So, what do you do?

by David Minor, web and social media specialist/ AmeriCorps member with MN DNR Scientific and Natural Areas through Conservation Corps’ Individual Placement program – 9/18/2019

The Conservation Corps individual placement program is a great opportunity. I am placed with the Scientific and Natural Areas Program at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. I am self-directed most the time and I get to develop projects that interest me. It has been a pretty great year. One thing that has been interesting, and sometimes kind of funny, is trying to explain to my friends and family what I am doing this year, and the program I’m serving with.

Sometimes, there are people who hear “AmeriCorps” and think it’s the other service program, where you travel abroad to serve for two years. They ask where I am going and when I am leaving. The Peace Corps is a great program, but different from AmeriCorps.

A lot of the time, people aren’t familiar with Conservation Corps MN & IA (CCMI), but are familiar with AmeriCorps! Usually then, I get to explain how CCMI and AmeriCorps work together, and how CCMI is different from other AmeriCorps programs. No, I’m not teaching in a classroom, but I know a lot of people that have done those AmeriCorps programs and they had great experiences there too!

If people are familiar with Conservation Corps, they usually aren’t familiar with the Individual Placement Program. They usually associate the Corps with the great projects that crew members do in the field. So, I get to share a little bit about the Individual Placement Program, and explain how Conservation Corps places members with partner organizations, such as the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Then I get to talk about my position at the DNR with the Scientific and Natural Areas Program.

People generally do not know about the Scientific and Natural Areas Program, so I get to talk about the important work this program does to protect Minnesota’s natural resources. (Check them out, they are really cool).

My position can be complex to explain to people, I’m sure other Corps members can relate. People have varying degrees of familiarity about these programs and organizations, so I’ve developed a pretty quick elevator pitch to explain it, which usually gets the trick done. I’m sure many people have a similar, one sentence, explanation for what they do. This is how mine usually goes, “I am serving a year in AmeriCorps, as a Conservation Corps individual placement at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources with the Scientific and Natural Areas Program.” Then we go from there, depending on what they have questions about.

Here I am, at a Scientific and Natural Area, wearing a Conservation Corps / AmeriCorps badge, with a Department of Natural Resources car. Photo by David Minor.

Here I am, at a Scientific and Natural Area, wearing a Conservation Corps / AmeriCorps badge, with a Department of Natural Resources car. Photo by David Minor.

The miscellaneous days of summer

by Caroline Fazzio, central district crew leader/ AmeriCorps member – 8/1/2019

The cold front hailing the coming of a thunderstorm. Changing weather often cause changes to a day’s scheduled project.

The cold front hailing the coming of a thunderstorm. Changing weather often cause changes to a day’s scheduled project.

As the sun rose above the trees of St. Croix State Park one early July morning, its rays spread across a sea of tents assembled in a large field. Amidst the dew droplets and the morning haze began to stir the inhabitants of those tents—members of the Northwest, Northeast, and Central district field crews. These crewmembers were waking up to another day of their mid-year retreat, the first retreat with combined districts in many years. The mid-year retreat, a week-long gathering of all crews within a district for team-building, reflection, and relaxation, is just one of the many miscellaneous projects undertaken by crews during the summer time.

Indeed, summer is a time of randomness, especially at Three Rivers Parks Forestry where one week alone consisted of at least five different projects: weeding tree nurseries, preparing nursery seedling beds, hand pulling wild parsnip, spraying oriental bittersweet, and cutting and treating buckthorn. Summer projects are influenced daily by factors such as the weather (thunderstorms and high heat indexes are constant concerns) as well as growth cycles of the many species we work with. For instance, it is important to spray wild parsnip before it goes to seed, which means spraying it in early summer, and switching to a later plant as the summer months progress. Therefore, every day has the potential for a new project or site.

Other miscellany of summertime include new additions to crews as a second wave of Corps members are often hired in May, a rise in curious observers as parks fill up with more people enjoying summer, and break times that can be enjoyed outside rather than bundled in trucks. The result of all this is a solid balance of shenanigans and hard work. As summer continues, more projects from conducting vegetation plots to pulling spotted knapweed will fill the long sunny hours. Thankfully, amidst the chaos of continually changing sites and tasks, there are still quiet moments to enjoy the lush Minnesota summer.

The view over Elm Creek Park Reserve during July.

The view over Elm Creek Park Reserve during July.

Waging war on wiley weeds

by Kira Pollack, Youth Outdoors AmeriCorps member – 7/24/2019

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Sometimes this job is daunting. We suit up every day preparing to tackle a job larger than us, often literally. Even when we aren’t cutting trees our work towers over us. It’s an awesome show of success in the face of competition; a feat of sun-fueled ingenuity… and also very, very frustrating.

Sometimes we jokingly refer to the colossal Canada thistle, gargantuan stinging nettle, and other titanic weeds as job security, but stripping away the humor reveals an underlying worry-- that what we’re doing isn’t enough to stop the spread of reed canary grass or slow the tide of common tansy or leafy spurge or garlic mustard or (I could go on, but I won’t).

My coworkers and I are goal-driven people, hopeful but not naive. The work we do today won’t rid the state or even the county of any one species, though we’ll give it our best go. Instead, our work shrinks the load of our successors into increasingly lighter burdens. The job I’ve inherited is smaller, and I get to show that progress to my youth. This is what persistence looks like.

So, when the threat of burdock looms, we remember that big problems require big solutions, and each day we show up, we contribute.

As of July 22, 243 Corps members serve in Minnesota and Iowa. My Youth Outdoors coworkers and I make up 22 of the 208 Minnesotan cohort and all together we have logged an impressive 11,475.34 acres of invasive species management. That’s one category in an endless dropdown menu of activities. That number grows daily!

So tonight I rest easy, but tomorrow I lace up my steel toes and get back to the fight. We’re winning.

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Weathering the weather

by Jaleesa Houle, crew leader/ AmeriCorps member, central district – 7/22/2019

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One of the most challenging parts of our job is taking on the elements. My crew spent the first few months of our term dreaming of warmer weather. Now that summer is finally here, the heat has brought several challenges of its own. As much as we all love being out in the sun, this past week was challenging as temperatures rose up into the 90s. My crew was tasked with building rain gardens, which is an extremely physical task. 

Rain gardens aid in improving nearby water bodies by capturing runoff and delaying its movement. This allows for more water absorption through plants, enabling the removal of harmful or excess chemicals before entering larger rivers or lakes. Rain gardens are a wonderful tool for managing water quality in urban environments. They also involve intensive digging and heavy lifting. 

We would get to our work sites around 8am most mornings. By 8:01, we were all drenched in sweat. Water breaks got more frequent throughout the day as the heat and humidity continued to rise. As a crew leader, it is my responsibility to monitor my crew for signs of heat exhaustion and dehydration. My crew was on top of drinking water and took breaks as needed to cool off and avoid overexertion. It was a long week that tested everyone’s limits. At the end of the week, though, we all felt a little more physically fit and completed the construction of 8 rain gardens. 

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