1) When were you in the Corps, year and program?
Rochester Cedars 2011, Field Crew
2) Where did you work?
3) What kind of work did you do?
We were the “bluff crew” and primarily did prescribed burning, invasive and tree removals, and rattlesnake surveys on the bluffs throughout SE Minnesota. We also worked on clearing brush, trees, and invasives along trout streams and trails, and we spent a fair amount of time on “spike” trips, especially to South Dakota to help with prairie restorations.
4) Were there any particularly memorable or challenging experiences?
I certainly remember cutting down my first tree. It was a mixture of adrenaline, excitement, relief, and fear combined with the realization that I’d be cutting down trees for a good portion of the next year. I still have the “cookie” from my first tree that my crew leader made for me.
5) What was/has been the most personally meaningful part of the experience?
I think I most enjoyed the people. The young people in Conservation Corps are really amazing and dedicated to improving the environment and natural resources. Also, the many partners we worked with from the Minnesota DNR and federal agencies, along with private land owners and other partners all provided great learning opportunities, experiences, and connections. I still connect with a handful of contacts at the Bureau of Land Management and the US Fish and Wildlife Service. I also ended up marrying one of my crew mates 6 years after our Corps experience together!
6) Did your experience shape your current career/life in any way?
Certainly! Before the Corps, I knew I wanted to work in “the environmental field,” but I only really understood what that meant in a very broad sense. Working in the Corps helped me realize the many varied facets of environmental work, and I ultimately learned that I wanted to help coordinate a range of restoration and also that community-involvement and environmental education were almost more important to me professionally than doing field work (although I did have a lot of fun using a chain saw and doing burns!). I really felt an affinity for the environmental nonprofits we worked with, and I ended up going back to graduate school for my MS in nonprofit management because of my experience in the Corps. I now work for a nonprofit doing economic, environmental, and social redevelopment in the heart of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
7) What is your current position? What do you do?
I work for an organization called Harbor District, Inc. in Milwaukee, and my title is Manager of Water Projects. I actually work on a variety of environmental and social projects, though, ranging from improving public access and water recreation to coordinating with partners on large-scale restoration projects to leading educational kayak tours through Milwaukee’s Harbor District.
Similar to the Corps, I work with partners in all levels of government, the private sector, other nonprofits, and with academic researchers and students. I am currently working on a project where we install submerged habitat retrofits into steel sheet piling bulkheads which line much of Milwaukee’s urban rivers and waterways to improve aquatic habitat connectivity. The habitat structures are built by local technical high school students, and the project is building off of a habitat research project being conducted by the School of Freshwater Sciences at UW-Milwaukee. We just received funding through a national grant program to carry out the program for four more semesters with our partners, and hopefully the program can be replicated in other urban areas. We are also collaborating with partners to restore the last remnant wetland in the Milwaukee Estuary to provide improved fish spawning habitat.
I really enjoy the variety in my work – we have a four-person staff, so I also help with day-to-day tasks needed to keep a small organization running. On any given day, I might process invoices for our projects, teach high school students about fish habitat in the urban environment, meet with City planners and engineers, and then lead a kayaking tour with the public.
Without my experience in the Corps, I know my professional career path would have gone in a very different direction. I learned from many great mentors in the Corps, and of course after as well, that if I wanted to work in the environmental field and do meaningful work, that I’d have to stick with it, and that advice has certainly paid off.