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Photos from the Forest

by Jenny Sherren, North District Field Crew Member/ AmeriCorps Member

We have less than a month left in our term this year and I am shocked at how the year has flown by. It has been jam packed with projects that included planting trees, caging trees, cutting and treating invasive species, constructing a dock and a bridge, building trails, traveling all over Minnesota, restoring shorelines, maintaining rain gardens, clearing trails and working with so many amazing people. This position has challenged me many times throughout the term but I feel that I have gained so much despite it. Not only do I have hard and soft skills to apply to jobs down the road, but I learned so much about myself and the world around me. So, as I reflect on this year, I thought it’d be fun to highlight a photo from each month of the term. Hopefully you can get a sense of what this year was like for me and my crewmates.

man on handheld radio looking confused
February: This picture is part of a slide from our online wildfire training courses where they were talking about communications during a wildfire. I found that this person’s expression encapsulated all the feelings I was having going into the term. Lots of confusion, questions, and wariness. But all of that was soon cleared up as training went on.

 

burnt stump with chainsaw cuts
March: In person training began! The picture shows a few of my first cuts with a chainsaw. Here I was practicing the face cuts and back cuts that we use when felling trees. You can see that I had some more work to do on making my cuts meet and getting the angle right. A good face cut and back cut is essential to felling a tree safely.

 

group standing on wood deck
April: This was our first of two construction type projects. Our task was to add the railings to this fishing dock so that it was in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act standards. The project really challenged us as a crew. It was like setting up Ikea furniture without the instructions, and mis-matched fixtures. Even though this was our most frustrating project, I think it really brought our crew together since we learned how to communicate and rely on one another. (Pictured from left to right: Jacob Hagestuen, Tj (Tanner) Stephens, Ella Kohls, Gabrielle Regnier, Me (Jenny Sherren), and Amina Kovacevic).

 

group standing in river
May: Here we are cleaning off our tools in a stream after planting trees for the Brainerd Aquatic Management Area. This site had recently had a new bridge constructed causing the area you see in the picture to be cleared of vegetation. We planted and caged dogwood, cedar, pine, and spruce trees randomly to aid in the restoration of the area. We used shovels and planting bars in this process that were covered in the clay-rich soil by the end of each day. Luckily we had a natural washing area to clean our tools off before heading out.

 

firefighters laying on ground
June: In June we were deployed on our first multi-day wildfire operation. We spent four 12-16 hour days ensuring a wildfire in Embarrass, MN was completely extinguished as it was very close to residential properties. Our crew was assigned to one half of the wildfire area and we would spend the day circling the area checking for ‘hotspots’, where material was still smoldering beneath the soil surface. We were able to network and learn from the many firefighters who were also called out to the incident. I was so shocked by how far some of the firefighters traveled. There were crews from as far as Montana and Connecticut. Everyone who was a part of the incident was very nice and supportive, making for a wonderful experience.

 

Team holding heavy beam above heads to span a streambed
July: July brought one of our most strenuous projects. We helped reroute a trail and build a bridge on the Superior Hiking Trail. All the bridge materials were carried out by hand to the build site that was just over 1.5 miles down the trail. We worked with the Gooseberry Crew and Superior Hiking Trail Association volunteers. Everyone worked so hard and maintained a positive attitude despite the challenges. I am so proud to be a part of this project that will be used for years to come!

 

two firefighters standing in smoky blackened area holding hand tools
August: Another fire deployment! I will honestly say, this has to be one of the coolest things I have done in my life. Our crew was sent to the Caldwell Fire located outside of Northome, MN. The fire started from a lightning strike and was undetected for over a week causing the fire to grow to 50 acres. We completed a full 14 day deployment and participated in initial attack, burn back, and mop up operations. In this photo, Tj and I are standing well inside the fire boundary in the middle of a large hot spot where the large logs and peat were still smoldering. We also got to work with firefighters we had met at previous fires too. They reassured us that the wildfire fighting world is actually quite small and it is pretty common to work with the same firefighters a few times a year. It was an amazing experience with amazing people!

 

group standing by river holding vegetation
September: In September’s photo we had completed a multiple week shoreline restoration project. We were tasked with laying down cut cedar trees and securing them into the shoreline with stakes to prevent further erosion. Later in the year we returned to the site and planted dogwood and willow trees to further stabilize the shore. If you look closely in my arms on the right, you can see I am holding a little kitten that we found in the woods the night before! She had a few scratches on her face and was all alone. We took her back to Duluth and I brought her to the vet to get looked at. After some antibiotics, good kitty food and a safe space at my house she healed quickly. I had been wanting a cat for a while and the world said here you go! P.S. she is named after the chainsaw I use – Odie.

 

Orange boots and orange mushrooms on log
October: It was really cool to be able to see the fall colors from beginning to end as we worked outside this year. We had been working on a slower paced bud capping project that prevents deer from foraging on pine saplings when I took this photo. I did not realize that fall also brings really cool mushrooms and fungi. These ones just happened to match the Corps’ steel toe water boots we happen to call ‘orangies’.

 

group standing in forest smiling
November: That brings us to the most recent photo of my crewmates! We have been cutting and treating a woody invasive vine that chokes out forests in Winona, MN. It is a very large project being conducted by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. We will be helping with this project until the end of our term on December 15th. I have loved working with these individuals and have learned so much from each of them. It will be hard not having them around in future positions, but I am so grateful that the Corps brought us together! (Pictured from left to right: Amina, Tj, Ella, Gabrielle, and Jacob).

 

Thank you so much for taking the time to read through my most lengthy post. I have really enjoyed my year with the corps and hope to return for another term in 2022. In any case I look forward to continuing my career in the natural resources field!