Women in Conservation 👧⚡

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parks and rec


Spring Banner

March 2022

We are part of everything that is beneath us, above us, and around us. Our past is our present, our present is our future, and our future is seven generations past and present.

Winona LaDuke

Economist, environmentalist, author
Enrolled member of the Mississippi Band of Anishinaabeg 

4 young girls of different ethnicities posing with a big fallen tree on a spring day, 1 sitting in front, the other 3 with heads poking from behind.

Girl Power

A lot has changed since Mary Gibbs first helped save the old-growth pine forest at Itasca State Park and became the first woman to serve as park superintendent in the United States. Deb Haaland now leads the U.S. Department of Interior and made history for being the first Indigenous person to serve as a cabinet secretary. In recent years, more women have joined the ranks of the DNR to do conservation work. 

Conservation includes protecting rare species and their habitats and restoring forests, prairies and wetlands. It also involves educating people about natural resources and promoting stewardship. We invite you behind the scenes to meet some of the leaders in this work.

Much gratitude to all the women who paved the way and those who inspire us daily. 

I believe we all have a stake in the future of our country, and I believe that every one of us shares a common bond: Our love for the outdoors and a desire and obligation to keep our nation livable for future generations.

Deb Haaland

First Indigenous cabinet secretary
Enrolled member of the Laguna Pueblo

Graphic reading "destinations."

The Magic of the Prairie

Assistant Park Manager Emily Albin on why Upper Sioux Agency State Park is a true hidden gem, filled with the life that abounds in the prairie and the fascinating topography of the Minnesota River Valley.

Woman standing on boulder in the middle of a green prairie holding young child in her arms at sunset.

"The best part of my job is interacting with visitors, especially kids, and getting to see that special look that goes across someone’s face when they discover something new. I enjoy exploring the prairie with my family, too. They might love the park even more than I do!" PHOTO: Emily Albin. Below, big bluestem, one of Minnesota's iconic prairie grasses.

Big Bluestem blown by wind against blue sky.

The prairie is hands down the best part of Upper Sioux Agency State Park. I love the prairie. Prairie sunrises, prairie sunsets, prairie thunderstorms, the breeze blowing through the prairie. Hundreds of spiderwebs, dripping in dew, draped between big bluestem (photo right) on a crisp fall morning, with a good cup of hot coffee… that is a brilliant way to start your day.

I think there is no better ecosystem than the prairie, not just for its beauty and the harshness of the weather, but also for the amazing fauna and flora and insects that adapted to live in it. Prairie root systems can be the same length or double what we see above ground. (Imagine the root systems of 8-foot tall big bluestem!) Prairies are reliable carbon sequesters that help combat climate change by storing carbon in the soil and not releasing it back into the atmosphere. Unfortunately, prairie is among the most endangered ecosystems in the world. 

My favorite spring activity is to walk the prairie looking for blooming pasqueflowers, one of the earliest signs of spring at Upper Sioux Agency State Park.

Close-up of a Pasqueflower bunch, a light purple flower with a yellow center, surrounded by beige grass.

Pasqueflowers can bloom as early as March and add a pale lavender touch to the prairie.

Spring is also a good time to look for bobolinks, sparrow-like birds unique for their white back and black underparts, (like a backwards tuxedo), foraging in the fields. Or listen for their long spring song, punctuated with sharp metallic notes, and try guessing why its Spanish name is “Tordo Charlatán” or “chatty thrush.” Fun fact: The bobolink travels a whopping 12,500 miles (20,000 kilometers) to and from southern South America every year.

A family of four, comprised of a man, woman and two young girls. smiles at the camera while taking a selfie with rolling green in the background.

Summer nights at the park are magical with thousands of fireflies lighting up the floodplain across the road from the Yellow Medicine Campground. Pitch a tent, bring the RV, or stay in a canvas tipi to watch the show.

More about the park:

  • When a 150-year-old oak tree fell in a storm, park staff trimmed it and spread wood chips to create a nature play area for kids 0-99.
  • Hikers looking for a challenge can climb the strenuous hills in the Minnesota River Valley.
  • Upper Sioux Agency State Park contains the site of the Upper Sioux or Yellow Medicine Agency. Historically, agencies were distribution points for cash annuities, food and supplies promised in treaties. The park was established in 1963 to preserve and interpret the remains of the old site. 

