Thursday, May 26, 2011

My Backyard

Check out what my backyard a.k.a. the Rapids Lake Education and Visitor Center looks like!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Little House on the Prairie

My life has changed drastically in the past few weeks. At the beginning of the month I graduated from Columbia College with a B.A. in environmental studies and did not skip a beat before leaving my quaint apartment in Columbia, Mo. and returning for a short time to my childhood home in Hannibal, Mo. For quite awhile now I have been itching for some new scenery and to be on my own putting my degree to use. 

Throughout my last semester I searched for jobs all over the country from the Redwood Forests to Cape Cod to the Florida Keys. Luckily, the opportunity to travel out of my comfort zone arose after a successful interview for a visitor services internship at Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge which is located in and around the Twin Cities. Since I found out I landed the position several months ago, I have been dying to get up here and now that I have finally arrived, I am beginning to see that life here is everything I had hoped for and more.

Thanks to my loving and supportive parents who joined me on my trek up country, I am now officially moved in to my summer bunkhouse on the Rapids Lake unit of the Refuge or what I like to call the "little house on the prairie." Minnesota Valley is a very unique refuge. The bunkhouse is on a more remote part of the Refuge, but the visitor center that I work at in Bloomington on the Long Meadow Lake unit is literally a hop, skip and a jump or should I say a drive, bike or a light rail ride away from the Mall of America and downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul. 

Despite this Refuge’s highly urban local, the natural resources are rich and pristine. From what I have been able to observe, Minnesotans truly value their environment and work to preserve it in all its glory. I have visited some extremely rural areas in my day, but in the short time I’ve been in Minnesota, I have observed wildlife up close in personal far greater than ever before.

For instance, while on lunch break during my first official day at the Bloomington office, as many as three wild turkey were wandering in the forest only a few feet away from our picnic table. But these game birds don’t even make up half of the song birds, waterfowl, and birds of prey who call the Refuge their home. Bird feeders outside the visitor center see a steady stream of red-wing and yellow-headed black birds, chickadees, orioles, finches, warblers, woodpeckers (one of which constantly has his head buried in holes it has pecked in a tree outside our lunch room) and many more. Some of these birds I’m told are so well adapted to the area, they have managed to maneuver their flight patterns to cooperate with the major airlines from Twin Cities International Airport. 

My supervisor, Park Ranger Judy.
In addition to familiarizing themselves with trains, planes, and automobiles, wildlife in the metro area have also learned to cope with the people that operate these machines. One friendly bird that is commonly spotted at the Bloomington visitor center is a red-tailed hawk who’s not a bit intimidated by the many visitors as he swoops through the Refuge keeping the thriving population of ground squirrels in check. Another fearless animal that has been caught on security cameras at the Bloomington visitor center is a coyote that is assumed to have a den nearby. My boss informed me that one day the coyote nearly walked into the visitor center with its sights set on a St. Bernard hiking with a family on the Refuge trails. Whether it’s the critters or their caretakers that cause wildlife to thrive here is unclear, but there is obviously hard work and devotion on both ends.

In Missouri, which is a mostly an agriculture state, the majority of outdoorsmen I have come across are largely hunters and anglers. Minnesota outdoorsmen on the other hand, seem to be equally as interested in the wide variety of recreational opportunities made available to them in addition to seeking game. The state is known as the land of 10,000 lakes and apparently they have made it their goal to match and likely surpass that number of lakes with parks and trails. Along just about every roadside in this area an additional path is set aside for bikes and pedestrians which are both in abundance.

Just last week I was joined by another intern as we crisscrossed through trails along highways, over rivers, and through woods all the way from the Refuge visitor center in Bloomington to Minnehaha Falls, a waterfall just a short hike away from the light rail which runs through downtown Minneapolis. The ride was exhilarating and the view breathtaking, but to me the people here are just as astonishing as the scenery. 

Everyone I’ve met so far has been extremely friendly and generous which has made me feel right at home. My surroundings haven’t varied greatly from the environment that I am used to. I am still in the Midwest and I basically just followed the Mississippi  River north, but whether it’s the people, the resources, or the recreational opportunities, I am finding that this state is a better fit for me. This summer is not only looking like it will be a lot less humid, but a lot brighter as well.  
Wetland on the Long Meadow Lake trail.