Volunteering - special programs

Volunteering opportunities

Volunteers for the DNR

Find a volunteering opportunity in your area:

Metro area and Central MN
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monarchBe a Volunteer Citizen Scientist for Monarch Butterflies

(Metro Area and Central MN, NE, NW and Southern MN)

The monarch butterfly population has seriously declined over the last twenty years. To protect these beautiful pollinators, it's crucial that we have high quality information on their distribution, habitat availability and habitat quality. The Monarch Conservation Science Partnership needs the help of volunteer citizen scientists, like you, to collect this information.

As a volunteer, you would:

  • Visit a site to monitor once per month during the growing season (2-4 hours per session)
  • Collect data on monarch adults, larvae, and habitat
  • Test new field techniques
  • Provide feedback on the monitoring program

Your participation in this national monitoring effort will inform how stakeholders across North America conserve the iconic monarch butterfly! Read more about the Monarch Monitoring program.


FREE two-day training sessions will be held (9 AM – 5 PM.)

Lunch will be provided.

Registrants must be able to attend both days of the training at ONE of these sites:

  • Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge, Prairie City, IA: May 5-6
  • MN Valley National Wildlife Refuge, Bloomington, MN: June 3-4
  • Fenner Nature Center, Lansing, MI: June 10-11
  • UW-Madison Arboretum, Madison, WI: June 24-25

Register for a training at https://tinyurl.com/mcsp-register as a volunteer for the Minnesota DNR. Additional information will be emailed upon registration.

Email our partners at the Monarch Joint Venture: Laura Lukens at luke0063@umn.edu or Kyle Kasten at kkasten@umn.edu

The Minnesota DNR Nongame Wildlife Program is a partner with several federal and state agencies, non-governmental agencies, and academic programs that are working together to protect monarchs and their migration. Learn more about the Monarch Joint Venture.


trout lilyRoving Naturalist at Nerstrand Big Woods State Park

(Metro Area and Central MN, Southern MN)

Share your love and knowledge of nature with park visitors as a Roving Naturalist. Work with park staff on weekends to make visitors' experiences at the park educational and fun! Here's how:

Roving Naturalist - 6 weekends beginning April 8 - May 14, 2017:

  • help guests with wildflower identification of MN Dwarf Trout Lily on the boardwalk
  • need to be able to walk 1/2 mile to the trail location and boardwalk
  • 2 to 4 hour shifts available
  • training and scheduling will be held in early April

For more information on any of these positions, contact Dave Olsen, Park Technician, Nerstrand State Park, 9700 - 170 Street East, Nerstrand, MN 55053 at 507-333-4840 or email david.olsen@state.mn.us
Directions to Nerstrand Big Woods State Park: Take I-35 to State Highway 19 east into Northfield. Go south on State Highway 3, east on State Highway 246, then turn right onto County Road 29.


raccoonFur-bearer Registration Data Entry

(Metro Area and Central MN, NE MN)

Use your computer skills to assist with Fur-bearer registration data entry. Each winter season, trappers register their harvest with the Minnesota DNR. This information is used for research on wildlife distribution as well as to help manage fur bearing species over the following seasons. Researchers can analyze the data once you've entered it.

Volunteer Responsibilities:

  • Be trained to use the computerized Fur-bearer data entry system.
  • Review the data sheets and enter them into the database using computer software designed for this purpose.
  • Ask questions if unsure how to interpret data sheet.
  • Work with an assigned staff person to resolve any questions.

All data entry will take place at each of the following DNR offices:

  • DNR Central Office, 500 Lafayette Rd, St Paul, MN
  • DNR Regional Headquarters, 1201 East Hwy 2, Grand Rapids, MN

Volunteering can take place anytime between the hours of 8 AM - 4:30 PM, Monday - Friday, during March and April. Lunch may be covered if you volunteer more than 4 hours in a day. One day or two half-days per week is preferred.

You must be able to pay attention to details, have accurate and efficient typing skills and be a team player to work with DNR staff on the project.

For more information on either location, contact Hal Watson, MN.IT @ DNR GIS Section Supervisor for the Division of Fish and Wildlife Season Management, St Paul, at 651-259-5508 or email hal.watson@dnr.state.mn.us


raccoonMining History Volunteers

(Central MN, NE MN)

Use your passion for history to help preserve Iron Range Mining history! This is a great opportunity for those looking to learn about careers in archaeology, archival science, or cultural resource management.