Image of a prairie with blue sky. Text reads "MN Department of Natural Resources, Prairie Pod, Listen. To the prairie."


Protecting and Managing Natural and Cultural Resources

Regional Resource Specialist Molly Tranel Nelson on restoring what was lost in natural communities and protecting our special places. 

Woman looking at the camera, with green, rolling hills in the background.

Molly Tranel enjoying the results of prairie restoration at Kilen Woods State Park. Below, Tranel frost seeding at Glacial Lakes State Trail. Frost seeding mimics nature – seeds drop in the fall and stay frozen until spring when freeze/thaw cycles work them into the soil. PHOTOS: Molly Tranel

From bringing bison back to Minneopa State Park, where they once roamed, to turning a field of dirt into a reconstructed prairie, it is gratifying to watch my hard work grow into something that benefits all Minnesotans. Most recently, I've worked on prairie restoration efforts to help pollinators at Glacial Lakes State Trail and several state parks in southwestern Minnesota including Blue MoundsSplit Rock Creek, Sibley, and Upper Sioux Agency

Woman with large pockets and a bucket for frost seeding standing in a snowy field.

Think of yourself and your actions as part of the larger community and consider the impacts you might have. If one person walks off trail and tramples some plants it may not seem like a big deal, but if the next person sees the tracks and follows, it can create a snowball effect and suddenly you’ve created a new trail and impacted the native community. My motto is, "come clean, leave clean." Consider where you’ve been and clean your boots before you go out, to prevent the spread of invasive species.

State parks I work in are like my children — I’m not supposed to have a favorite. But since we've lost nearly all of our prairie in Minnesota, parks with high quality remnant prairie are special to me. One of my favorite prairie trails is at Sibley State Park. The western part of the park is fairly undeveloped and quiet with rolling hills of grass with ‘prairie pothole’ lakes at the bottom. Hike or ride a horse on the trail north of Henchien Lake, or canoe the chain of lakes for the ultimate peaceful prairie experience. 

Tips graphic

Find Yourself in Nature

Minnesota State Parks and Trails Cartographer Amy Ellison on helping visitors feel "found" and safe.

A woman and man biking on a bridge on a trail, a kayaker can be seen on the side in the river.

Our cartographer pedaling the Root River State Trail. PHOTO: Rolf Hagberg. Below, Ellison paddling the Rum River State Trail. PHOTO: Amy Ellison

I have been mapping Minnesota state parks and trails for nearly 24 years. I love creating tools to help people find their way around at new places. Wayfinding and communicating with maps gives folks a sense of place wherever they are in the world.

Selfie of woman in life jacket in a kayak in the river, a man on a sit-on-top kayak is posing in the background.

One of the barriers to visiting our parks is the fear of getting lost. I'm always thinking of ways to make maps more easily accessible to as many visitors as possible, so we can help alleviate that fear. It makes me happy to hear about the impact on safety each time we publish new and improved maps.

The phone app Avenza is an example of new technology that’s having a big impact. The app uses GeoPDF maps and shows your location at all times, even when you don’t have phone reception! You only have to download the map ahead of time, and you’re good to go.

When not making maps, I enjoy biking the Root River State Trail. It's gorgeous! I’m fortunate to live close to the Rum River State Water Trail, and I make the most of summer to paddle different sections.

Photo of a hand holding a smart phone showing a map by Mississipi Headwaters landmark. Text reads "You, the Avenza Maps App and never getting lost."

Storykeeper and Storyteller of Mni-Ska

Lead Interpretive Naturalist at Whitewater State Park Sara Holger on being a nature guide and mentor.

Selfie of woman smiling big with two young women on sit-on-top kayaks posing behind her on the river.

"In my free time, I love to explore other corners of the Driftless area, where I live and work, by hiking our state forest lands and kayaking area streams and the Mississippi River backwaters (pictured)." PHOTOS: Sara Holger

Whitewater State Park is named for the river running through it: The Dakota named this river “Mni-Ska” (white water) as each spring the swollen river would erode clay deposits along the riverbank, turning the water milky white. 

