Meet our Volunteers

Volunteer carrying an arm full of branches

Joy Leick - A Note of Thanks to a Campground Host

Campground hosts serve as ambassadors, advising campers of any rules, suggesting local points of interest to visit and telling them where to find things. Joy Leick, campground host at Jay Cooke State Park, recently found the following note left by a cabin guest when checking out of their cabin.

Dr. Jennifer L. B. Anderson, Ph.D., Professor of Geoscience at Winona State University

Thank you note to Joy.

Joy, thank you for your warm welcome. Thanks for all you do to make people’s stay safe and comfortable.

Thanks to Joy and all our great Campground Hosts!

Bruce Gravelle – Candlelight luminary maker

Some of Bruce Gravelle’s fondest memories about volunteering with the DNR over the years come from helping with candlelight events in wintertime on state trails and parks.

Candlelight events seem to bring out the whole family. From young kids being pulled in their sleds to grandma and grandpa roasting marshmallows by the fire. Everyone seems to like the ice luminaries that Bruce has made, and he gets lots of questions on how to make them. Bruce also recycles candles from the events, melting them down and donating them back as new ones to the parks to be used again at their various candlelight events. If you see a promotional picture of ice luminaries, check to see if the candle is colored. If it is, Bruce most likely made it.

Bruce Gravelle explaining showing the candles he makes for ice luminaries.

See Bruce in action in this 5-minute video segment called Luce Line Luminary, courtesy of Minnesota Bound.


Why does Bruce volunteer with the DNR?

I think the reason that I volunteer with the DNR goes back to when I first started going to state park programs when we were camping and visiting different parks around the state. I enjoy being outside and now as a volunteer, it is fun to help others explore and enjoy the many different activities the DNR has to offer. I enjoy seeing new parks and places that I have not seen yet. I have completed the Hiking Club and Passport Clubs twice. The things I have learned about each of the parks help me talk with visitors about the whole parks and trails system, and the DNR.

-- Bruce Gravelle

Dr. Jennifer L. B. Anderson, Ph.D., Professor of Geoscience at Winona State University - Dark Sky Festival volunteer

Dr. Jennifer Anderson and her Winona State University students have volunteered the last three years at the annual Dark Sky Festival held at Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park. They demonstrate the size and scale of our solar system by showing visitors models of the planets that are scaled to size to show how large the Sun is and how small the other objects are. They set up a 1-mile-long pathway from the sun’s location out into the solar system to Pluto, so visitors get a sense of how far away the planets are from the sun. Dr Anderson also brings telescopes that allow park visitors to safely view the sun during the day and to view the moon, planets, and deep sky objects after dark.

People evolved in these natural spaces and under the dark skies that are found here. We need the Earth, its beauty, its sounds, and its dark skies to be completely human. It is extremely important to keep these areas available for people of all ages to experience and enjoy. She and her students talk with park visitors about planetary science, astronomy, meteorites, and the Earth.

Dr. Jennifer L. B. Anderson, Ph.D., Professor of Geoscience at Winona State University

Why does Jenn volunteer with the DNR?

“I have always loved being outdoors in natural areas and state parks have been a part of my life since I was a child. I feel strongly that it is vital to protect, preserve, and study our natural environments and make them accessible to all humans. It is my job, as a scientist, educator, and mother, to do my best to encourage everyone to find themselves in nature. I am more than happy to give back to all the fantastic people at the DNR by lending my time and expertise to their efforts to connect us all with nature.”

-- Jenn Anderson

Janet Nelson – Rare Plants volunteer

Janet Nelson enjoys volunteering looking for rare plant communities. She met several of like-minded people at her first survey of the Western Prairie Fringed Orchid in 2013. They welcomed the newcomer to their group and gave her a post card (which she still has!) of the orchid we were surveying. After several minutes of walking the site, they approached one of their targets, the Western Prairie Fringed Orchid. As they closed in, she heard one veteran volunteer say to another nearby, "Shhh, let her find it first". She found it...and they took her photo with it. She thinks of that moment from 10 years ago, every year when they survey that site. Janet has since then photographed a couple of other "newbies" with their first orchid, hoping to share the great feeling those early volunteers gave to her.

Volunteer Janet Nelson out in nature

Why does Janet volunteer with the DNR?

Volunteering outdoors with the DNR has given me the chance to learn more about plants from experts in their field. It also provides the opportunity to meet other like-minded volunteers and learn from them as well.

-- Janet Nelson

Blue Mounds State Park Volunteers

The cliffs of Blue Mound State Park

Blue Mounds State Park has been fortunate to have a consistent crew of volunteers doing woody plant removal from the prairies and cliff line areas for the past few years. They’ve made a notable dent in removing invasive ash, plum, and sumac from the landscape. These volunteers include Richard Morgan, Daryl Fuerstenberg, Dave Boen, Rick Serie, and Cary Radisewitz.

Why do they volunteer with the DNR?

My goal as a volunteer at Blue Mounds State Park --and I think that of my compatriots--is to try to restore the prairie. Part of that effort is directed at re-exposing the beautiful Sioux Quartzite rock cliffs. Before we settlers arrived, it could be seen for miles with the view only partially obstructed by a smattering of the magnificent, native Burr Oaks which withstood the prairie fires for centuries. Now this view is obliterated by an abundance of non-native trees, many of which are way past their prime and really shouldn't have been there in the first place. They are invasive species. I believe all of us volunteers are very grateful to our ancestors who set aside this beautiful area for us to enjoy. The least we can do is attempt to bring the land back to its original beauty.

-- Rich Morgan

Brian Johnson – Rare Plants and PlantWatch Program volunteer

In the photo, Brian Johnson is using a spherical densiometer to measure the amount of light reaching the ground layer. The goal of this monitoring project is two-fold: 1) long-term viability for the State Threatened tubercled rein-orchid, and 2)to assess the effects of restorative management (brush removal) using various management options (fire, mechanical cutting) on the orchid’s habitat.

Brian Johnson is using a spherical densiometer

(Photo courtesy of Michael Lee)

Why does Brian volunteer with the DNR?

I volunteer because I hope the information I gather produces a greater understanding of where our rare plants are and what factors affect the rise and fall of their populations. In addition to trying to help the plants, I also volunteer because I benefit! I have been able to visit some very unusual plant communities and see many interesting plants. Also, my knowledge of native plants has increased dramatically, due to the outstanding mentoring I have received from a number of DNR botanists, particularly Michael Lee.

-- Brian Johnson

How does Minnesota rank for volunteering?

  • In 2021, Minnesota ranked #3, with more than 1.5 million residents volunteering through an organization contributing $3.5 billion in economic value.

Source: Corporation for National and Community Service


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