Meet our Volunteers

Volunteers for the DNR

Winter 2023

Sherry Abts – Ely Loon Ranger

Meet Sherry Abts, the “Ely Loon Ranger” and Minnesota DNR Loon Watcher Survey volunteer with a lifelong passion for loons. Thirty-five years as a public educator has taught Sherry how to get people excited and interested in the natural world around them.

Sherry’s passion for loons began in 1993 when she volunteered with the Earth Watch Program in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan documenting loon behavior within the Seney National Wildlife Refuge. For two to three weeks each summer, Sherry and other staff would intensively observe loon pairs and their chicks from sunrise to sunset each day. She was captivated watching the different parenting styles amongst loons.

Since then, Sherry has spent countless summers and winters observing loons and assisting loon projects across the country. She has been a volunteer with Northland College’s Loon Watch Program for the last 12 years collecting valuable reproduction data on loons in Wisconsin. For the last five winters, she has also assisted Ohio Northern University with behavioral studies of loons on their wintering grounds in South Carolina.

Sherry became a Minnesota DNR Loon Watcher Survey volunteer in 2017. Over these past five years, she has spent hundreds of hours each summer observing loons on the lakes in the greater Ely area. Not only has she collected invaluable data on loon behavior, nesting success, and chick survival each year, but she has found a way to engage and educate many Ely residents on the importance of loons. Sherry has recruited numerous volunteers to join her in the Loon Watcher Survey watching almost 40 lakes annually.

Sherry’s willingness to engage, help, and educate anyone is what sets her apart. Without volunteers like Sherry Abts, the Loon Watcher Survey wouldn’t exist. Thank you, Sherry! Your efforts help protect loons and their aquatic habitats in Minnesota!

Sherry Abts

George-Ann Maxson - Conservation ambassador

We are putting the spotlight on George-Ann Maxson, a volunteer for long-term ecological monitoring, orchid surveys, vegetation surveys and bee surveys.

George-Ann has been doing volunteer survey work for over 25 years in the northwest region of our state. Her work is consistently accurate and she double verifies anything we question when it comes to plant, bird, or insect identification. She is meticulous in her notes which makes data input and analysis easy and, in turn, is easily interpreted. She takes many photos to help document a project or work site and carefully labels all the photos for ease of use later. Fully committed to anything she agrees to do, George-Ann does it cheerfully, too!

A true ambassador for the conservation and protection of Minnesota's natural resources, George-Ann's contributions are many: she has helped with bird surveys, dragonfly surveys, general insect identification, plant identification, long-term vegetation monitoring projects and searches for rare plant species. She is also a wealth of ecology knowledge: she keeps up to date on plant nomenclature changes and continually improves her botanical skills.

Thank you, George-Ann, for your contributions!

George-Ann Maxson

Michael and Pam Pagelkopft – Tree cookie volunteers

Meet two of our wonderful volunteers: Michael and Pam Pagelkopft!

The Pagelkopfs recently led a group of Rochester-area Minnesota Master Naturalists to create 100 sets of tree cookie activity kits for teachers. The volunteer group went through a five-step process to create tree cookies:

  1. Cut, dried, sanded, varnished, and labeled 1,500 tree cookies!
  2. Acquired a donation of onion bags from local grocery store
  3. Packaged 15 cookies, one activity sheet, and 20 paper plates into each onion bag—all needed for a teacher to do the lesson.
  4. Packaged the sets of cookies into large plastic trunks.
  5. Delivered the trunks to the DNR Central Office in St. Paul.

Find out how to create your own tree cookies from Project Learning Tree.

Thank you to all who helped create these incredible teaching materials. And a special thank you to Michael and Pam Pagelkopft!


tree circles

What do DNR Volunteers do?

Download the 2021 DNR Volunteer Annual Report for a listing of all the different kinds of projects volunteers do throughout the state.

Since creating a department-wide DNR Volunteer Program in 1988, Minnesotans have engaged in more than 12.5 million hours of volunteer service adding $238 million in value focused on managing our state's natural resources.

How does Minnesota rank for volunteering?

  • Minnesota ranked #2 in the nation for volunteering in 2015 with 1,560,667 volunteers donating 155.41 million hours of service at a value of $3.3 billion.
  • Minneapolis-St Paul was ranked #1 in volunteering among large cities in the U.S. The Twin Cities was ranked #2 in college students and #2 in Millennials volunteering.

Source: Corporation for National and Community Service

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Current volunteer opportunities now open for this season

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