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Volunteer Spotlight: Beck O’Brien

Last summer, Beck interned for the Appalachian Mountain Club’s magazine, AMC Outdoors. While there, Beck developed an interest in hands-on conservation work and this past spring, at the University of Iowa, was given the perfect opportunity to indulge his curiosity when he took a class in which one of the assignments was to choose and volunteer for a local organization. Beck googled “Conservation Iowa City” and found Bur Oak Land Trust.

Carrying wire fence at Big Grove Preserve

Beck has always enjoyed spending time outdoors, whether hiking, biking, swimming, skiing, kayaking, or sailing. And he has always been a dedicated worker, whether behind a cash register or a computer screen. However, before volunteering for Bur Oak Land Trust, Beck was not sure whether he’d like working outdoors, or whether he would have the physical stamina for it. “I think a few of my friends and family members were also skeptical as to whether I’d enjoy chopping down multiflora rose or pulling garlic mustard,” says Beck.

On an autumn-like January morning, Beck first volunteered at Pappy Dickens Preserve, where honeysuckle and logs that had been chopped down the previous fall were being gathered to make a huge bonfire. The morning went by in no time. Beck explained how the day went, “That afternoon I took a two-hour nap!”

Beck recently hit twenty volunteer hours and plans to continue volunteering, and with each volunteering event, there’s an opportunity to learn something new – like learning how to use a hand-saw, to chopping down honeysuckle, to figuring out that balancing an old wire fence on his head made it easier to transport it up the trail at Big Grove Preserve.

Volunteering with Bur Oak Land Trust has inspired Beck to continue to care for the land. After he graduates next spring, Beck plans to volunteer for one of AmeriCorps’ conservation teams, something he wouldn’t have been confident doing as part of his post-grad plan if not for the volunteering experience.

Says Beck, “I wish more people knew that Bur Oak Land Trust properties are open to the public to explore. When I volunteered at Big Grove one morning, seven or so deer leapt across the land as we crossed an open field. You don’t have to go far out of Iowa City to feel worlds away!”

(Beck’s tip for those worried about the physical aspects of the job: Bring plenty of water and a snack and take a break if you need to. Everyone is very gracious that you are there to volunteer and no one is going to work you too hard or make you feel bad if you need a break.)