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So many of us live in Wisconsin’s Northwoods or Michigan’s Upper Peninsula because we love what surrounds us every day. We love the clear water, the clean air, and the lush forests. WXPR’s environmental reporting as part of our expanded series, The Stream, focuses on the natural world around us. The Stream is now about more than just water: it brings you stories of efforts to conserve our wild lands and lakes, scientific studies of animal and plant life, and potential threats to our environment. Hear The Stream on Thursdays on WXPR and access episodes any time online.

Cream City Conservation Corps Spends Two Weeks Working & Learning in the Northwoods

Ryder Fox pushes a wheelbarrow full of gravel down a path through the Argonne Experimental Forest near Hiles.  He dumps it into a frame where his fellow conservation crewmembers are waiting to pound it down, adding to the interpretive trail.

The 15-year-old from Milwaukee is part of the Cream City Conservation Corps.

All summer they’ve been working on conservation work in the city, but for two weeks they’re visiting the Northwoods to see what conservation work looks like in rural areas compared to urban.

This experience has been a mixed bag.

“I just gotta say this is better than yesterday, except for the bugs,” said Fox.

For many of the crew members, this is there first time out in this kind of forest setting.

The crew is working in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest through the Urban Connections program.  The program allows the Forest Service to partner with different urban organizations.

Like Fox, the bugs were hard to get over for 14-year-old Messiah Hart.

“It’s not fun, the flies. We don’t [have] this many mosquitoes in Milwaukee,” said Hart.

It’s been a big adjustment for 15-year-old Dwayne Hudson who really didn’t know what he was getting himself into.

“I didn’t even know we were going to be out in the wilderness. I thought we were going to be working at McDonalds or something,” said Hudson.

But despite the bugs and new environment, the crew members are enjoying themselves.

That’s what Mike Trewartha thinks they’ll hold onto when they look back on their time in the Northwoods.

“It’s pretty comical but it kind of hits home as well. I remember when I was their age and I was in the water and trees of the Northwoods swatting away bugs and trying to get away. I look back at those memories fondly now,” said Trewartha. “I think about if I hadn’t had those experiences where would I have been and what my character would have been like if I would have just been in a building or in a city my whole life. I really think they will value this experience as they get older and more mature.”

Trewartha is a recreation technician supervisor with the Chequamegon Nicolet National Forest.

Credit Katie Thoresen/WXPR
Dwayne Hudson packs down the new trail the Cream City Conservation Corps is helping build this week.

This week he’s taking the Cream City Conservation Corps to different parts of the forest to learn about different types of forest management and accomplish different projects.

“They’re working on rehabilitation and new construction of trail on the Argonne Experimental Trail System. This trail system goes through 9 different study areas. It’s basically living laboratory,” Trewartha said.

Trewatha said while it’s great the crew is getting work done, it’s more important to him that they learn what’s out there.

“It’s exposing kids and young adults from urban areas to rural areas, to a place they maybe never even known about and thought about,” said Trewartha.

While the general consensus of the crewmembers WXPR spoke was with ‘This is nice, but not for me’, ones like Hudson recognize the value in what they’re doing.

“A lot of stuff I’m learning it’s like, I’m seeing new things than what I see where I’m from, like nature. I don’t really see that where I’m at,” said Hudson.

Hudson said he doesn’t have a desire to go into the environmental field, but the work he’s doing with the conservation corps has him thinking about going into construction which he hadn’t considered before.

Their crew leader, Jacob Sanchez, believes its enough to get that experience and learn from nature, even if they decide not to follow a career path in it.

“I want them to have fun more than anything else. I think it’s good to see a place you’ve never been before. I hope they learn a few things about plant identification and trail building, but that’s what we’ve been working on all summer and will continue to work on when we’re back down in Milwaukee. I’m hoping they take away mostly just a positive experience in nature and getting a little sweaty and getting some work done,” said Sanchez.

They’re definitely getting work done as is evident from the freshly matted patches of gravel they’ve fixed along the trail as well as the new trail section they’re making.

And if the jokes and laughter in between swatting mosquitoes are any indication, they’re having fun while doing it.

Katie Thoresen is WXPR's News Director/Vice President.
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