Up to 3 volunteers per day may assist at the following sites:

  • Croft Mine (Located in the Cuyuna Country Recreation Area, the office is located at 307 3rd Street, Ironton, MN 56455) Croft Mine is an underground mine that operated from 1914 – 1934, producing 1,770,669 tons of iron ore. This historic site now offers a museum, simulated mine shaft, and authentic mining artifacts.
  • Hill Annex Mine (Located in Hill Annex Mine State Park, entrance to the park is on the north edge of Calumet along State Highway 169, halfway between Grand Rapids and Hibbing.) Hill Annex Mine consists of an open pit mine and museum.

Volunteers will catalog, digitize, organize, and store historic artifacts associated with each site. Doing so will help preserve local history for future museums and research as well as make way for the restoration of historic buildings so they can serve a practical use for the DNR while housing new exhibits.

Volunteer duties include:

  • Take photographs
  • Dust artifacts
  • Enter data in catalog software
  • Prepare conservation and archival supplies for the day
  • Make container labels and dossiers
  • Place artifacts in storage
  • Prepare humidification chambers
  • Help unroll sensitive maps

An ideal candidate would have experience in archaeology, museum studies, or historical preservation work of some kind, but not necessary.  Training will be provided.

Time Commitment:

  • A minimum of 4 hours per week is required between the hours of 8:00 AM – 4:30 PM.
  • The position at Croft Mine will be open March until late May, Sunday – Friday.
  • Hill Annex Mine will be open to volunteers from June – Dec, Sunday – Friday.  
  • Help is welcome at any time these days.
  • Inquire if you need assistance with transportation to the mines.

For more information contact Ian Dunshee, Historic Resource Specialist, Grand Rapids, at 218-244-4117 or email Ian.Dunshee@state.mn.us


volunteer pulling parsnipParsnip Pull at Whitewater State Park - Saturday June 24

(Southern MN)

Picturesque limestone bluffs and deep ravines make Whitewater a very popular southeastern state park. Enjoy the view and take part in the 5th Annual Parsnip Pull, Saturday June 24, 2017 from 8 AM to 12 noon.

  • Work with a group of volunteers to pull wild parsnip from heavy use areas of the park.
  • This service project is combined with a fun social atmosphere with lunch provided.
  • Activities and entertainment will be focused on invasive species.
  • No experience is necessary, but you must be able to stand for 4 hours, bend over and carry spades, shovels or other tools necessary for removing parsnips.
  • Approximately 50 volunteers are needed, so invite your friends and bring a group!

For more information contact Sara Holger, Lead Interpretive Naturalist, Whitewater State Park, 19041 Hwy 74, Altura MN 55910 at 507-932-3007 extension 226 or email sara.holger@state.mn.us


2 boys making desksConstruct Small Field Desks for State Parks

(Southern MN)

MN State Park Naturalists works with schoolteachers and others to educate students about natural environment. Field Desks are a fun tool to assist with teaching in a state park setting. They are a great way for students to carry supplies out to a prairie, wetland, forest, river, etc. to provide a hard surface for writing, and help keep students organized. Younger students can even turn them on their side and use them as a small stool.

Use your woodworking skills to make classroom sets of 30 field desks for state park sites. The Southern Region Parks and Trails connects you with sites such as Fort Ridgely, Flandrau and Minneopa State Parks, to name a few, and then you deliver the field desks.

If you are interested in making a classroom set of field desks, read the info below:

Field Desk Details

  • A classroom set is 30 field desks.
  • You need to provide all materials.
  • You can use this field desk design or come up with your own approach. Do what works best for your woodworking skills.
  • In 2012, an outstanding volunteer put together a video of his process. This video might help your planning, especially if you are doing the project with a group. (Note this is just one approach, and not meant to be directions.) If you do go with a different approach, please submit for review first.
  • You will need to deliver the field desks directly to the State Park site when they are complete.
  • Several volunteers have been successful at seeking donations for the materials from hardware stores.

State Park Site Selection

  • There are state park sites in Southern Minnesota interested in field desks. After you finish making a set of field desks, we will provide you with a current list of sites needing desks. Then you can select a state park to deliver to. This list will change as volunteers complete projects, so we do not post a list online.
  • You can request a current list of state parks to get a sense for where the sites are. However, remember that the list is likely to change before you complete the project.
  • We do NOT reserve state park sites. When you have completed your field desks, you can select from the list.

