The first Bur Oak Land Trust AmeriCorps program year has ended, and it’s a bittersweet time for us. A phenomenal group of individuals served with us and we hate to see them go, however, we’re also incredibly proud of each of them for completing their service and heading off to conquer another goal.
Being an AmeriCorps member is a commitment to service. The time frame can vary but the mission is the same: to meet critical needs within the community. The 2019-2020 cohort met those needs by actively managing the natural areas Bur Oak Land Trust is charged with protecting, and educating the community on the importance of our mission.
Some of our members’ favorite memories were times spent as a team tackling projects like prescribed burns, wildlife surveys, and educational events like Family Day. Breaks from service were also popular bonding times for our crew, including making s’mores around a bonfire during winter brush clearing operations.
Serving in this AmeriCorps program can be physically exhausting at times, and certainly frustrating since Covid arrived, and that’s why we are so grateful to have had adaptable, positive and motivated individuals as members to meet those challenges.
We can’t thank our inaugural AmeriCorps members enough: Haley Burken, Claire Carlson, Hannah Davey, Mia Haney, Benjamin Howard, Sarah Lawinger, Kara Rahe, Kate Reilly, Sean Reilly, Lidija Stojanovic, Elena Wolff, and Hannah Wadke at our Trees Forever host site. This is a group of people who know how to get things done. We appreciate everything you collectively have done for our program and organization, and know you all will do great things in the future.
-Bur Oak Land Trust staff
Three of our AmeriCorps members were perfecting their chainsaw skills during the month of May to be able to get their Wildland Chainsaw certification in June. Crew members Sarah, Hannah D., and Kate traveled to Salida, Colorado and put their skills to the test. All members came back happy to report they obtained their certificates. The certificates are going to help crew leaders next year train new land stewards and also help those three members stand out to future employers as they continue their career in conservation.
Most of May was spent on fighting the obnoxious amount of garlic mustard that pop up every year. Although pulling stem after stem can be monotonous, member Hannah D. reflected on the rewarding aspects of the work: “While being generous in giving your time working to remove the invasive species, the land may be just as generous in giving back to you….Behind the next handful of garlic mustard could be a morel mushroom, a seasonal special that cannot be bought in a store or guaranteed to be grown in a garden.”
With the help of the AmeriCorps members, Bur Oak Land Trust was able to put on a virtual Family Day and get some great content and activities out for families to utilize. Our talented land stewards showed off their acting skills and starred in videos at Turkey Creek Nature Preserve and Belgum Grove. Members helped research the different fossils found at Turkey Creek, the benthic macro-invertebrates in the creek, tree species at both properties, and helped set up a fishing video at Belgum Grove. It was a great bonding experience and the land stewards enjoyed not pulling garlic mustard for a bit!
Bur Oak Land Trust also welcomed three new AmeriCorps members in May: Haley Burken, Sean Reilly, and Benjamin Howard. Haley described how she felt after seeing a baby deer on her first day of service at Belgum Grove: “I was beyond excited to continue to see plants and animals in their natural habitat. In that moment I knew that my work in these next few months will help all living things that call our properties their home.”
Hannah Wadke, who is serving at our Trees Forever host site, shared how excited she was that her team was able to plant 50 trees during May as part of the Growing Futures youth program. Unfortunately, Trees Forever had to suspend that program due to COVID-19. It has been a challenge to replace those hardworking individuals, but with the help of the community, Trees Forever was able to make the best of the situation. “We were able to get 50 trees planted during May…this is more than we had expected,” Hannah W. said. Trees Forever partnered with the City of Cedar Rapids Parks and Recreation and Forestry departments to transport the trees along with their TreeKeepers volunteers. “It has been great to partner with the City employees and our TreeKeepers,” she said. “I feel extremely lucky to be a part of such a caring community.”
Within the first week of April, it was clear things weren’t going back to normal for a while, but that didn’t stop the land steward crew from having a very productive month. As spring burn season ends, AmeriCorps members look back on the month with a great feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction – having burned about 230 acres of prairie, woodland, and savannah. It was a great month for all of the members to work on their leadership and technical skills.
Team member Kate says, “Prescribed fire is one of the most satisfying jobs we have because you can come back a few weeks after a spring burn and already see a response from native plants.”
Member Sarah Lawinger reflects, “This burn season has been particularly rewarding and…individually taught me something…improving situational awareness, watching fuel levels, practicing defensive driving, and trying to look out for my fellow crew members on the line.”
