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Updates & Stories

An intro and open letter to the sun

I’m Jackie, and I just moved all the way back to my home state of Iowa from Portland, Oregon for my new job. My position is pretty unique because I am working independently, a state away from the primary host organization. RREAL is based in Pine River, Minnesota while I am stationed with Hawkeye Area Community Action Program (HACAP) in Hiawatha, IA.RREAL provides solar furnaces, a service we call Solar Assistance, to low income families as a long-term alternative to standard energy assistance. Energy assistance is provided by community action programs (CAPs) such as HACAP. Read More

Oriental bittersweet

The cold weather has begun to set in here in southeast Minnesota! The leaves have been changing colors and many plants are losing their leaves, which means it is time to cut and spray invasive species that stay green long after other plants have died off for the winter! In addition to buckthorn which we have been feverously cutting because their ivy green leaves stick out like an eye sore, we have been searching for, GPSing, cutting and spraying the roots of invasive Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus). Read More

Projects set in motion

As we go week to week working on different projects, it’s easy to consider our work done, the projects finished. This makes sense for most projects; you paint your walls and they’re painted until you paint them again, you build a deck and it’s there until you remove it. When working with nature, as we typically do at the Conservation Corps, it turns out projects are rarely done.  Read More

An exercise in taste

 “Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what’s for lunch.” ― Orson WellesFor eight months, my crew has intensely pursued culinary adventures. We snacked on Mexican style marzipan, chili seasoned mangos and homemade pretzels. We feasted on elk, venison and bear. For lunch, we unleashed Tupperware full of bulgur salad, pesto and roasted chicken. And notoriously end the day in a frozen yogurt haze. Read More

Conserving through generations: Creating generations of travelers

With summer drawing to a close my crew and I ventured out to Teddy Roosevelt National Park for a ten day spike. The last day of the trip, barred from spraying herbicide by a misting rain, our project host took us on a tour of the north unit of the park. In the middle of the 14 mile driving loop we stopped and ran through the rain to a small lean-to perched on the edge of an impressive vista. Like so many structures in state and national parks I recognized the cut stone and well-built masonry of the CCCs.  Standing dry beneath the roof and looking out into the mist I let my mind wander, appreciating the view in front of me and how it gave me a sense of place in the world and in history. Read More


When we first arrived at the logjam, we had already left our boats behind. Our last two river projects had involved us dragging our canoes over sandbars and rocks on rivers that have mostly dried up for the year, so we expected to simply walk up to the 250 foot logjam on the Whitewater River and dice it up quickly. With the fall drought, the water levels have been exceptionally low, but the Whitewater was churning. Read More

Dog Days

After a week long break for the 4th of July and a relaxing week spent at Baker Park Reserve, the field crews are back at work. One topic floats around every morning and every afternoon at the shops—the heat. The Romans used to sacrifice a brown dog to the star Sirius at the beginning of every July in hopes of staving off the blistering heat waves that accompany this time of year. They believed that the dog star caused the heat; hence the term “dog days.” We've since developed kinder rituals. Working outdoors for a living turns a person into a compulsive, perhaps even paranoid weather checker. But just like slaying dogs, glancing at the heat index on a smart phone every hour doesn't make the day any cooler. Water, shade, frequent breaks, and the occasional trip to an ice cream shop or a nearby lake are the best auspices. Read More

Conserving through Generations: A Hard Day’s Work is Never Do

This month I trekked up to the Minnesota History Museum in Saint Paul to tour their exhibit, “Minnesota’s Greatest Generation” and peruse historical files for information on my grandfather. While wandering through the exhibit, I found myself reflecting on the value of hard work in our society.  In my memories, my grandfather is almost never standing still. Except for the few times I caught him in his big armchair reading a book, it was normal to find him out in the yard, or doing chores around the his house, or the house of a neighbor. My dad told me that the day before he died he was putting in a fence, at the age of 90. Read More

Bloodthirsty Villian

Some like to kill them in cold blood at first sight. Still few let them go unharmed, mostly due to a squeamish reaction to distance themselves as far and as quickly as possible. But have you ever stopped to ponder this monster, the tick? Read More

Beyond Buckthorn: A discussion with garden curator Susan Wilkin

Back when the snow piled at least two-feet high and winter refused to give way to spring, our Youth Outdoors Crew (YO5) was assigned a vast buckthorn removal project at Theodore Wirth Park. We spent a few days working alongside Susan Wilkins, Curator of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden, whose enthusiasm for the landscape was contagious. I was curious to learn more about the natural history of the area, so I arranged a meeting with Susan. Read More