Water Trails: "So, what do you do?"

By: Erin Bjork, 10/9/18

"So, what do you do?"
"I'm an AmeriCorps member, and most days I run chainsaws on boats."
"You what?!"

Since last spring, this is usually how my conversations go when meeting new people and describing my work on the Minnesota Water Trails.

To zoom out to the big picture, the Water Trails consist of stretches of river (or lakeshore in the case of the Lake Superior WT) designated for recreation by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and maintained by the DNR and three Conservation Corps young adult crews. If you have a canoe, kayak, or paddleboard, you can register it with the DNR and use any of the trails (many are appropriate for motorboats as well). My favorite Water Trails to recommend are the Snake and Kettle, two absolutely beautiful rivers that give the feel of the North Shore but are only a little over an hour from the Twin Cities. If you explore the Water Trails on the DNR website and take a look at WT maps, you'll see that each trail has marked boat launches for canoes or motorboats, campsites, rest areas, and notes on the river/lake.

Some of our responsibilities as Water Trails crews are to perform maintenance on the campsites and launches: from mowing to installing new signage, even occasionally creating new campsites or taking down old ones. On rivers with portages, we do the same--the aforementioned Snake and Kettle Rivers have a couple of long portages that we visit once a year for mowing, signage checks, and cleaning up their campsites (with breaks to snack on wild blueberries, if we hit the right time in the season).

These maintenance activities are important to the Water Trails experience—making sure signage is up to date and correct, and providing clean, well-kept campsites and portages help river users have a great trip. However, the real gem of Water Trails service is our snag removal work: what I always call "chainsaws on boats." In a nutshell, if a tree falls across a river, or a logjam accumulates, it can be dangerous and difficult for paddlers, so we cut safe paths through or around these snags.

When I first heard about snag removal, my 2017 term Crew Leader called it "underwater chainsawing" and I thought he was kidding. Turns out that's really what we do, spraying water with our saws as we cut away hazardous branches under the surface of the water. In a jonboat, we operate our saws directly from the boat, working as a team to keep the boat in position and make safe cuts. When we canoe, we have to get out and stand in the river to operate our saws--their motors are powerful enough that they could easily drive (and tip) the canoes!

One of my greatest challenges is analyzing and manipulating the physics of the trees we work on. On land, gravity and tension determine how a tree will fall or roll. In the water, buoyancy and current come into the picture as well, multiplying the chances of getting a saw pinned in a branch if a cut isn't made just right. Exploring and confronting these forces, and working on such a variety of projects, gets me excited about my service term every day.

While much of our work is for the benefit of recreation, we also keep in mind the ecology of the rivers we visit. We try to keep our cutting minimal and all woody debris we cut or dislodge is left in the river to serve as important habitat for fish, invertebrates, birds, and all the wildlife surrounding these river habitats. I often fish trash and recycling out of logjams for proper disposal, almost invariably finding at least a couple mismatched flip flops or Crocs, cans and bottles, and inflatable balls.

I am honored to have had the opportunity to ensure great recreational experiences for others, learn about water resources, and spend my days in some of the most beautiful settings our state has to offer. As a kid who never went camping, having the opportunity to live in a tent all summer long has truly been a dream, and I am so thankful that the Corps took me on as a member last year and allowed me the chance to lead a crew this 2018 term!


Connect at Fall Career Fairs

By: Megan Zeiher, Recruitment Coordinator, 9/17/18

The Recruitment Team has finalized fall career fairs and we are looking forward to visiting with you at the events listed below. We’re not coming to your school or area? Reach out with questions about our programs or recruitment at any time by emailing recruit@conservationcorps.org. To learn more about opportunities we are currently accepting applications for, take a look at our apply page. You can also sign up for our Corps Opportunities email list and be among the first to know of open positions!


Fall 2018 Career Fairs:

Agriculture Career Fair
Southwest Minnesota State University
Wednesday, September 19, 2018
9:30-12:00 p.m.

Fall Career & Internship Fair
The University of Nebraska at Omaha
Thursday, September 20, 2018
11:00-3:00 p.m.

Agriculture & Business Career Expo
North Dakota State University
Tuesday, September 25, 2018
1:00-4:00 p.m.

CLA Internship & Career Fair
University of Minnesota Twin Cities
Wednesday, September 26, 2018
10:00-3:00 p.m.

Agricultural Sciences & Natural Resources Fair
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Thursday, September 27, 2018
10:00-3:00 p.m.