Have you spotted garlic mustard yet? The coming of warm spring weather also means invasive species are popping up everywhere. The land steward crew spent time clearing garlic mustard at Shimek Ravine.
Hannah Wadke, Trees Forever host site team member, has been creating kids activities and working on webinar content. With their scheduled events being postponed/cancelled, Hannah has been focusing on how to share nature-based educational content with people who are staying at home. Trees Forever has also been focusing on a plan to get 325 trees in the ground by the end of June and to have additional student employee summer help.
Team member Lidija has also been working on sharing family-friendly activities on Bur Oak Land Trust’s Kid’s Corner page. She the lead on providing a virtual Family Day content with the help of other AmeriCorps members.
During the month of April, AmeriCorps members served with Table to Table for part of their day. Table to Table, a food rescue organization in Iowa City, was struggling to find volunteers after the outbreak of Covid-19. Bur Oak Land Trust AmeriCorps members stepped in and filled shifts every day. We are proud to say that members helped rescue over 11,000 pounds of food. With the health crisis still creating a lot of uncertainty and problems for at risk populations, members have committed to serving with Table to Table in May as well. We are so happy to be part of a wonderful organization and mission!
What a whirlwind of a month! For the health and safety of everyone, several events and activities in March and April were cancelled due to the health crisis. However, before social distancing went into effect, AmeriCorps members were able to tackle a couple projects during AmeriCorps Week (March 9th-13th). Half of the members assisted Hanna Wadke at host site Trees Forever, and the other half assisted at Brucemore historic site in Cedar Rapids. The team at Trees Forever helped dig, rake, and move 13 trees to promote better growth. At Brucemore, the team moved 5 tons of mulch and built a deer protection fence. It was a great opportunity for members to serve outside the Iowa City community!
At this time AmeriCorps members aren’t interacting with the community, but they can certainly help community organizations affected by the health crisis. One such essential organization is Table to Table, a food recovery center in Iowa City. Table to Table, like many non-profits in the area, suffered a severe decline in volunteers. Governor Kim Reynolds urged AmeriCorps members across the state to complete part of their service by helping these struggling organizations. Bur Oak Land Trust AmeriCorps members were able to step up and have already helped deliver over a 1,000 pounds of food to those in need. During the entire month of April, Table to Table will have two AmeriCorps members helping every day!
“It was satisfying to gather over 700 pounds of quality food each trip,” Mia said. “With so many people struggling financially right now, it is even more urgent than before to provide these resources.”
If you’re looking for more good news, you’re in luck! AmeriCorps stewardship technicians were still able to work in the field doing prescribed burns and clearing invasive brush at O’Mara-Newport Woods. Bur Oak Land Trust is fortunate to still be able to provide their members hands-on training and experience with land management.
Claire reflected on her experience during the month of March by saying: “We are in business to save the planet. This idea, while quite simple, reminds me exactly why I am here working on a gloomy day in March when the entire world has been turned upside-down. The quietness of the woods, along with the motivational messages playing through my speakers, envelops me in a sense of calmness.”
For her service, Lidija is working remotely and helping at Table to Table. She continues to work on providing fun educational material for families looking to safely spend their free time outdoors. The Kid’s Corner website page has been updated with new activities, and is a resource that allows kids to stay engaged with the outdoors and their learning. With no school or youth programs, Lidija feels that the Trust can take this opportunity to show parents that they can make the outdoors a classroom!
We hope all readers are supported, safe, healthy, and able to find some peace during a very difficult time in the world. Although we can’t enjoy the physical company of friends, we can always find company and solace in nature. It is business as usual in the forests, prairies, lakes, and wetlands, even more so now that we have hit beautiful spring weather. On display are critters and plants everywhere awakening from their deep winter slumber. While our moods may be clouded by recent events, the sunshine and smells of a perfect spring day offers us a natural remedy.
Have you seen the amazing transformations happening at Muddy Creek Preserve? The team has spent most of February working on canopy clearing to enhance habitat for native wildlife. Taking a walk through Muddy Creek, you’ll see a number of places that not too long ago were overwhelmed with honey locust and other invasives. “When looking at the downed trees it looks like quite a mess, but we are slowly but surely making progress… and are making a huge difference in what we can accomplish,” said Hannah Davey. The work to restore part of what was once oak hickory savannah will continue through spring and summer.
