When were you in the Corps, year and program?
I was on the 2015 Water Trails Crew, also known as Central Roving. This was one of the full term field crews (young adults ages 18-25).
Where did you work?
Our shop location was the Hamm’s Brewery in St. Paul, MN. From February to mid-April, my crew worked on local projects like buckthorn removal. From April until October, we went all over the state, traveling to different scenic rivers designated as State Water Trails. We went everywhere from the Des Moines River near Jackson, MN, to the Whitewater River north of Winona, MN, to the upper Mississippi north of Itasca State Park, and the Little Fork River near Tower, MN. We spent a whole week on one river, and camped nearby at state and county parks, and one time even camped at an organic farm near Lac Qui Parle State Park and were fed fresh cooked meals for dinner.
What kind of work did you do?
During the non-water trails season, we worked on invasive species removal, riverbank restoration, indirect fire suppression, tree plantings, rain garden maintenance and installation and nursery work including native prairie flower seed harvesting.
During the water trails season, we spent every week cruising rivers looking for obstructions like beaver dams and log jams. Depending on the river level, we either boated upstream or paddled down. Some days, we’d clear 10 jams, and other days we wouldn’t hit a single one. This meant sometimes we’d paddle down some of Minnesota’s most beautiful rivers, and never even have to bust out the chainsaws. When we’d find an obstruction on the river that was impassable, we’d either have to remove it via chainsaw from the boat, or park the canoes, put on the waders, and stand waist deep in fast moving water while chainsawing a half-submerged cottonwood. This was by far, absolutely the coolest job I’ll ever have! Trying to explain the art of rooster tailing to others is so hard.
Were there any particularly memorable or challenging experiences?
At the very beginning of water trails, during the training week on the Rum River, I became absolutely terrified that I was in over my head. The skills and coordination it takes to drive an outboard motor boat (with my seemingly-useless-most-of-the-time left hand) up a narrow and winding river, and having to lean over and chainsaw from the side of the boat, were something I wasn’t sure I could acquire. I called my Mom, and a little choked-up, told her I wasn’t sure if I could do this. She told me to give it to the end of the week, and to not do anything I wasn’t comfortable with. Low and behold, I smashed the boat into the river bank later that day, and nothing happened. The boat didn’t spontaneously combust, no one flipped overboard, and not one of the crewmates got mad at me. Skillwise, we were all in the same boat! Everyone was so incredibly supportive, and for the rest of the summer, I’d find that I had my own personal crew of cheerleaders. Cheering me on to become a master of chainsawing from a boat, and backing up a trailer, and navigating winding/narrow channels. With a good crew, you can really do anything.
What was/has been the most personally meaningful part of the experience?
The most meaningful part of the Corps experience is by far the sense of community that you gain. Brian Miller and Dorian Hasselman warned us that we’d all be best friends by the end the year, and that certainly came true. The experiences we went through together are akin to those of traveling abroad together, going through trauma together, fighting together. We were there for each other through injuries, breakups, family deaths, and general work hardships that come from working and living outdoors for 6 months. Not only did our crew become a group of forever friends, but we also felt closer to the communities we worked in. My crew was fortunate to have traveled to parts of the state that are so underappreciated and places that we would not have otherwise ever visited. One particularly charming little town we visited was Montevideo. The folks were so friendly, and were doing everything they could to protect their rivers amidst vast portions of ag land.
Did your experience shape your current career/life in any way?
My experiences with the Corps made me want to extend this feeling of community to my life after the Corps. I have since created the Women in Natural Resources group. We are trying to create a community that encourages and empowers women to choose and thrive in natural resource careers. We are trying to provide professional networking opportunities to young women who may be starting out their careers in natural resources, and also help build leadership and technical skills. I draw from the Corps all the time to help lead this group of women. Recently I held a Truck and Trailer Woman Led Workshop, in which I taught members how to back up a trailer. This was a big hit, and completely owed to the training I received from my time with the Water Trails Crew. I also draw on my experience with the Corps in my leadership style. I watched each crew leader tailor their leadership style to each member, as we all learn differently. Some need/want lots of direction, as others may learn best from a hands off approach. I try to gauge individual personalities, and provide as much or as little assistance as needed to encourage folks to push themselves into learning and doing new things.
A side note, Women in Natural Resources (WiNR) recently visited CCMI’s central crews for their education day. We shared our mission and goals, and invited everyone to join us in some of our upcoming events. It was such an honor to be able to come back and share some of the knowledge and inspiration that I received from the Corps, with it’s new members. I hope to stay involved with CCMI as an individual, and as the founder of WiNR.
Additionally, my passion for the Corps and its mission has inspired me to continue on with the work. Even though I have been trained to be a Forester, I missed working with people. This is why I am heading to Vermont to work with the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps (VYCC), instead of heading to the woods to inventory trees.
What is your current position?
I have studied at the University of Minnesota for the past 2.5 years, and will be graduating this May with a B.S. in Forest and Natural Resource Management, and a minor in Environmental Science, Policy and Management.
I have also held many part time jobs while in school including a Seasonal Horticultural position at Three Rivers Park District, and have worked as an Undergraduate Research Assistant for the Forest Ecology Lab in the Department of Forest Resources within the University of Minnesota.
Additionally, I have held two Forestry internships with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, and the United States Forest Service.
What do you do?
After I graduate I am going to Vermont to work as Program Team Lead for the VYCC Farm Project. They partner with the Vermont Health Care Share (HCS) that uses the VYCC’s farm grown foods to provide healthy vegetables to those who have diet-related illnesses or food insecurities, and have been prescribed a more nutritious diet. I will be helping develop, coordinate and facilitate projects and classes for youth crews as they grow and harvest the vegetables to be delivered to HCS patients.