Category Archives: Habitat Restoration

21CSC – Partners in Improving Public Lands & Waters: Great Basin Institute Helps Lake Mead National Recreation Area Prevent Spread of Invasive Species


Quagga Veliger Research

Lake Mead National Recreation Area (LMNRA) is, without question, one of the most important recreation destinations in the American Southwest. Straddling Arizona and Nevada, the site attracts more than 7 million visitors annually. These outdoor enthusiasts spent over $312 million last year, making Lake Mead one of the top 10 national park sites by visitor spending.

As one might expect, boating and fishing are popular activities at the 1.5-million-acre park. However, these activities make LMNRA vulnerable to the spread of aquatic invasive species (AIS). Quagga mussels are of particular concern; every year, they cause millions of dollars in damage by clogging pipes, destroying boat engines, and overtaking native flora and fauna.

To help control the spread of quagga mussels and other AIS, the park partners with Great Basin Institute – a 21CSC organization – to engage AmeriCorps members in conducting visitor education. Since the start of this partnership in 2011, GBI’s AmeriCorps interns have provided AIS education to more than 43,000 visitors annually.

Boulder Beach Launch Ramp on a “slow day”. Photo Credit – Marti Williams

During the summer months, 10 interns monitor launch ramps and inform visitors about park rules, water safety, and how to perform “Clean-Drain-Dry”: the practice of properly checking and treating recreational equipment that could encounter AIS and potentially spread such species to other locations. The interns also check boats for proper safety equipment and are trained to provide first-aid in a medical emergency.

During milder months, the interns continue to provide education, but also participate in a variety of other resource management and visitor service activities including: testing water quality, restoring habitats, installing and repairing fences, conducting biological and cultural resource inventories, and creating/managing interpretive exhibits.

Both in the summer and in cooler months, the service of the Great Basin Institute interns helps the national park service staff at LMNRA maintain healthy habitats, promote sustainable recreation, and create positive visitor experiences.

Carley Lowry planting creosote seeds at the Native Plant Nursery

The AmeriCorps interns gain a lot from this partnership as well.

“They get to develop their education and public speaking skills as well as practice a variety of other skillsets useful for conservation work,” said Simone Maule, AmeriCorps Intern Program Coordinator for Great Basin Institute. “They have the opportunity to work in cooperation with the National Park Service and see a lot of beautiful natural areas during their term of service. In addition, as AmeriCorps members, they receive an education award and loan forbearance as well as a modest living stipend.”

The annual visitor spending at LMNRA helps support more than 4,000 local jobs. To sustain these jobs, it is imperative to keep the park’s natural resource infrastructure healthy and capable of supporting consistent visitation. Thanks to the partnership between LMNRA and Great Basin Institute, the national park service can reach more people and meet its mission of protecting our public lands.

Thank you to those who provided information for this blog: Chris Warner, Director of Development, Great Basin Institute; Simone Maule, AmeriCorps Intern Program Coordinator, Great Basin Institute; Taylor Senegal, AIS Research Associate, Great Basin Institute

Frankie Szynskie (right) and Carley Lowry (left) on a boat trip to the Hoover Dam Photo Credit – Marti Williams

21CSC – Partners in Improving Public Lands & Waters: Anchorage Park Foundation at Anchorage’s Kincaid Park


Kincaid Park in Anchorage, AK is an easily-accessible wilderness retreat for city-dwellers. Located just south of the airport, the 1,400+ acre site offers spectacular views, designated areas for motocross and archery, and scenic year-round multi-use trails that wind through forested hills and along the coast.

In June 2017, a Youth Employment in Parks (YEP) crew with the Anchorage Park Foundation – a member organization of the 21CSC – and Anchorage Parks and Recreation worked to help stabilize and reroute a popular bluff trail from Kincaid Park to the Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge.

“The trail is used by many people accessing the refuge for outdoor and wildlife-related activities and was subject to erosion. The trail erosion threatened to destabilize the bluff. The trail descended steeply and caused debris slides into the wetlands below,” said Joe Meehan, Land and Refuges Program Coordinator for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. “This project made access to the refuge easier for park and refuge users, and it assured protection of the wetlands.”

From June 12 – 15, a crew of 24 YEP members helped restore the trail using a practice known as “sidehilling” or “bench cutting.” The crew cut into the sandy hillside, creating a relatively flat surface for the trail.