After orientation, the three new AmeriCorps members got to work right away on their prescribed fire certifications. Completing their training prior to spring will allow them to help with prescribed burns throughout the season. New members have been getting familiar with the Trust’s properties and the management objectives for each. In the coming weeks they will begin chainsaw and other power tool training. AmeriCorps members also worked on seeding Belgum Grove, Muddy Creek Preserve, and Turkey Creek Nature Preserve with seeds collected by volunteers last fall.
To help with youth engagement, Lidija has been working on kid activities that are now available to be printed from the Kid’s Corner tab. She understands that this is a great way to encourage people to spend time outdoors – whether on a short walk or just spending time in the backyard – and it’s an easy way for children to explore their surroundings. In addition to activities, she is working on kid friendly property maps to guide those exploring properties.
Trees Forever Update from our AmeriCorps member Hannah Wadke in Cedar Rapids:
My February was all about networking! I worked with Trees Forever staff to bring in new and old volunteer groups to work with Growing Futures and for our big Earth Week Blitz event! This includes EcoLips, Inc, The Wells Fargo Green Team, Green Iowa AmeriCorps, and the Cedar Rapids Police Department, to name a few. Volunteers are the backbone of our programs, without them, we could not get as much accomplished as we do and I appreciate all these groups helping us.
I also met with local groups to recruit for our Spring Growing Futures Teammates. This includes 7 local high schools, Junior Achievement of Eastern Iowa, IowaBIG, The Intercultural Center of Iowa, the YMCA, and the Cedar Rapids Public Library. We start Growing Futures in just one short month and I am ready to get planting!
This February I also attended Shade Tree Short Course at Iowa State University and had a lot of fun learning new things and meeting new people. I discovered some great nurseries to partner with for our Growing Futures trees, and I attended some thought-provoking workshops. My favorite workshop was called “Are You a Leader or a Boss?” and was presented by Randall H. Miller from CNUC. This workshop went over different types of leaders, how to be a leader and not a boss, different types of people based on their personalities, and different mindsets people can have. It gave me a lot to think about and I hope to become a leader and not a boss.
While at Shade Tree, I also attended a workshop presented by Michael A. Dirr from the University of Georgia, called “Origins of Cultivated Trees.” He shared all the beautiful new cultivations we have today and the history of them. He taught the workshop with humor and wit and captured our attention immediately. Now when I am ordering all these different trees for Trees Forever, I can appreciate them all a little more knowing their history.
Let’s admit it, the month of January felt painfully long at times, and yet we are already in the second month of 2020.
Bur Oak Land Trust kicked off the New Year with a First Day Hike that attracted over 150 people to Turkey Creek Nature Preserve! Parents brought their kids, dogs, and smiling faces. The weather was fantastic for guided hikes, scavenger hunts, and hot cocoa around a bonfire.
“It was a fantastic way to spend the day following my 23rd birthday,” said Sarah Lawinger, “standing under an oak tree with both the community and my coworkers, listening to sheets of ice melt off into Turkey Creek, and strangers chatting and bonding over a smoldering fire.”
Bitter cold and heaps of snow kept many of us inside for part of January. That didn’t stop our AmeriCorps stewardship technicians from continuing habitat enhancement at Big Grove Preserve. “It is very rewarding to see the progress we’ve made by felling numerous honey locust and elm trees….It’s exciting to think about how opening up the pasture and putting in a fence will dramatically alter this area, and help encourage native plants to regrow,” shared Kate Reilly about work done.
It’s not every day that all six AmeriCorps members get to spend time together. The Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service on Jan. 20 brought everyone together for the same cause. Program Director Meredith Roemerman joined the AmeriCorps team at Last Hope Animal Rescue in Cedar Rapids. Members organized shelves, painted, filled treats with peanut butter, and at the end, gave baths to puppies awaiting adoption. Thanks to everyone who participated that day and to the wonderful shelter staff – the service day was a huge success!
Education Specialist Lidija Stojanovic has been working on creating kid-friendly property guides and printable activities for Bur Oak Land Trust’s website. Using her creative skills, she is also working on designing T-shirts, hopefully in time for Spring Family Day. Later in February, she will be giving a presentation at Willowwind School to discuss ways in which young students can be good environmental stewards. In the spring, several youth groups and University of Iowa student organizations are looking forward to an educational visit at one of the Bur Oak Land Trust properties. Lidija is also coordinating with Backyard Abundance, one of Iowa City’s leading educational nonprofit organizations to partner in establishing a pollinator garden. Lidija will take the lead on a kid-friendly activity and facilitate learning about pollinators.
