In my three previous years of volunteering as a Minnesota Master Naturalist, I put in most of my hours in stewardship / restoration events.
While I still love those one-off, practically-no-commitment-needed events, this year I added a few new components, courtesy of my local Wild Ones Native Plants chapter, Big River Big Woods.
In the fall of 2018, just three days after completing my second master naturalist biome course (which I have yet to write about), I went to the monthly Big River Big Woods chapter event. Full of excitement about nature and eager to participate, I filled out their volunteer survey, checking off several boxes: help with the website, give a plant talk, bring snacks.
I was soon asked to give a short presentation on a wildflower — so, on January 24, full of fresh confidence after giving a couple of short species presentations in my class, I gave a 5-minute talk about pearly everlasting. I enjoyed sharing photos of the pretty flowers, of course — but the bigger goal of my presentation was to show how looks can be deceiving, and we should not be striving for perfection from a human perspective. The plants look terrible in early summer, when they are taken over to provide protective nests for American Lady butterfly caterpillars, but I think I convinced the crowd to be patient when this happens because the plants will be just fine and will still flower like they should, just a few weeks later.
I was also asked to help with a redesign of their website, since my day job for the past 20 years has been managing websites. So with the help of the board of directors, a friend and I reorganized the navigation, tightened up the content, and added big, beautiful photos to the brand-new Big River Big Woods website.
Once that was done, I convinced the chapter to launch an Instagram account since native plants are so naturally visual. Most of the photos and descriptions were my own, though I love to get submissions from other chapter members. In 2019, I created 112 posts, which I recorded as volunteer hours at about 15 minutes apiece. (Follow along at @bigriverbigwoods.)
Those three activities alone — in the “education” category for master naturalist volunteers — accounted for more than the required 40 hours of volunteering! But I still love to help with volunteer events, so I didn’t stop there. Here’s how I recorded the rest of my volunteer time in 2019:
January 12, Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge (education): A couple dozen volunteers and I helped with the beginning stages of an art installation, Kaleidoscope, that would eventually be “flying” at the Mall of America to bring attention to the importance of pollinators. The mall commissioned an artist to create a 30-foot monarch butterfly sculpture with a flock of 300 monarchs (and a few Karner blues) fluttering below to hang from the north atrium of the mall. We started with plastic bags (because the display also talked about upcycling) to form the shape of the body.
And a few months later, this is what the Kaleidoscope art exhibit looked like:
January 26, Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve (citizen science): Took part in Cedar Creek’s largest wildlife tracking survey to date, with 27 trackers and naturalists on five teams who recorded the tracks and sign of at least 18 different species of mammals across the reserve, on a day that was double-digits below zero. We began with a discussion about tracking and learned from experienced wildlife trackers about how to distinguish tracks. (I counted this activity as 1 hour of training — since I’m new to this — and 5 hours of work.)
March 15, City of Roseville (stewardship): Snow seeding (native prairie plants and grasses) in the area between the Roseville arboretum and ballfields.
April 16, City of Roseville (citizen science): Volunteers have been conducting frog and toad call surveys in select city parks for a few years. Frogs and toads are indicator species — they can tell us about habitat condition, water quality, and more. An important part of monitoring of frogs and toads is to gather data each year. This allows researchers to detect trends and help provide feedback about management work that is occurring in our parks. I first participated in an hour-long training session, then monitored calls on 3 nights during spring, early summer, and mid summer.
April, City Nature Challenge (citizen science): Hiked at three regional parks, taking photos of all of the species I could find, and then went to an “ID party” to help identify or confirm identifications of species reported by other local people. Parks visited:
- Minnehaha Regional Park
- Bald Eagle / Otter Lake Regional Park
- Pine Point Regional Park
May 7, Saint Paul Natural Resources (stewardship): Gorgeous spring evening for a volunteer restoration event. Hauled pre-cut brush and dug out burdock plants at Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary.
May 9, Wood-Rill Scientific and Natural Area (citizen science): Helped other volunteers identify as many plant species as possible in the first BioBlitz at Wood-Rill SNA.
