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Scouts, volunteers team up for conservation day

Amy Belland helps her son Quaid of Cub Scout Pack 564 from Webster during the third annual Conservation Day at Oak Ridge WPA. (Photo by Tom Lindfors)

Wet conditions failed to dampen the spirits of more than 200 volunteers as they worked together to remove stands of buckthorn and brush along the shores of Oak Ridge Lake as part of the third annual Conservation Day on the WPA (Waterfowl Production Area) sponsored by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).

A last minute deal by members of Congress to avoid a shutdown insured the event would take place as scheduled.

“It was close,” Tom Kerr, USFWS District Manager, said. “At the last minute on Thursday, we decided to go for it.”

For the first time in the history of Conservation Day, local Girl Scout troops joined area Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts along with student volunteers from UW-River Falls and UW-Stevens Point under the direction of USFWS personnel. Dozens of students assisted volunteers in determining what vegetation to cut and what to leave standing during the morning session.

In years past, volunteers have worked clearing the oak forest on the high ground along the west shore of the lake.

“This year’s project is to restore the little bit of oak savanna right on the edge of the water in preparation for restoring a small wetland next year,” Kerr said.

A ditch connecting the wetland to the lake will be plugged next year in an effort to flood the lowland, and restore the wetland.

During the afternoon session, students manned six educational stations designed to focus on one of the six big uses of National Wildlife Refuges.

“If they are compatible with the property, those uses are hunting, fishing, wildlife photography, wildlife observation, interpretation and environmental education,” Kerr said.

Following lunch, volunteers divided into small groups and took turns rotating through the various stations.

Jesse Garza, deputy district director for U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy, was on hand to present Congressional Commendations for stewardship and voluntarism to Steve Wojan, chairman of the Eagle River District of the Northern Star Council of the Boy Scouts and Brian Headlee, president of the Friends of the St. Croix Wetlands Management District.

Garza read from a statement on behalf of Duffy: “Volunteers are the heart and soul of this great country and your selfless acts on behalf of the St. Croix Wetlands Management District are very much appreciated. Your community is a better place because of your hard work.”

The countless hours of work by Scouts and students over the past three years has transformed the Oak Ridge property from an impenetrable bramble into the gem of local WPAs and home to an impressive range of plants and wildlife.

“We truly appreciate all the partnerships,” Kerr said.