Woman playing guitar in natural environment.

There is so much breathtaking scenery packed into 2,700 acres at Whitewater State Park. The geology reveals dramatic landscapes around every corner. In spring, you can observe the peregrine falcons nesting in the cliff above the south picnic area. Hike Trout Run Trail to see fantastic wildflowers and a variety of returning songbirds such as the Louisiana waterthrush and yellow-rumped warblers.

There are many popular views from atop the bluffs, but few people know about the bench overlooking the stone dike along the Oxbow Trail. This is a lovely place to sit off the beaten path, listen to the river, and breathe in the forest. It’s a very peaceful location. I like playing my guitar there.

After 16 years working at Whitewater State Park, I'm still learning about its rich history. For the centennial celebration in 2019 I worked on an oral history project, collecting stories of nearly 200 park visitors, staff, area residents, researchers and historians. 

As a naturalist, I get to plant seeds of stewardship for our public lands and nature. I get to foster healthier communities by empowering local community health clinics to prescribe outdoor exploration to their patients. I get to be a nature guide and mentor, helping visitors experience wonder and awe in the outdoors.

Out and about with image of a hiker

The faces and stories of our visitors and staff.

Luisana Mendez, Leaving Huellas Latinas in Minnesota

A fearless leader with lofty goals and a master’s degree in urban development from her native Venezuela uses her skills to connect the Latino community in Minnesota to outdoor spaces, helping create a sense of belonging.  

Woman sitting on rock with a Venezuelan flag draped over it. She's holding and showing a medal. River and bluffs are shown in the background.

I like all outdoor activities, but hiking is my favorite because it is approachable. Through hiking, I can discover new places, learn about their history, and connect with myself and with nature. I can hike alone or with a group. Hiking has been therapeutic for me this past year, as it helped me manage the pandemic-induced anxiety. Today, hiking’s my lifestyle!

In 2021, I visited 77 parks and walked more than 285 miles. I’m doing the 52-Hike Challenge for a second time. I share my journey through my Instagram page and blog so I can motivate others. I’ve developed a variety of programs for Latino families, women and youth, including a Huellas Latinas Hiking Club.

My intention is to help create a vibrant, engaged, and empowered outdoor community. I want to connect members of the Latino community with natural public spaces. I want other new Americans (and Latinos who have been here for generations) to know our home state with all their senses, so that they develop a sense of belonging. My motto is, "Don't just live in a place, be part of it."

Public lands are full of interesting stories and landscapes, ever changing with the seasons. I want other Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) to discover the many beautiful and safe places in Minnesota and to try as many outdoor activities as possible until you find the one that tugs your heart’s strings.

Recreating outdoors brings countless benefits to our physical, mental and emotional health. It helps us develop new knowledge and skills. It drives us to discover a new version of ourselves. 

PHOTO: Luisana Mendez reaching new heights at Interstate State Park. Credit: Luisana Mendez

From the MCV Archives

Adult Onset Outdoorsing

Young Asian woman holding a large fish by the shore of the lake on a summer day.

A child of the suburbs learns to fish, hunt, camp, and more. Full story.

PHOTO: Jenny Anderson caught this massive pike during a trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Credit: Jenny Anderson. 

Minnesota Conservation Volunteer is a print magazine dedicated to Minnesota’s wild places and creatures. For more stories, visit mnDNR.gov/MCV or subscribe.

Icon shows fishing, birds, and a tree. Text reads: "#MyMNOutdoorAdventure. Sharing the stories that connect us."

What's YOUR Adventure?

Millennial Asian couple in snowy prairie lifting feet with snowshoes and laughing.

#MyMNOutdoorAdventure aims to highlight the stories of all the Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) who recreate in the great Minnesota outdoors. There are many ways to get outside and enjoy nature and we want to hear yours. Share your story and photos to be featured on the Minnesota DNR's website and social media channels!

Celebrate the diversity of Minnesota’s outdoor spaces and opportunities for adventure by sharing your story with us.