Conservation corps hits end of line

Posted: Friday, January 10, 2003

ELBA, Minn. -- The rotting box elder that leaned over a pond behind the Whitewater State Park headquarters would make an ideal loafing log for turtles and wood ducks. All it needed was a little help.

Enter Jessica Badger.

With a few swipes of her chain saw, the tree splashed into the partially frozen pond, where it became instant habitat.

Badger, dressed in heavy chaps, steel-toed boots and a helmet, then went to work dropping other box elders. These would be taken away and burned to make room for other species of trees in the park near Elba.

Badger, of Mantorville, who grew up near Rochester and is a 2002 graduate of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, is a crew boss for one of the two Department of Natural Resources' Minnesota Conservation Corps teams in the southeast.

Her crew will be the last. The corps, which has been clearing trees, improving streams, burning prairie and teaching outdoors skills to young adults since 1981, is set to end June 30 due to budget cuts.

Whitewater Park Naturalist Dave Palmquist said the MCC crews provide inexpensive labor to clear trees, improve streams and cut brush off bluff prairies. Without them, the DNR couldn't afford to have it done, he said.

With Badger last week in Whitewater were Jess Trusty, of Byron, and Christopher Wagoner, of Rochester. The fourth crew member -- Lisa Brotherton of Chatfield -- was at training that day.

All three said they got into the corps by answering a newspaper ad last fall, and they all hope it's a stepping stone to more jobs outdoors or with animals.

The ad, however, did not promise quick riches and glory, they said. Instead, it offered low pay, hard work in the outdoors and less than a year of work; one perk is $2,360 for future education.

Badger said she wanted to join the corps because she grew up on farms and loves animals; her degree is in animal science. Corps work might lead to future employment in the outdoors or in veterinary medicine.

''I enjoy being in the outdoors and not being cooped up in the office,'' she said.

What happens to her and her career is more up to fate because she has no dream job, she said.

She said that in college ''(I) just went with the flow, always wanted to find something I would like to do for the rest of my life,'' Badger said.

Before he joined the corps, Wagoner was working at a lab at Mayo Clinic, where he earned more than $16 an hour. He quit to work for $6 an hour and has no regrets.

''I just needed a change,'' he said. He has a degree in biology with an ecology emphasis and wants to help reintroduce more wolves to the wild in the United States. He hopes the corps is his stepping stone toward that dream job.

Trusty, a 2002 Byron High School graduate, hopes the job is a step toward being a DNR conservation officer. ''I don't know for sure. I let things happen,'' he said.

Crew members didn't know each other when the group was formed.

They were thrown together in a truck and were driven to northern Minnesota for training, Badger said. En route, they either slept or talked about themselves, telling of their past and their goals, she said.

They were taught how to set fires to improve prairie, use global positioning systems, drive snowmobiles or all-terrain vehicles and how to work with the public.

And, obviously, they were taught to use chain saws.

HEAD:Outdoors improvement group falls victim to budget cuts

HEAD:Conservation Corps hits end of line

BYLINE1:By JOHN WEISS

BYLINE2:An AP Member Exchange

ELBA, Minn. -- The rotting box elder that leaned over a pond behind the Whitewater State Park headquarters would make an ideal loafing log for turtles and wood ducks. All it needed was a little help.

Enter Jessica Badger.

With a few swipes of her chain saw, the tree splashed into the partially frozen pond, where it became instant habitat.

Badger, dressed in heavy chaps, steel-toed boots and a helmet, then went to work dropping other box elders. These would be taken away and burned to make room for other species of trees in the park near Elba.

Badger, of Mantorville, who grew up near Rochester and is a 2002 graduate of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, is a crew boss for one of the two Department of Natural Resources' Minnesota Conservation Corps teams in the southeast.

Her crew will be the last. The corps, which has been clearing trees, improving streams, burning prairie and teaching outdoors skills to young adults since 1981, is set to end June 30 due to budget cuts.

Whitewater Park Naturalist Dave Palmquist said the MCC crews provide inexpensive labor to clear trees, improve streams and cut brush off bluff prairies. Without them, the DNR couldn't afford to have it done, he said.

With Badger last week in Whitewater were Jess Trusty, of Byron, and Christopher Wagoner, of Rochester. The fourth crew member -- Lisa Brotherton of Chatfield -- was at training that day.

All three said they got into the corps by answering a newspaper ad last fall, and they all hope it's a stepping stone to more jobs outdoors or with animals.

The ad, however, did not promise quick riches and glory, they said. Instead, it offered low pay, hard work in the outdoors and less than a year of work; one perk is $2,360 for future education.

Badger said she wanted to join the corps because she grew up on farms and loves animals; her degree is in animal science. Corps work might lead to future employment in the outdoors or in veterinary medicine.

''I enjoy being in the outdoors and not being cooped up in the office,'' she said.

What happens to her and her career is more up to fate because she has no dream job, she said.

She said that in college ''(I) just went with the flow, always wanted to find something I would like to do for the rest of my life,'' Badger said.

Before he joined the corps, Wagoner was working at a lab at Mayo Clinic, where he earned more than $16 an hour. He quit to work for $6 an hour and has no regrets.

''I just needed a change,'' he said. He has a degree in biology with an ecology emphasis and wants to help reintroduce more wolves to the wild in the United States. He hopes the corps is his stepping stone toward that dream job.

Trusty, a 2002 Byron High School graduate, hopes the job is a step toward being a DNR conservation officer. ''I don't know for sure. I let things happen,'' he said.

Crew members didn't know each other when the group was formed.

They were thrown together in a truck and were driven to northern Minnesota for training, Badger said. En route, they either slept or talked about themselves, telling of their past and their goals, she said.

They were taught how to set fires to improve prairie, use global positioning systems, drive snowmobiles or all-terrain vehicles and how to work with the public.

And, obviously, they were taught to use chain saws.



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