Meet our Volunteers

Winter 2015 – 2016



President’s Lifetime Achievement Award for Volunteer Service - Richard Nelles, Remer

Richard NellesRichard Nelles, has volunteered his time, talents, and skills with the Minnesota DNR for the past 44 years.  He's been everything from a Woodland Advisor to a Hunter Safety Instructor to a Lake Level Reader.


But the area where Richard really excels is in wildlife research.  He's been a key player on several wildlife studies – most notably a 15-year whitetail deer survival study and an 8-year fisher management study that is just coming to a close.


"Richard has always had a love for the outdoors, but he didn't make it his actual career until he retired and basically became a full-time DNR volunteer.  He didn't go to college for conservation, but his life experiences and knowledge of trees and animals have made him invaluable as the woodsy guy on projects– helping teams get from point A to point B in the woods and recognizing wildlife behaviors," says Renee Vail, DNR Volunteer Administrator. 


He also shares this knowledge (and even his home) with wildlife student interns who are book-smart, but lack real experiences.  He's learned a lot working on wildlife research projects, but has also contributed a great deal.


Richard was recently honored with the following awards:


Richard NellesOn the state level -


  • The MN Association for Volunteer Administration Outstanding Adult Volunteer Award for 2015
  • A certificate from Governor Mark Dayton citing Richard's 44-year volunteer contribution to the DNR

On the national level -


  • President's Lifetime Achievement Award for Volunteer Service

(In this award, President Obama recognizes those that have contributed at least 4,000 hours to volunteer service.  We've calculated that Richard has donated over 35,000 hours of volunteer service to the DNR – he is most deserving of this national award!)


Master Naturalist Volunteer: Bruce Gravelle, West St Paul

Bruce Gravelle

Bruce Gravelle is the go-to volunteer for Afton and Fort Snelling State Parks. Bruce is a Master Naturalist Volunteer and enjoys helping with interpretive programs at both parks, as well as the Gateway State Trail. One area Bruce especially excels at is helping with candlelight events.


According to Linda Radimecky, Area Park Naturalist, Afton State Park, Hastings, "Bruce takes the candle ends that are left after the events, melts them down and makes new candles for the next year. He has also made over a hundred ice luminaries that he transports from Fort Snelling to Afton State Park, and onto the Luce Line and Gateway State Trail candlelight events. This takes a lot of time and effort that we really appreciate!"


Bruce Gravelle

"In addition to candlelight events, Bruce is a certified Basic Archery Instructor and helps Afton and Fort Snelling with those programs. He is always looking for ways to improve or streamline efficiencies and his attention to detail is awesome!"


Thank you, Bruce, for volunteering your talents with us!


Smokey Bear: Paul Munns, White Bear Lake

Smokey BearPaul Munns has been a DNR volunteer since 2002 volunteering with the Division of Forestry in a significant role of the fire prevention program playing Smokey Bear.  This past year, Paul went on the road to 7 different libraries in southern MN as Smokey Bear taking part in the Paws to Read Program celebrating Smokey' s 70th Anniversary (birthday).


"Paul did an excellent job as we visited the libraries and spread the word about fire prevention. He also did several other volunteer appearances in parades, county fairs and the MN State Fair!" said Art Widerstrom, former Forester and current DNR retiree, Forest Lake.


Paul has a passion for fire prevention and is willing to help at a moment's notice. He has participated in the Governor's Fire Prevention Day at the State Fair since 2008, assisting fairgoers at the ground cab building, fire tower, and the fire prevention booth.


According to Mimi Barzen, Forester, Grand Rapids, "Paul often checks back in over the course of the state fair to lend further assistance, if needed.  He is an enthusiastic volunteer, which compliments Smokey Bear and his Voice well. Fairgoers love to interact with Smokey and this visit is a highlight for many. So, Paul makes sure it's a positive experience for children and adults. It's a win-win for everyone!"


Thank you, Paul, for volunteering with MNDNR as Smokey!



Friends of Glacial Lakes State Park Volunteers

skiingAmy Schnoes, Assistant Park Manager, Glacial Lakes State Park, Starbuck, says "We have a very active Friends group at Glacial Lakes State Park. Throughout the year, they volunteer their time and energy to help promote the park and to organize some big activities such as the annual candlelight event, National Get Outdoors Day and Easter activities. They are also involved with fall cleanup and leaf raking, promoting the park at parades, and other projects as needed."


Thank you, Friends of Glacial Lake State Park, for donating over 600 volunteer hours this past year to help promote the park!