Career Day
NW Missouri State University University
Tuesday, October 2, 2018
11:30-3:00 p.m.

Head of the Lakes Job & Internship Fair
University of Minnesota Duluth
Tuesday, October 4, 2018
10:00-2:00 p.m.

Agriculture & Life Sciences Career Day
Iowa State University
Tuesday, October 9, 2018
9:00-3:00 p.m.

Fall Career Fair
UW-La Crosse
Wednesday, October 10, 2018
10:00-3:00 p.m.

Career Opportunities Fair
St. Catherine University
Thursday, October 11, 2018
1:00-4:00 p.m.

Native American College Fair
University of Minnesota- St. Paul Campus
Tuesday, October 16, 2018
10:00-2:00 p.m.

Government & Nonprofit Career Fair
University of Minnesota Twin Cities
Friday, October 19, 2018
10:00-3:00 p.m.

Hamline University
Tuesday, October 30, 2018
11:00-1:00 p.m

Volunteer/Non-profit Career Fair
Luther College
Thursday, November 1, 2018
10:00-3:00 p.m.

Diversity & Internship Fair
St. Cloud State University
Friday, January 25, 2019
1:00-4:00 p.m.

Project Highlight: Three Rivers Wildlife Crew

By: Megan Zeiher, Recruitment Coordinator—August 24, 2018

The Three Rivers Wildlife Crew participated in a butterfly survey on Thursday, August 23 at Crow-Hassan Park Reserve in Hanover, Minnesota. The crew, along with staff from Three Rivers Park District, arranged themselves in a long line spanning a specified section of prairie. They walked as a group with nets in hand, searching out the regal fritillary.

The regal fritillary (speyeria idalia) was introduced to the park three years ago, starting with a total of 24 butterflies. Habitat loss and fragmentation have greatly affected the species, which once spanned from Maine to Montana and south to North Carolina and Oklahoma. Crews have been involved in the surveys over the years to help monitor the regal fritillary’s success in the park.

As the group walked the length of three different sections of prairie in turn, they kept record of the regals both seen and caught. With the caught regals, the group determined the sex before releasing them back to the prairie. Monarchs were abundant and being able to spot the regals in the mix is a learned skill. The group communicated to one another as the butterflies swirled around them, and were able to catch several in their nets.

Adult regals are present between late June and early September with the males emerging a few weeks prior to the females. This was the group’s second survey of the year, and they were looking especially for the female regals this time. Many of the caught males were more tattered than their female counterparts—but all were a joy to see. Throughout the survey, crew members had smiles on their faces, for it’s not every day that the sun is shining and they have butterfly nets in-hand!

Project Highlight: Eimy Quispe

By: Megan Zeiher, Recruitment Coordinator—July 20, 2018

Eimy Quispe serves as a Conservation Apprentice with the Carlton Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD). She recently learned how to check groundwater monitoring wells, a project that happens mid-month in order to evaluate the status of the aquifers they feed from. Through this process Eimy is able to report on the water table levels.

“We uncap the well and chalk up the measuring tape (this is done so that we have a better reading on where exactly the water level is). From there we pay attention to where we believe the tape has reached the water and record the number to which the top part of the well is at and then start to reel in the tape until we observe the water mark and record this number as well. Afterward, the tape is cleaned up and the well capped to move on to the next one. There are four locations within Carlton County where we do this.”

Eimy’s schedule is always changing and no two days are structured the same—she is currently working on several different projects! They include: culvert inventory, community outreach, event planning, well-monitoring, stream water quality checks, working with partner organizations, helping her site supervisor lead an intern and any tasks that come up on a daily basis.

The Kettle River Watershed Tour is one of outreach events Eimy has been a part of this summer. She helped prepare materials, assisted with planning the tour and is currently working on a virtual tour using Arc Story Maps so the information is available to the general public, in addition to the event attendees. She is also looking forward to an upcoming BioBlitz at one of the stream restoration sites.

“This event will engage the public on the relationship between macroinvertebrates, plants and stream health—while explaining why the stream was restored.”

Although having multiple projects happening at the same time can be a challenge, Eimy believes it has taught her time-management and prioritization skills. Her favorite part of being a Conservation Apprentice is being exposed to the variety of natural resource management planning aspects and learning what it takes to get projects started.

“I think this is something the general public is not usually exposed to, and I’m very happy to be a part of it. I also love to see the relationship between several factors in the natural world. For example, how water quality can be affected by zoning regulations, forested areas, species living in a stream, etc. I think this is extremely interesting and important to learn about.”