Lily Morris’s experience in the Conservation Corps led her to an adventure of a lifetime, working part of the year in Antarctica. She works as a steward at McMurdo Research Facility, where 200 to 1,200 National Science Foundation employees come from all over the world to work every year. They conduct weather balloon research, core sampling, waste removal and diesel mechanics.
The Conservation Corps Apprentice Academy is a young program but showing great promise for participants such as Colin Snowberg, who served with the Anoka Conservation District in 2011 and now works as a project scientist for an environmental consulting firm in the Twin Cities. During his apprenticeship, he focused on water quality management in the county, including streams, lakes, wetlands and groundwater. His work involved collecting water samples, gauging water levels, conducting biomonitoring and constructing rain gardens as well as managing data and mapping with GIS software.
Twenty years ago, Paul Schmidt joined the Corps as a crew leader with the then-MCC summer program, returning the following two summers as assistant site director and then site director of the program. He worked from a base at St. John’s Landing in St. Croix State Park, which is still home to the Summer Youth Corps. From there, Schmidt worked for a couple years with the Northwest Youth Corps in Oregon, then a long stretch with the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps in New England.
Mary Hammes’ path to her current job with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency traversed three Corps programs: she served on a seasonal Superior National Forest crew in 2009, a Central District water trails crew in 2010 and as a Central District field specialist in 2011. During her three years in the Corps, she accomplished a wide variety of work – from maintaining trails to clearing river snags, and from suppressing fires to hiring and training crew members – in locations all over Minnesota.
Ryan Lisson’s first connection to the Corps was through Youth Outdoors (YO) when it was a pilot program in 2008. He served the following two years as a YO leader and field crew member, working out of the Central District in Saint Paul. YO AmeriCorps members serve in unique positions within the year-long field crew program, working eight months of the term as youth leaders afterschool and on Saturdays during the fall and spring and full-time during an eight week summer session. During the remaining hours they serve in a more traditional crew. Ryan worked with crews of urban high school youth members to conduct natural resource management work, education activities and job skills training. In the field, he worked throughout the metro area on habitat improvement projects, prescribed burns, native prairie plantings, oak stand regeneration projects and, of course, invasive species removal.
In 2010, Julia Slocum served on a Conservation Corps Iowa crew based in her hometown of Ames, but traveled all over the state and into Minnesota, Illinois, Nebraska and North Dakota. Spiking most of the time, she got to see many amazing places such as Teddy Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota and the Sand Hills near Valentine, Nebraska. But her favorite places were the little pockets of woodlands, hidden goat prairies and somehow-magically-preserved prairies in the midst of cornfields.
Danielle Butenhoff was one of four Home Energy Squad members during the program’s inaugural year in 2009. Working through Neighborhood Energy Connection, she visited homes where she installed basic energy-saving measures ― such as weather stripping, efficient lighting, water heater insulation blankets, programmable thermostats and water-saving showerheads and aerators ― and checked the attic insulation levels and the age and efficiency of the mechanical systems. Because the program was new, she got to work with program staff to develop the program’s practices.
Matt Kearn’s time served in the young adult program from 2006-2008, based in Duluth, drastically shaped his career and life. During his Corps service, he spent a lot of time constructing and maintaining trails, conducting wildlife surveys, removing invasive species, restoring areas in Grand Portage and firefighting. Matt especially loved the challenge and reward of spike trips: working on and exploring the North Shore of Lake Superior and the Superior Hiking Trail, and spending time in the BWCA restoring a CCC cabin. He also formed important relationships, which he described as “some of the greatest people I have been lucky enough to know,” many of which remain his closest friends.
During his four years of service in the Corps, Sean Wickhem did everything from documenting scenic easement parcels by canoe to leading youth in community service, training people how to camp to installing solar panels. From 2009-2012, he spent three years in the Youth Outdoors program and one year as a single placement with Rural Renewable Energy Alliance as a solar air heat specialist. During his years with YO, Wickhem found challenge and inspiration working with youth and watching them grow and mature, many from backgrounds very different from his own. “It was inspiring to see the youth come together as a team and develop into active participants in their communities,” he said.
Though only a couple years out of the Corps, Andrew Moua has become an eager and supportive alum who has taken a heart of service to his current work. Moua served as a co-leader in 2012 with the Youth Outdoors program, so he spent part of his year as a field crew member and part of it leading youth. In the field, he mainly worked to remove invasive species at sites that included Shingle Creek, Lake Calhoun and Theodore Wirth Park. With youth, he taught environmental education and job skills field training. Some of their work took him back to the neighborhood where he grew up, places formative in his own youth, and he found it particularly satisfying to work on preserving and restoring those areas.
During nearly 20 years of pursuing careers and raising a family, Craig and Patty Acomb have maintained the strong commitment to public service they formed during their Corps service in the 1990s. Though they did not meet in the Corps, their service overlapped at several points and they were eventually married in the company of many Corps members at Itasca State Park, following an intense month working together on recovery efforts after the 1997 Red River flood.
Matt Skogen remembers clearly his first encounter with Conservation Corps, on the campus of the University of Minnesota Duluth, and how pivotal it was for his life. He was a biology student in 2008 when he learned about the Corps at a job fair and was immediately taken by the idea of working with kids outdoors.
Lisa Cassioppi first served in the Corps when young people were watching MTV and plugged into their walkmans. From 1988-1993, she served as a crew leader on a Grand Rapids roving crew and as a county crew coordinator in northern Minnesota. She remembers the work as being very similar to what crews do today: everything from emergency response to park and outdoor recreation improvements to invasive species management.
Brad Blackett considers his time in the Corps as the beginning of his career in the outdoors. He served on a Youth Conservation Corps crew in 1975, at Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge in northern Minnesota near Detroit Lakes, primarily building trails and restoring habitat.
Sky Davey served several years as a crew leader for the Summer Youth Program in the late 1990s, when the Corps was a program of the Minnesota DNR. He especially remembers the smell of the cabins three weeks into the summer, big powerful lightning storms ...
Anna Sidie-Slettedahl remembers doing a lot of hard work on the Superior Hiking Trail (SHT) when she served in Minnesota Conservation Corps in 2007, on a Lake Superior crew based out of Duluth. Besides the SHT, her crew built and maintained ATV/snowmobile/horse trails, removed invasive species, improved timber stands, constructed outhouses, surveyed goshawks and fought wildfire.
Francis Mikesh was barely 16 when he signed on for the Civilian Conservation Corps at Fort Snelling in 1936. From there he was sent by train to Cheban, Washington where he spent the next year working in the hills of the state’s northern region. Francis remembers cutting lots of trees to build a road, sawing logs with a bucksaw, picking up rocks behind a bulldozer, building a bridge across a ravine and fighting fire. Though the work was hard, “it was the best place I could be at that age,” he said.
Thomas Hark’s Corps experience stretches back to the federal Youth Conservation Corps, where he served as a crew leader in 1979 in Young Harris, Ga. It was an experience that changed his life. Hark applied to Minnesota’s state youth program a few years later and was hired as the camp director in 1984 and 1985.