Eagle Scouts
If you are considering doing field desks for an Eagle Scout project, Southern Region State Parks and Trails staff is happy to work with you.

  • State Park staff can sign your paperwork to initiate the project.
  • Once you have the desks completed, the naturalist at the site should be able to sign the final/completion form.
  • Be sure to allow enough time to finish and deliver the project before your 18th birthday.

Want to get started or have questions?
Contact Scott Kudelka, Area Naturalist, Minneopa State Park, Mankato at scott.kudelka@state.mn.us or call 507-384-8890.


loonMinnesota Loon Monitoring Program: June 30 - July 10, 2017

(Metro and Central MN, NW, NE, and Southern MN)

Volunteers across the state are needed to track Minnesota's loon population. Now in its 24th year, the Minnesota Loon Monitoring Program will assign you to a pre-selected lake to count the number of loons you see on one morning between Friday June 30th and Monday July 10th, 2017.

Detailed instructions, training materials, maps, and a data form will be provided. Time commitment is 2-4 hours per lake. Surveys must be done sometime between 5:00 a.m.-12:00 noon. Volunteers must commit to completing assigned lake(s) within the specified time frame and returning completed survey materials.

Call or e-mail the following DNR Regional Nongame Wildlife staff to be assigned to a lake(s) in one of the listed counties:


woodcock chickGot Pointing Dog? Help Band These Fuzz Balls

(Metro and Central MN, NW, NE, and Southern MN)

This little fuzz ball is an American Woodcock chick. Woodcocks are a small migratory game bird that breeds in Minnesota.

If you have a well-trained pointing dog and wish that hunting season lasted longer, you might want to join our team of volunteer American woodcock banders. Banded birds help biologists learn about migration routes and hunting mortality. We work in April- June, anywhere in the state that woodcock breed.

Birds are captured, measured, banded and released. Some of us call it the catch-and-release bird season. Watch this 2 minute video to see DNR volunteers banding woodcock.

To be a woodcock bander, you need to:

  • Own a pointing dog, to locate the birds (it's very important that the dog be steady to flush and stop to flush in order to be used for banding)
  • Attend a weekend training workshop in May where you learn how to capture and band woodcock chicks and your dog(s) is certified as ready for banding
  • Apprentice at least one season as a new bander
  • Commit to at least 4 days in the field during the season, April - June, depending on the weather

Upon completion of training, banders will be permitted to work on their own in Minnesota and may apply for permits to work on public lands. Woodcock banders typically work alone or in pairs, anywhere in the state that American Woodcock breed.

For more information contact Donna Dustin, Woodcock Banding Volunteer Coordinator,
Detroit Lakes, at 218-849-2148 or email Donna.dustin@gmail.com


minesMake Geological History!

(Metro and Central MN, NW, NE, and Southern MN)

The DNR Lands & Minerals office in Hibbing is home to several large collections of documents relating to past mining and geological exploration in our state.

If you enjoy organizing, proofing, (and sometimes sleuthing!) and appreciate geology, peatlands, and/or Minnesota history - this volunteer position is for YOU!

Work closely with geologists, engineers, and reclamation specialists to help:

  • scan historical documents
  • organize collections holdings
  • proof PDF documents of previously scanned work

We are in the midst of tidying up some of our historical collections and online data in order to make room for our expanding collections. These documents allow everyone understand Minnesota geology, mining, and exploration history - all of which is important academically, environmentally, and economically. We need your help to expedite this enormous task!

As a geological history volunteer:

  • You will volunteer for a minimum of 2-3 hours per week, anytime between 8 am - 4 pm, Monday-Friday, at the DNR Lands and Minerals Office, 1525 3rd Avenue East, Hibbing, MN 55746. Please note that Hibbing is located approximately 3 hours' drive north of the Twin Cities.
  • If you do not live in the Hibbing area, there is the possibility of doing some of this work remotely. A stable internet connection, an email account you check regularly, and Adobe Reader (or equivalent) is required for any volunteers wishing to work remotely. This project does not have a specific end date.
  • Experience with Microsoft Excel or Word is desired, but not required. Training will be provided.