Additionally, to prevent any further erosion, the crew installed 65 posts connected by 700 feet of rope railing. This new fence closes off an old “social trail” and encourages visitors to stay on the more sustainable sanctioned trail. The crew also installed over 300 plants, revegetating the slopes along the trail. The roots from these plants will help keep sand and soil from falling into the wetland.

“[This park] provides important wildlife habitat which is important to the community…this area is used for a variety of wildlife and outdoor activities, including wildlife viewing, waterfowl hunting, photography, nature study, and general outdoor activities, such as hiking and winter skiing,” said Meehan. “[Partnerships like this] help protect the wildlife and habitat resources we manage by directly conducting these types of projects, and also by developing community stewardship…[This partnership] puts local youth to work in the parks and refuge to develop their skills, and to promote their community stewardship ethic to help manage and protect park and refuge lands.”

Brad Fidel, Field Educator for Anchorage Parks and Recreation, stated that the YEP crew members walked away from this project not only with skills to prevent erosion, but knowledge about why controlling erosion is important.

“They learned trail building techniques and teamwork,” said Fidel. “They also learned about the Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge and the importance of wildlife habitat.”

“I really love that I’m outside and I really like that I’m making the community a better place,” said Henry Joling, an 18-year-old crewmember. “We’re making Alaska even more beautiful than it already is.”

News reports on this project:

21CSC – Partners in Improving Public Lands & Waters: Conservation Corps Minnesota & Iowa at the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge

Established in 1976, The 14,000-acre Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge is one of fourteen Regional Priority Urban Wildlife Refuges in the United States. With trailheads located just blocks from the Mall of America, the site is an easily-accessible wilderness escape for residents of the Twin Cities and surrounding suburbs.

Visitors come to explore wetlands, forests and prairies; view wildlife; and partake in hunting, fishing and other recreational activities. The refuge is an important habitat for fish, reptiles, insects and migratory birds. To maintain healthy wildlife populations, and preserve the habitats on which these species depend, the U.S. Fish and Wild Service (USFWS) must collect and analyze a great deal of data. Regular surveys of habitats and wildlife populations help USFWS know where to focus conservation efforts, and document the effectiveness of management actions.

To help collect this vital data, USFWS partners with Conservation Corps Minnesota & Iowa (CCMI) – a 21CSC Member Organization – to place interns at the refuge.

“The Conservation Corps is where students and recent graduates can look for internships and seasonal jobs,” said Vicki Sherry, a Wildlife Biologist at the refuge. “It is a great place to advertise our positons since we know we can get confident applicants that apply through the Corps.”

This summer, 24-year-old Corrie Nyquist of Cokato, MN served as a CCMI AmeriCorps intern at the refuge. A graduate student in the Entomology Department at the University of Minnesota, Nyquist studied aquatic insects and trout food webs. Among other activities, her internship at the refuge involved a trout stream monitoring project, as well as surveys of various plant, insect and reptile populations.

Specifically, Nyquist studied how air and ground water temperatures affect when and which types of aquatic insects emerge. These insects are a critical food source for trout, so their abundance and diversity are essential to trout survival.
Nyquist was also involved in surveying for the endangered rusty-patched bumblebee. This involves catching live bumblebees as they forage, then releasing them after identification can be made. As pollinators, bees are critically important to many other species in the ecosystem.

Additionally, Nyquist helped the refuge restore several oak savannas. Following prescribed burns and clearing efforts, Nyquist monitored which plant species grew in the understory, and gathered data on the canopy cover.

“These surveys benefit the refuge by helping us identify where species of concern are located,” said Sherry. “They also help us document the response of our management actions, which is often required when receiving restoration grants…Through this partnership, we are able to complete our mission critical biological surveys and restoration monitoring. It enables us to provide quality internships that help our field station, but also give the intern the job experience to enhance their resume.”

After completing her master’s degree, Nyquist hopes to pursue a career in conservation, preferably working in aquatic environments.

As Sherry says to other resource management units considering partnering with a 21CSC organization:

“The Corps was easy to work with in partnering to provide internships to college students and recent graduates. They took care of the recruiting and administrative details, which enabled us to concentrate on providing a good field experience for the intern. It is a great program that provides a lot of support and training to the student. It is a real plus that the students can be eligible for an AmeriCorps award to go towards their education.”


Corrie Nyquist – reflection on interning at Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge

 It was a beautiful warm June day and the little stream was running crystal clear along its winding, cobbled channel. Brook trout darted into the shadows offered by a low bank of tangled tree roots and watercress. Meanwhile, an airplane flew noisily overhead, and for a moment, the lush, green silence of the ravine was split by the roar of the engine.