The New Year also brings Bur Oak Land Trust four new AmeriCorps members. The next cohort of AmeriCorps members is due to start on Feb. 11 and we can’t wait to meet them!
Hard to believe we are already in 2020! At the start of the New Year, the AmeriCorps team will have completed four months of service totaling over 500 hours for each of the three full-time members and over 250 hours for each half time member. Thanks to the stewardship technician team, the service hours translate to significant habitat improvements on Bur Oak Land Trust properties.
Continued invasive vegetation removal and tree canopy clearing at Muddy Creek Preserve is improving quality of shelter and space for threatened and endangered species. Back in the early fall days, we were excited to see the resurgence of one threatened species, the lesser ladies’ tresses orchid!
Winter habitat improvement projects also continue at Big Grove Addition and Pappy Dickens. The team has been putting in long hours removing autumn olive, honeysuckle, and multiflora rose to encourage native tree and shrub growth. On days when the weather doesn’t cooperate, the team works on updating and rewriting habitat management plans and uploading trail camera photos.
Earlier in December, Lidija, the conservation education specialist, joined Big Brothers Big Sisters for a fun evening leading activities that educated them about pollinators.
The kids were joined by their matches and enjoyed looking at butterflies, moths, and beetles under a microscope. We look forward to working with Big Brothers Big Sisters again in the spring! The Conservation Education Specialist also joined Cedar Rapids Green Teams and gave a presentation on the importance of using native plants around their schools and establishing outdoor classrooms.
Lidija will be working on planning projects with Office of Sustainability and The Good Earth Nature Center for spring and working on activities for STEM fest and Eco Fest the next couple of weeks.
Thanks to the UIOWA Environmental Science and Academic Coordinators, NOLS Wilderness First Aid (WFA) was brought to the UIOWA campus! All AmeriCorps members attended the 2-day training with Jason Taylor and Carter Johnson. Many individuals taking the course were educators and several were students and other community members interested in having the experience for jobs and their own travels. Thanks to the wonderful and skilled WFA teachers, training was the perfect mix of seriousness, comic relief, and interesting hands-on scenarios and activities. Even though we giggled our way through a couple of the scenarios on day one, by day two we all felt very comfortable and confident in performing patient assessments and working through complicated scenarios.
Prescribed fire is an extremely valuable habitat management tool when used appropriately. Through coursework and time spent in the field, AmeriCorps members have been able to gain an immense amount of knowledge about prescribed fire. Timing, site preparation, planning, and knowing the objectives are all necessary components of a successful prescribed fire. All members at Bur Oak Land Trust have participated in at least one prescribed fire and received instruction on assessing weather conditions, using various hand tools, drip torches, suppression techniques, and operating mobile water units. In early November, a seven-person crew with two AmeriCorps members successfully completed a burn at Indiangrass Hills to suppress river birch trees that are encroaching on the prairie. Later, all members participated in a prescribed burn at Belgum Grove to reduce woody vegetation, remove invasives, and prep the area for seeding.
Trees Forever Update from our AmeriCorps member Hannah Wadke in Cedar Rapids:
The beginning of November marked the end of our fall session with the Cedar Rapids Growing Futures team. On November 2nd we met our fall goal of planting 162 trees in Cedar Rapids. Earlier in the month I helped plan and participate in a TreeKeeper event where we planted four trees along the main entrance at Shaver Park. TreeKeepers is a program of Trees Forever where individuals from the community gain hands on experience from Trees Forever staff on how to plant and maintain urban trees. One of the larger events I got to participate in was the Iowa Living Roadways Celebration on November 7th in Ames.
This celebration focused on water quality and storm water management education for various communities in Iowa. In addition, I was able to educate community representatives on how trees can help homes become more energy efficient by shading and creating wind barriers. I used an interactive model with a small house plus movable trees and quizzed individuals where they believe deciduous or conifer trees should be placed.
At the end of November we have been focusing on preparing fun educational materials for different age groups in the CR School District, preparing written materials about Growing Futures, and creating educational pieces about trees. We are currently preparing for our Woodland Legacy Symposium that is December 12th. This event brings together leaders from city government, educators, architects, planners, and conservationists to explore how we can create sustainable communities, and the impact of trees on overall community function.