For more information, contact Andrea Reed, Mineral Resource Geologist, NE Region, Hibbing, at 218-231-8460 or email andrea.d.reed@state.mn.us


bike trailVolunteer as a State Trail Monitor

(Metro and Central MN, NW, NE, and Southern MN)

Help keep Minnesota's State Trails beautiful by volunteering as a State Trail Monitor! Not only will you be able to spend time outside on the scenic state trails, but you will also be making a difference!

Learn more about volunteering with Minnesota's State Trails.


campground hostsCampground Host at a MN State Park

(Metro and Central MN, NW, NE, and Southern MN)

If you enjoy the great outdoors, scenic vistas, and the company of other campers, then consider volunteering to be a "live in" host for at least 4 weeks (one month) during the period of April to October at a Minnesota State Park operated campground.

A host's primary responsibility is to assist campers by:

  • answering questions
  • explaining campground
  • doing light maintenance work around the campground
  • picking up litter
  • sweeping and stocking supplies in toilet buildings
  • performing emergency minor repairs when possible

Hosts may be requested to assist in the naturalist program by posting and distributing schedules, publicizing programs or helping with programs. Volunteers will set an example by being model campers, practicing good housekeeping at all times in and around the host site, and by observing all rules.

Check the list of Minnesota State Parks looking for Campground Hosts for 2017.

Campground Host volunteers generally work independently. Volunteers are accountable to the park manager who will provide training and orientation for hosts and assist hosts throughout the season with any question or problems that may arise. Length of period, workdays and hours are established with the campground manager, but will generally include all weekends and holidays. Avid campers or RV'ers are encouraged to apply!

Read more about the Campground Host Program. Email your questions to campground.host@state.mn.us or call 888- MINNDNR (888-646-6367) or in the Metro area call 651-259-5607.

NOTE: Campground Hosts will be selected from applications that have been satisfactorily completed and submitted in a timely manner. Interviews will be conducted by the campground manager. The number of consecutive years that a host may serve may be limited to allow others an opportunity. These limitations are at the discretion of the campground manager. All DNR volunteers must undergo a background check. This is done at the time of selection. This also applies to hosts returning from the previous season.


removing brushGet Physical on a State Natural Area

(Metro and Central MN, NW, NE, and Southern MN)

As part of a typical volunteer workday on a MN Scientific and Natural Area (SNA) you will:

  • collect prairie and woodland seeds
  • plant seedlings
  • pull buckthorn or other invasive species of plants
  • cut and burn brush such as sumac

Projects are typically carried out on Saturdays from 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM, unless otherwise noted, on many weekends throughout the year.

SNAs are the premier state lands displaying examples of native prairies, old growth forests, geological features and habitat for rare and endangered species.

Take a look at volunteering on SNAs, and check out the calendar of events to see when you can come lend a hand!


minnesota master naturalist logoBe a Master Naturalist

If you enjoy learning about nature, hiking, bird watching, or identifying wildflowers, you'll love being a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer!

Take trainings and learn about Minnesota's biomes (plant and animal communities) including:

  • hardwoods and rivers
  • north woods and Great Lakes
  • prairies

To learn more visit www.MinnesotaMasterNaturalist.org .

The Minnesota Master Naturalist Program is a joint effort of the University of Minnesota Extension and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.


field desksBuild Portable Field Desks

(Metro and Central MN, NW, NE, and Southern MN)

Use your woodworking skills to build portable field desks! Field Desks are a fun tool to assist with teaching in a School Forest. (School Forests are natural spaces used as an outdoor classroom.) Create a small wooden box for students to carry supplies out to the forest and use as a hard writing surface. Younger students can even turn them on their side and use them as a small stool to sit on.
Field Desk Details

  • A classroom set is 30 field desks.
  • You need to provide all materials. (Many have been successful at seeking donations for the materials from hardware stores.)
  • You can use this field desk design or come up with your own approach. Do what works best for your woodworking skills.
  • In 2012, an outstanding volunteer put together a video of how to make field desks. This video might help your planning, especially if you are doing the project with a group. (Note this is just one approach, and not meant to be directions.)
  • You will need to deliver the field desks directly to the School Forest site when they are complete.

School Forest Site Selection

  • There are School Forest sites statewide.
  • After you finish making a set, you will select a school from a short list of sites currently requesting desks. The list changes as volunteers complete projects, so we do not post a list online.
  • We do NOT reserve School Forest sites. When you have completed your field desks, you can select from the list that we provide.

