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“What are you guys doing out here?”


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By: Nicholas Cox

I’ve fielded this question a time or two while out in the field. It typically comes from an innocently curious passerby, but occasionally it’ll show up decorated with less-than-appropriate verbiage. In either case, it’s certainly an inquiry within reason and I’ve become fond of the opportunities that follow.

“Well, member of the public, we are….

     collecting prairie seeds.”

     pulling weeds from raingardens.”

     conducting aquatic plant surveys.”

     cutting buckthorn.”

     removing trees.”

     starting this prairie on fire, run!”

Initially, I’d politely wait to hear if an inquisitor was interested in hearing more. These days, however, I take the slightest look of confusion or even a miniscule moment of silence to mean “Oh, please tell me more!”

Really, I’m being selfish. I take each conversation as a growing opportunity to talk out the goals we are working towards as a crew and as conservationists; to put into practice my working knowledge of ecology, forestry, hydrology, and biology; to learn from folks of different backgrounds what a given piece of nature means to them; and of course to brag about how awesome my job is.  Not to mention, taking a break and chatting while the rest of my crew is off working.


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I can’t be sure, but I hope that both parties actually benefit. The work that we do isn’t always immediately obvious as conservation.  It’s not easy to explain to someone why we are cutting away the reds, oranges, and yellows as they pass by on possibly their only chance for a fall color hike. On these types of projects I all but yell out “Don’t worry, we’re the good guys!” to anyone within earshot, in fear of the impression that our work is destructive as our ATV plastered with Conservation Corps logos sits trail side. In my experience, a good-hearted conversation about end goals and the value of natural ecosystems does wonders to ease a worried mind. If nothing else, it’s a chance to share a respect for the outdoors, however briefly, with a fellow human being.

So if you’re ever out and about Monday through Thursday from 7-5:30 and you come across a Conservation Corps crew hard at work, I’ll be the guy in the blue hat glancing your way looking for any sign of interest. Please come talk to me, and I’ll tell you what we’re doing out here.