October has been a busy month for AmeriCorps members. All 5 members finished their online S-190/130 Wildland Fire Training and completed the field day portion of the course at Kirkwood. Now that all members have the necessary training and knowledge, burn season here we come! In addition to the online course, AmeriCorps members also received field experience at Indiangrass Hills and learned safety and basics of prescribed burns. Even though it was a windy and cold day, everybody dressed in full gear, learned how to prepare and handle drip torches, assessed and worked in less than ideal weather conditions, safely operated water pumps and hand tools, and much more.
Several seed harvests also took place with local volunteers working together with AmeriCorps members – Boy Scouts, Coralville IDT, and University of Iowa students generously donated their time to seed harvests at Turkey Creek nature Preserve and Belgum Grove. Numerous prairie seeds were collected including indian grass, wild rye, golden rod, mountain mint, gentian, Culvers root, and milkweed.
Lidija (conservation education specialist) is developing educational material for the Cedar Rapids School District, preparing for an activity with Big Brothers Big Sisters, creating educational Facebook content, designing flyers for display at businesses, and creating material for AmeriCorps sponsorship, while Cedar Rapids Green Teams, which aims to educate and implement sustainable practices in their schools, needs help educating their team leaders on rain gardens and best native species and planting practices. Lidija plans to create an informational packet and presentation for this awesome group!
Over the past several weeks, Bur Oak Land Trust’s new AmeriCorps team has been working hard to fulfill their conservation mission and improve Iowa’s natural landscapes for the community. This month, stewardship technicians have worked on habitat restoration at Muddy Creek Preserve, primarily focusing on clearing canopy to create sunnier spots for endangered and threatened species. This also gives the technicians an opportunity to gain the necessary skills and training for tree felling and chain sawing. In addition to chainsaw training, the technicians have been working on Prescribed Fire Training and getting their training completed to be Merit Badge Counselors for Scouts BSA.
Trail maintenance is another important job of the stewardship technicians in preparation for events, working on mowing trails at Turkey Creek Nature Preserve and Belgum Grove for community and youth groups that visit. Stewardship technicians have also been supporting the growth of native vegetation by putting wire cages around native shrubs and trees at Turkey Creek and removing invasive species. This past week they encountered an orchid species that has never been recorded at this property before. Protecting this native orchid species will involve gaining a better understanding of their habitat requirements and managing invasive vegetation around it.
In order to gain a better understanding of how a successful land management plan can be implemented on Bur Oak Land Trust’s properties, the AmeriCorps team visited a unique ornate box turtle habitat.
They had the opportunity to learn about the specific causes of the box turtle’s habitat degradation, and they were able to observe their one-of-a-kind physical characteristics.
Lidija, the conservation education specialist, has been working on scheduling and attending talks with local organizations and businesses. Alongside Executive Director Jason Taylor, she presented on the new and exciting addition of the AmeriCorps team to Bur Oak Land Trust. Most recently, Jason and Lidija presented at the Optimist Club and staffed an outreach booth at the Linn County Landowners Forum, reaching out to local landowners interested in learning and preserving native landscapes. In addition, there are several new organizations that work with University of Iowa students that Lidija has reached out to for possible collaboration on special projects and events.
Developing activities for booth events and outdoor activities to engage youth in conservation is a big focus for Lidija and she sees new opportunities to coordinate with the Cedar Rapids School District Green Team and the Iowa City schools.
Recently Lidija was at Belgum Grove working with youth from Scouts BSA who want to work toward their Nature badge and in the near future Lidija will have an opportunity to work with youth and their matches at Big Brothers Big Sisters for a fun hands on pollinator activity.
In addition to community outreach, Lidija has been able to get out of the office for a bit and visit box turtle habitat, Belgum Grove, Muddy Creek Preserve, and Turkey Creek as well as being the lead photographer of the stewardship technicians in action.
She has also been participating in prescribed fire training and completed training to be a merit badge counselor.
Lidija is also working on creating themed Facebook content that will bring awareness to environmental issues and inspire the community to take action at the local level. In addition to this aspect of social media, she has been working on improving Bur Oak Land Trust’s social media presence and researching the data from our social media sites. She hopes to assist in developing a plan that will help Bur Oak Land Trust reach many more people in the next couple of months.
With many upcoming fall events, volunteers are needed to make it all happen. Lidija has been sending sign-up links to all the individuals interested in volunteering for seed harvests and Bur Oak Land Trust’s “Under a Cider Moon…a Celebration of Autumn” annual gala.