis served as field crewmembers in the Central District in 2016. Maneena said, “I joined the Corps because I wanted to try something new and different from what I’ve always been told to do”. It is extremely powerful to see someone break stereotypes and do something “nontraditional”. Similarly, Kate joined the Corps out of the simple interest in trying new things. Despite having little to no experience in the field, both members had an inspiring and meaningful Conservation Corps term.

Kate mentions, “This was something I knew nothing about and wanted to know more. My opinions and beliefs reflecting green jobs quickly changed as I worked with the Corps more and more.” Maneena felt highly empowered as a woman working in the Corps. “It was definitely an experience of a lifetime…I was more willing to get out of my comfort zone and didn’t feel like I was being held back…I don’t know what I’ll do with this experience, but I’m glad I got it.” The empowerment that comes with the Conservation Corps experience is definitely something that allows women who may be new to this field to grow and develop a greater love for natural resources.

Katie Petzel, who served as a crewmember in the Northeast District, and a crew leader in the Central District provides a different perspective:

I grew up in a family that has farmed the same land for close to 150 years and has, in the past few decades, made the switch from conventional to more sustainable forms of agriculture. Having seen this change take place on my own land, I know that it is possible to farm sustainably and economically. However, without the education provided by our state extension and land management organizations we would not have known how to make that switch. Being a part of that mechanism to bring knowledge and resources to our land users is what made me want to pursue a "green job."

Being able to make a difference on her own land helped to enrich Katie’s love and passion for the natural world.

Lauren Vilen, Conservation Corps’ Northwest Assistant District Manager, pursued a green job to “contribute to positive behaviors and [gain] the opportunity to educate others.”  There seems to be a number of reasons to pursue a green job, whether it is to try something new, work intentionally to impact the land, or to teach others. The Conservation Corps has given the opportunity for all of these women to do just that through hard work and service.

Challenges women face in "green" careers

With any career, comes challenges that one must face. Women in “green” jobs face stereotyping and the assumption that they are incapable of performing the work that a man can. Lauren mentioned dealing with a lack of respect and opportunity from her male colleagues:

Some people still behave as if this field is for men.  They may be projecting this attitude unconsciously, but it still affects the way they interact with and communicate with women. I find that often when I care about an issue in the workplace and am vocal about it, some individuals assume stress or an emotional reaction is the cause of my “speaking up”. They don’t take it seriously.

We can all agree that while this field is male-dominated, it is not a job for only men. This is not meant to de-merit the men in the field, but to acknowledge that without the diverse perspective and skill set of women, Conservation Corps, and other “green” organizations would not be what they are today.

The future impact

As we know for most, time with the Conservation Corps is short-lived. For some, their “green” experience ends after a summer or year-long term, while others return for a second or move on to further develop their career elsewhere. The lucky few will continue their work with Conservation Corps as a staff member, training and teaching young adults and teenagers the skills and knowledge for a career in protecting natural resources.

As the Northwest Assistant District Manager, Lauren’s career has evolved into management and leadership of young adults. She hopes to further her career in ways that can benefit the young adults and staff members working with them. For Lauren, everyone possesses different learning processes and styles. She hopes to educate and teach staff members how to most effectively interact with young adults in our rapidly changing society.

Both Kate and Maneena enjoyed running a chainsaw for the greater good, but do not currently work a green job. However, as Corps alumni, they have grown and learned a great deal of skills and knowledge to help foster a potential career in the following years. Kate also invests interest in getting involved with some volunteer work as the seasons change.

Katie mentions that her post-Corps career plans took an unexpected turn. She went from Conservation Corps “Lumber Jane” to a long-term substitute science teacher, and is on track to get a full-time teaching certification. Although Katie is no longer out in the field restoring habitat, she is making an impact in a different way. She states, “I’ve replaced restoring resources, with instilling the knowledge of how to live with minimal impact on them.” There is no doubt of the importance for today’s professionals to spend countless hours in the field. However, it is of equal—or even greater—importance to instill into the youth the importance of protecting and valuing the world’s natural resources.       


Although, historically shown to be male-dominated, women who are in STEM-related careers have shown to be impactful and successful at their job. It is of utter importance for women to continue to exemplify their leadership in order to be seen as influential role models for a new generation of environmentalists. With the ever-growing opportunities that the green industry offers, the alumni and staff member of the Corps are able to give advice to other young women who dream of or are just beginning to pursue a career in STEM.

Kate Marquis: The only advice I have is to not give into the stereotypes that men are superior to women. Women can do so much and should be treated as equals to men. I consider myself a Feminist and believe that I can do anything a man can do. I do not let others treat me as less because I am not less. I hope that other women can see themselves as that too and not let others treat them unequally, especially in the work force.

Katie Petzel: My best piece of advice would be to take advantage of every opportunity to prove your worth. I have found that people make unconscious assumptions about the skills and knowledge that women would have in this field, and women (more so than men) need to prove that they are skilled and proficient in the tasks necessary to perform the job.

Lauren Vilen: Be aware that stereotypes and discrimination still exist, and don’t be afraid to speak up about it, or for yourself, even if it makes people uncomfortable.  By not bringing it into the conversation, it enables others to continue to ignore their preconceived notions and avoid critical self-reflection of the biases we all have based on the culture we grew up in.

To conclude our segment, some words of encouragement and wisdom: When you take a green job, you become part of an important effort to protect and restore our environment. Whether you help reduce energy usage, greenhouse gas emissions, or water consumption; conserve natural resources; or minimize waste and pollution, you can take pride in knowing that your work is contributing to the health and sustainability of life on our planet (