2011 marks the third summer that Rachel has volunteered as a habitat restoration crew leader for the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area. Because of her passion and experience, she has taken the lead on a prairie restoration project at Coon Rapids Dam on the east side of the Mississippi River. This spring, she led a weekly restoration event focused on removing invasive Garlic Mustard from the floodplain forest along the bicycle trail. The Garlic Mustard outcompetes spring ephemerals (herbaceous flowers that bloom briefly in the early spring), and Rachel was interested in boosting the ephemerals' survival rates.
Now that summer is here, she has moved on to the prairie. Every Thursday, Rachel leads a public habitat restoration event in the prairie between Cenaiko Lake and the river. Her main focus is suppressing and eradicating invasive species that threaten the biodiversity of the prairie. As a volunteer in her local national park, Rachel is a vital team member in the effort to maintain and restore this precious habitat.
Rachel's project is a win-win situation. While the park clearly benefits from her dedication, Rachel has gained skills, knowledge, friendships, and more from her involvement. She says,
As a habitat restoration crew leader with the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, I get to spend time with rangers, other crew leaders, and volunteers. Along the way, I've learned about our National Park's plant and animal species, ecosystems, and more. The quality of the relationships I've developed along the way are valuable beyond measure.
When I lead a habitat restoration event, I learn something every time. This type of learning isn't something that a classroom could teach. This is hands on learning, and I get better at it after every restoration event. Some things I've learned along the way are: how to tailor the event to the crowd (every crowd is different), how to organize an event that keeps volunteers engaged, and how interpretation can lead to meaningful experiences with lasting effects.
I'm not an expert by any measure, but it's difficult to argue against biodiversity. And the prairie ecosystem has been so devastated by progress that it's worthwhile for me to spend a couple hours each week to help restore it. It's important that the prairie ecosystem is restored, but it's also a ton of fun. Many of these invasive species are easy to pull out because of their shallow root systems. It's also rewarding to see how big of an area I can clear each time. Sharing this experience with volunteers brings me joy.
Volunteers are an important part of the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area. People like Rachel contribute endless energy and countless hours to complete necessary tasks that otherwise might get overlooked. As the summer progresses, the forests and prairies of Coon Rapids Dam will continue to transform, thanks to Rachel's help.