Category Archives: Partnerships

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21CSC – Partners in Improving Public Lands & Waters: Idaho Conservation Corps Helps Enhance Mountain Bike Access in Sawtooth National Forest

Photo credit: Chris Leman

The Sawtooth National Forest covers over 2 million acres, predominately across south central Idaho. With a variety of habitats, 10 mountain ranges, and more than 1,000 lakes, the forest is a popular recreation destination.

Outdoor recreation is the main economic driver in many communities in and around the forest. To keep tourists coming, it is essential to maintain the region’s trails, camp sites, and other recreation-related infrastructure. This past summer, youth serving with Idaho Conservation Corps (ICC) – a program of Northwest Youth Corps – performed much-needed maintenance on the Oregon Gulch Trail, a popular route in Ketchum, ID for biking, hiking, horseback riding and motorsports.

The Corps participants, who ranged in age from 16 – 18, were part of ICC’s Youth Corps camping program. This program gives teenagers the opportunity to gain hands-on work experience by spending five weeks travelling throughout Idaho to perform important maintenance and improvement projects on public lands. Work on the Oregon Gulch Trail was completed by two ICC crews during July and August 2017.

Photo credit: Chris Leman

With drainage issues and sections of heavy rutting, the trail was in need of attention. To better understand the needs of trail users, Corps participants had the chance to experience the Oregon Gulch Trail on mountain bikes. Then, working alongside the professional Ketchum Trail Crew, based out of Sawtooth National Forest, the ICC members learned the processes involved in laying out a new trail and designing features to increase trail complexity for riders.

Using ten-pound pick-mattocks, the two ICC crews completed over 2,000 hours of service on the trail. They improved 50 drainage structures, restored one mile of existing trail, and constructed roughly a mile of new trail to route around a section that was rutted beyond repair.

With guidance from the professional trail crew, the Corps participants learned and practiced skills to build a quality trail. They also learned many intangible lessons.

“This crew started the season working as individuals, separated by interests, backgrounds and skill levels. Through this project, they learned to work as a cohesive team, sharing in the difficult aspects of digging a trail through rock, and keeping each other hydrated in the heat of an Idaho summer,” said Ari Songer, ICC Program Coordinator, “They will take with them a strong work ethic, resiliency when faced with challenge and an appreciation for the power of teamwork.”

Photo credit: Chris Leman

A reflection from an ICC member:

This experience meant an opportunity to discover one’s true self without the boundaries placed upon us by society.

This experience has been a gateway to self-discovery in its purest form.

For many of us, life is a cardboard box; a box of social groups, cultural norms, identity boundaries, and restriction of expression. Every now and again, the wind blows and the box tumbles head-over-heels, allowing us a brief glimpse of our true nature and the nature of the world around us. 

But, almost always, the box lands open side down. 

This program reminds us that we are strong enough to “break through the cardboard.” This adventure gives us the opportunity to separate ourselves from the cycles that dis-empower us. The only thing preventing you from being your true self is the illusion of disempowerment perpetuated by these cycles.

Take a second to reflect on your experience, and, if you realize nothing else, realize that none of this is possible alone.

 

Thank you to Ariana Songer of Idaho Conservation Corps for providing information for this story.

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 and Waters: Montana Conservation Corps Enhances Access to Yellowstone’s Grand Prismatic Spring


National parks an important part of local economies, particularly in rural areas. Last year, a record 331 million visitors spent over $18 billion at national parks and their surrounding communities. Yellowstone, one of the top ten national parks by visitor spending, attracted more than 4.2 million visitors and generated $524.3 million.

Described as the world’s first national park, Yellowstone has many attractions for thrill-seekers and explorer’s alike. Visitors can go camping, view wildlife, enjoy horseback riding, and take the Yellowstone Pledge: To be a steward and help protect myself and the park. What most people come for, however, are the hot springs.

Spread across Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, Yellowstone offers 3,500 square miles of wilderness recreation area, sitting atop a volcanic hot spring. Geothermal attractions include Old Faithful and the Grand Prismatic Spring.

To address surging visitation, and growing concerns for visitor safety and resource preservation, the park’s Yellowstone Conservation Corps partnered with Montana Conservation Corps (MCC) – a 21CSC Member Organization – to create a trail to an overlook above the Grand Prismatic Spring, one of Yellowstone’s most visited thermal treasures.

The 0.6-mile-long boardwalk trail was constructed over a 10-week timeframe: July 9 – September 16. The main goals of this project were to enhance the visitor experience and protect the site. In the past, visitors frequented off-limit areas, creating “social trails.” Foot traffic from these informal trails caused erosion, putting visitors and the ecosystem in danger. The new trail offers Park visitors a sensational, safe view of the spring, while also protecting the thermal treasure and surrounding ecosystem.

In a comment to the media, Yellowstone National Park’s superintendent, Dan Wenk, applauded construction of the trail and overlook, stating new construction will “provide a different view of Grand Prismatic Spring and minimize the growth of unsightly, unofficial social trails in the process.”


Because the project took place in one of the most visited national parks, the crews frequently interacted with the public. This enabled the crews to see firsthand the relationship between the park and visitors. Crews learned how to convey the importance of ensuring fragile ecosystems remain undisturbed: “look, but don’t touch” is an essential practice for the safety of the environment and public.

“When doing conservation work on our public lands, especially in a national park, understanding how to navigate the relationship with the public is critical,” said Kelly Moorman, Communications Manager at MCC. “The crew also developed their trail construction and habitat restoration skills.”

In addition to constructing the boardwalk trail, the MCC crews also installed erosion control structures, rehabilitated old social trails, and partook in slash-piling and bridge construction. Throughout the course of the summer, the project engaged 18 MCC AmeriCorps members, ranging in age from 18 – 27.

“On this project, my crew and I gained a lot of pride for the work we do. We enjoy the trail work, but this project gave us a lot of perspective on why our job is so important,” said David Chaman, Field Crew Leader. “The hot days, dirt stained clothes, and the blood and sweat we put into making the Grand Prismatic overlook trail won’t be seen by the public. But the result of those things will. We had the privilege of making a trail that we know will be paved with millions of footsteps every year. Plus, when dealing with the aforementioned repercussions of our work, all we had to do was turn around and take in that incredible view of the Grand Prismatic to realize that it is all worth it.”

— Did you know?

What sets Yellowstone apart from other parks is its rich history. Established in 1872, Yellowstone has seen over 11,000 years of human presence, including the activity of several historic tribes, the arrival of European Americans, and formal expeditions. This history drove the National Park Service’s mission to preserve natural and cultural resources.

Thank you to Kelly Moorman, Communications Manager at Montana Conservation Corps, for providing information for this story.

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.