 This is the uniquely urban setting of Ike’s Creek, a small trout stream on the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge. I am privileged to be able to study this stream for my master’s degree in Entomology. During the last week if June, I was able to go out on the stream and officially begin my master’s project by placing temperature loggers. These loggers will stay out on the stream until April, documenting the seasonal temperature changes of the water, from the headwaters to the mouth.

The data from the temperature loggers will aid me in studying how the ground water inputs may buffer the stream’s water temperatures as the seasons change and allow for seasonal insect emergence. Placing the temperature loggers was a great step in my project. I have been planning the project and working with various partners on it since last March, so it is very exciting to see it starting to come together!

While most of the creek is on National Wildlife Refuge land, parts of it run through private property and land owned by the City of Bloomington. To begin studying this stream, I had to obtain permits from the city, private owners, and the refuge. It has been challenging and exciting to work with the different groups and see them come together on the common ground of wanting to know more about the stream. My work with the temperature loggers was also facilitated by the Minnesota DNR, which has historically collected data on the water temperatures and trout in the creek. Collaborating with the Minnesota DNR on this project has offered me the opportunity to work with another natural resource agency and broaden the scope of my study since I will also be able to participate in their annual Ike’s Creek trout survey.

Although my study has just been officially running for a month, there have been numerous opportunities for collaborative work at the local, regional, and federal level.  I am learning how to organize my work with the different partners and how to strategically plan data collection and sharing. So far, it is an exciting opportunity! Similar to the creek, it hasn’t always followed a straight course, but that has made the journey all the more engaging.

Young People Complete Projects to Reduce Phosphorus Pollution in Vermont Waterways as part of the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps

Vermont Youth Conservation Corps, a member of 21CSC, planting trees to improve water quality

With a grant through the Ecosystem Restoration Program, the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation has provided funding to support the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps (VYCC) as part of the 21st Century Service Conservation Corps to complete 11 weeks of water quality improvement projects throughout the state of Vermont during 2014.  The VYCC provides employment, training and education to young people ages 16-24 through the completion of high priority conservation projects around the state.

Phosphorus is one of Vermont’s greatest water quality challenges.  In Lake Champlain, phosphorus, combined with sediment, feeds toxic algae blooms, particularly in shallow sections of the Lake such as Missisquoi Bay, Saint Albans Bay, and the South Lake region.  These toxic blooms negatively impact public health, recreation, and our immediate enjoyment of the lake.

In 2014, as part of a multi-state, international effort to reduce the amount of phosphorous in Lake Champlain, the VYCC as part of the 21st Century Service Conservation Corps will field crews to complete water quality improvement projects including river and lake shoreline stabilization, planting of native trees to create riparian buffers, and the installation of engineered stone structures to help dissipate erosive forces in storm water impacted streams.  Projects have been developed in partnership with the Connecticut River Watershed Alliance, the White River Partnership, The Black River Action Team, the Lake Iroquois Association, the Winooski Natural Resource Conservation District, and the Vermont Lakewise Program.

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Youth protect public lands along St. Croix National Scenic Riverway as part of 21st Century Conservation Service Corps

Conservation Corps youth take a break after a day of pulling buckthorn on National Park Service lands along the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, east of Saint Paul, Minnesota.

Editor’s Note: This week Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis visited St. Paul Minnesota to sign an agreement with the National League of Cities and the YMCA to better coordinate efforts to get kids outdoors, as part of the Secretary’s youth initiative. This week we will highlight the additional efforts of an organization supporting the Secretary’s goals for her initiative in the Twin Cities area through the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps.

This summer, youth will play in vital role in helping to protect biodiversity and improve visitors’ experience along the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway. The St. Croix River, with its proximity to the Twin Cities metropolitan area and federal designation as a Wild and Scenic River, is a popular outdoor recreation area for paddling, hiking, biking and birdwatching. Participants, ages 15-18, and young adult AmeriCorps members will work in crews of eight, along shoreline and public lands in this national park to remove invasive buckthorn and purple loosestrife that destroy native vegetation and critical habitat. Corpsmembers will also be involved with identifying and mapping threatened areas.

The St. Croix projects will engage a total of 60 diverse youth participants from Conservation Corps Minnesota & Iowa, a 21st Century Conservation Service Corps program operator, in partnership with the National Park Service. The projects will be completed over eight weeks of the 2014 the Summer Youth Corps program.

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