Eagle Scouts
If you are considering doing field desks for an Eagle Scout project, we are happy to work with you.

  • DNR School Forest staff can sign your paperwork to initiate the project.
  • Once you have the desks completed, the School Forest site coordinator at the school should be able to sign the final/completion form. Or, if preferred, DNR School Forest staff can sign it.
  • Be sure to allow enough time to finish and deliver the project before your 18th birthday.

Contact Laura Duffey, Project Learning Tree Planning Specialist, MNDNR Division of Forestry, St Paul at laura.duffey@state.mn.us to let her know you are interested and then get started on your project!


steve wardLake Level Minnesota volunteering... doing your level best!

(Metro and Central MN, NW, NE, and Southern MN)

Whether it is floods, droughts, or just a normal year, lake level fluctuations (or the lack of them) are important to document. Be a volunteer observer and record lake levels on a regular basis.

Find out more about the Lake Level Minnesota program and Check lake levels with the LakeFinder


loonVolunteer Loon Watcher Survey

(Metro and Central MN, NW, NE, and Southern MN)

If you live on a lake or regularly visit a lake, and you have an interest in loons, you can be a volunteer "loon watcher" in the Minnesota Volunteer Loon Watcher Survey.

As a Loon Watcher you will record:

    • the number of loons you see
  • nesting success observed in eggs and young birds
  • interesting occurrences and
  • problems that may harm the loons

For more information about the Minnesota Volunteer Loon Watcher Survey contact Kevin Woizeschke at Kevin.Woizeschke@state.mn.us or 218-203-4371.


zebra musselsZebra Mussel Monitoring Program

(Metro and Central MN, NW, NE, and Southern MN)

Zebra mussels are spreading to lakes and rivers in the Midwest.

These small invasive mussels attach to hard surfaces in lakes and rivers doing major damage such as:

  • killing native mussels
  • limiting recreational activities
  • clogging water supply pipes
  • competing with larval fish for food

Spend a few minutes checking the docks, swimming platforms, boats, motors, anchors, and any hard objects that have been in the lake or river where you live. Early detection for zebra mussels is important in protecting your property and Minnesota's water resources.

Learn more on how you can monitor for zebra mussels.


firearms safety classVolunteer Safety Instructors

(Metro and Central MN, NW, NE, and Southern MN)

DNR Certified Volunteer Safety Instructor opportunities are available in the following areas:

  • Firearms safety
  • Bowhunter education
  • Snowmobile safety
  • ATV safety
  • Wildlife species

Pass on a love for your sport by teaching youth and adults the ethics and safety you would expect from those you meet in the field.

All new instructor applicants and instructors seeking recertification must meet the requirements of being at least 18 years old and passing a Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) background check.

If you are interested in becoming a DNR Certified Volunteer Safety Instructor, apply online to become an instructor. And check out upcoming safety instructor courses. There is no fee to attend.


making cookiesMake 100 Tree Cookies

(Metro and Central MN, NW, NE, and Southern MN)

Help classroom teachers across Minnesota teach children how trees and other woody plants grow, factors that affect tree growth, tree identification, and more. You can volunteer to create "tree cookies" which are slices of branches or trunks that show the rings of a tree. 100 cookies are enough for about three classes of students, so the more you can make, the better. They will be used!

How to Make Tree Cookies:

  • Slice the branches or trunk into half-inch thick, wafer-shaped "cookies" that are between three to six inches in diameter.
  • "Interesting" cookies with easily readable rings are preferred (these show a history of disease, disturbance, or other story.)
  • Dry the cookies correctly. Do not skip this step or your cookies will rot. See detailed instructions.
  • Sand the surfaces until the rings appear.
  • Finish the surfaces with clear varnish.
  • Optional - Label the cookie with the tree species and location cut.
  • Don't use wood from ash trees.

Detailed instructions found in Tree Cookies - How to Make Your Own PDF

This project can be done individually or with a group (scouts, 4-H, FFA, Kiwanis, etc.) You must provide your own tree or woody plant material, saws, sander, oven, varnish, and labor.

When finished contact Laura Duffey, Project Learning Tree Coordinator, at 651-259-5263 or email laura.duffey@state.mn.us to arrange for delivery to a school site and to get Minnesota DNR recognition.

Project Learning Tree (PLT) program is a natural resources education program for teachers across Minnesota. Teachers often don't have the time or capability to make these cookies so your help is greatly appreciated.