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Adventures at Whiterock: Olivia Simmons ’24 at Whiterock Conservancy in Coon Rapids, Iowa

Over the past month and a half, I’ve been participating in a co-op at Whiterock Conservancy, a unique non-profit organization in Coon Rapids, Iowa that has three main goals: to promote environmental preservation and the use of sustainable agriculture, and to give a recreational and educational area for the public to enjoy. I chose Whiterock Conservancy in the hopes of gaining experience in areas like conservation work and the general upkeep of non-profit organizations. So far I’ve been able to participate in many different activities and projects both out on the land and in the office. During my first week here, I jumped right into the fire by participating in two controlled burns. I would drive around in a John Deere Gator and hose down any fire that tried to crawl past the marked lines it was designated not to cross. These burns were necessary for the health of Whiterock’s ecosystem, as many plants and animals rely on fire to kickstart germination for a variety of plants and to ensure local ecosystems remain healthy.

A picture of the first controlled burn I participated in

A picture towards the end of the first controlled burn I participated in

After the first week, I started to participate in duties surrounding maintaining recreational areas. I would aid in the transportation and hauling of fallen trees for firewood, clean out the 805 log cabin as well as the shower houses on the Oakridge and Starfield Campgrounds, and various other jobs such as power washing the Gators clean. Other work focused on assessing the spread of invasive species, such as honeysuckle and garlic mustard, and aiding in their removal, usually with the help of volunteers or scout troops as there is a lot of ground to cover that wouldn’t be feasible to do with a small group.

Woodsorrels are early bloomers that can be identified by their five petals

Phlox are early bloomers that can be identified by their five petals, they usually have a bright purple color.

After a few weeks on the job, I transitioned to doing office work revolving around several different projects. My first assignment was to document information about two hundred species of plants that help indicate ecosystem health. For each species, I would record the family name, height, bloom period, and so on. Once that was completed, I moved on to projects that involved gathering information about invasive plants and birds that can be found in prairie habitats. Though I was focused on office work, I was able to gradually get back into the field by taking photographic documentation of plant species that I’ve managed to find throughout Whiterock for future reference. Most of the photos I took were of spouting plants, but some plants managed to grow and even bloom by the beginning of May.

Currently, I’m still doing plenty of documentation both in the office and out on the field, but I’ve been able to help with more physical work, such as trail maintenance, again. I expect that this will become a routine part of my schedule along with the other projects I am currently working on. Now that summer is around the corner, there will be a lot of new work to tackle and plants to document now that the weather is warmer and traffic from visitors will be increasing. I am looking forward to seeing what the next month has in store for me!

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