May 11, Three Rivers Park District (stewardship): Garlic mustard removal event at Silverwood Park.
June 1, Friends of the Mississippi River (stewardship): Planted trees on a hillside of the new Heritage Park.
June 10, Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District (stewardship): Joint RWMWD / Wild Ones Big River Big Woods planting event to restore the shoreline of a large wetland at Snail Lake Regional Park. This is a two-year project restoring native habitat in a large county park interspersed with large woodland, prairie, and wetland areas.
June 15, City of Roseville (stewardship): Planted native plugs to restore shoreline at Lake Owasso. Cardinal flower, blue lobelia, grass-leaved goldenrod, prairie blazing star, blue flag iris, common rush, bottlebrush sedge, among others — 750 plants in all. With more than a dozen volunteers, it only took two hours.
June 18, Friends of the Mississippi River (stewardship): FMR has been restoring a bluff prairie on the overlook slope at Indian Mounds Regional Park. We tended to the area around native plants at this site, removing burdock, crown vetch, grapevines, thistles, and more.
June 27, Friends of the Mississippi River (stewardship): Removed hoary alyssum at Hastings Sand Coulee Scientific and Natural Area. This isn’t the worst weed, but it doesn’t belong in this high-quality site, so Friends of the Mississippi River and their volunteers are removing it.
August 4, Dakota County Parks (citizen science): Bumblebee survey. I wasn’t so successful personally, though my husband caught quite a few. (The bees are always released after being identified and marked.)
August 15, Mississippi National River & Recreation Area (stewardship): Coyote howling survey. We visited three separate stations more than 1.5 miles apart and played a pre-recorded coyote sound three times each followed by 90 seconds of listening. We heard coyotes before the survey began and after it ended.
August 17, Minnesota Bee Atlas (citizen science): Bumblebee survey at Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden. There were so many other volunteers, and so many bumblebees, that I only collected one bee and spent the rest of the time helping the gatherers ID the flowers where they were found and then sorting the containers by flower. 112 bumblebees were collected, totalling 7 species, but no rusty-patched.
September 4, Carleton Arboretum (stewardship): Seed collecting in the prairie, followed by an observation of a monarch roost!
September 5, Saint Paul Natural Resources (stewardship): Collected bottlebrush grass seed at Phalen Regional Park.
September 7, Three Rivers Parks (stewardship): Collected leadplant, Golden Alexanders, purple prairie clover, and gray-headed coneflower. Elm Creek Park Reserve has 40 acres of prairie, and Three Rivers Parks District is expanding that to 200! Awesome project. It was a gray and wet day on the prairie. Just look at all these purple prairie clover seedheads!
September 17, National Park Service / Coldwater Spring (stewardship): Removed river grape vines. I only participated for half an hour, but a little is better than nothing!
September 21, City of Roseville (stewardship): Got to a volunteer event late enough that the plants were mostly planted already, so I spent my time pulling buckthorn seedlings — easy to do after a bunch of rain. Left them on logs so they won’t grow back into the ground!
September 26, Settler’s Island in Cottage Grove (stewardship): Volunteer tree planting event with Friends of the Mississippi River that started by kayaking out to an island! Restoration event at an area that had recently been cleared of buckthorn and other undesirable trees. Planted white oak, Ohio buckeye, viburnum, highbush cranberry, dogwood red osier, and catalpa.
September 28, Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge (stewardship): U of M students and alumni and master naturalist volunteers participated in a Planting for Pollinators event on National Public Lands Day and National Urban Wildlife Refuge Day. We planted 4,500 native plugs! It was inspiring to see the transformation of this place that used to be gravel and buckthorn. Now it’s a place to play, rest, and enjoy nature. And next year it will be full of wildflowers.
That all adds up to…
…more than 100 hours! Whew!
See more of my 2019 volunteering photos
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Crystal, your stories and pictures are an inspiration to volunteers everywhere! Thank you for sharing and for the great work you do for Minnesota!
Thanks, Amy! Every year there are more and more great opportunities to volunteer!