Written by Charly Kearns, Conservation Specialist
In my 15 years of working in the conservation field, I have come to realize many things about myself. Perhaps most importantly, I find that I am happiest when I am doing some sort of productive physical work outside in a natural setting. Most of this has taken the form of bushwhacking through dense forest understory, planting trees and shrubs in muddy fields, or wrestling with invasive plant species (often quite literally). I enjoy working with volunteers and work crews, but I find myself alone in the woods much of the time, which suits me well.
Because of my appreciation of solitude, I avoided trail building until joining the staff at Landmark Conservancy last year. Don’t get me wrong – I love hiking and regularly use trails. I also just enjoy areas without trails. When I started exploring Tyler Forks Community Forest, I was initially resistant to increasing public access. However, I have come to appreciate a well-planned trail system and I found that I really enjoy building trails and the particular challenges it can pose.
My first puzzle was how to transport several tons of lumber over a half-mile into the forest. This material was used to build two sections of boardwalk and a set of stairs to the Tyler Forks River. The solution (as it often is) was lots of college students! Thanks to the many hands and shoulders of those Northland College students and other volunteer groups, we were able to finish building these two boardwalks earlier this summer. These boardwalks help us protect sensitive wetland vegetation while allowing visitors to keep their boots dry.
We then completed a set of 30 stairs to make it easier for visitors to access a beautiful stretch of Tyler Forks River, while protecting the soils on the steep slope.
We also partnered with Copper Falls State Park, their Friends group, and volunteers from Xcel Energy to complete a half-mile trail connecting our trail system and the Doughboy Loop at the State Park. This trail will help educate park visitors allowing us further cooperation with the State Park. Our summer interns, Bekah and Haydn, helped us maintain and improve conditions on several miles of trails at Tyler Forks. There are several additional projects planned for next year.
Balancing public access and education while maintaining wild places is important. I am so happy to be part of an organization that allows me to help others enjoy our beautiful natural places while protecting the sensitive habitats found there. I still appreciate places without trails, but I truly enjoy this part of my job. I can still spend a full day at Tyler Forks without seeing another person. That solitude paired with my muddy boots and aching muscles always sends me home with a smile on my face.