The annual Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) summer program is underway at Pipestone National Monument. The opportunity that currently employs five local high school students, began on June 5 and will run through July 28.
Through the program, area students who apply and are selected gain hands-on paid experience working at the monument, monitoring the prairie at the park for invasive plant species, conducting studies on those plants and removing them. They do general upkeep of the prairie, including some landscaping where they plant native prairie plants and grasses. On some Fridays, the group will go on educational field trips to neighboring parks like Good Earth State Park, Palisades State Park, Blue Mounds State Park and more. When their workload slows, the crew will rove the park, observing its other natural features and answering questions of visitors.
Will Rops, a Pipestone native and a bio-services technician student trainee and a supervisor for this year’s YCC summer program, said that he was searching for a summer position inbetween semesters when the job opened up at the park. Currently, Rops is studying sustainability at Minnesota State University Moorhead. The job is an interesting one, Rops said, and a host of invasive plants keep the crew busy.
“There’s a bunch of different problematic ones that we see,” Rops said.
Ty Vander Ziel, a resident of Leota and a soon to be senior at Edgerton High School, applied for the job because of his interest in the natural sciences. Vander Ziel hopes to study marine and aquatic biology, and conservation.
“I thought this would be a really good job, and it is,” he said. “I like it a lot. It kind of does pertain to what I want to learn and what I want to do.”
The most interesting part of the job, Vander Ziel said, is learning about the history and culture of the Monument.
“Just knowing about the history and culture of this place and learning about the history of the quarries,” he said. “I like that a lot.”
Ella Gorter, a Pipestone resident and soon to be junior at Pipestone Area Schools (PAS), said she applied for the position because growing up with her mother working at Blue Mounds State Park instilled a love of the outdoors and park systems.
“I go on this trail (at the Monument) a lot and I really like it,” she said. “Then this job opened up.”
Gorter said she has learned quite a bit about conservation since taking the position, and enjoys soaking in the knowledge held by everyone who works at the park.
Bradley Nickel, a Pipestone resident and upcoming senior at PAS, took the position because of his interest in the natural world, and desire to pursue a degree in zoology after high school.
“I’m really looking into zoology,” Nickel said. “So this kind of fits in.”
Nickel was participating in a job shadowing program at the high school when he heard about the position. He applied and was selected, and now finds himself enjoying learning about the general nature of the park and the biodiversity of the prairie.
“You can be standing in one place and see a certain type of grass and then walk 10 feet and find a whole different kind,” he said. “Or seven new plants there that are completely different.”
Much to the crew’s disdain, one of the invasive plants that keeps the group extremely busy is the yellow toadflax, known to many in the field as butter and eggs.
“There is a weed called butter and eggs and if you see it, get rid of it as fast as you can,” Nickel said. “It will spread and take over the entire place.”
The invasive plant which hails from Europe and Asia, has a root system that is difficult to get rid of, the team said, and they are currently studying the plant in plots at the Monument, trying to determine the best method for hand picking the problematic plant.
“We can’t burn it every year because we burn the prairie in patches and burning doesn’t always kill it,” Rops said. “You can’t spray pesticides on it because of the way it grows and we don’t want to harm the other plant species so you can only hand pick it.”
Despite the headache that the plant gives them, all of the students said that they have enjoyed learning from the experience and that they look forward to finishing out the program before returning to school.