Saturday, September 27, 2008

NPLD: Toyota Employees at the Salato Wildlife Education Center

The Take Pride in America® Voluntour Across America, Heartland Voluntour arrived at the Salato Wildlife Education Center Saturday, Sept. 27 to join employees from Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Georgetown, Ky. for their National Public Lands Day event.

More than 200 employees, many arriving after their overnight shifts, were joined by volunteers from Franklin County High School’s Air Force Junior ROTC and football team, as well as 17 international students from Kentucky State University, to pick up litter, build trails, and pull invasive weeds.

The efforts added to the education center’s Toyota sponsored “Habitrek” trail and a lot of sweat went into clearing invasive honeysuckle, winter creeper vine and privet bushes that were taking over the area behind the black bear exhibit. That required muscle and something called a weed wrench to remove the thick roots. On the hill in front of the exhibit, another team was digging deep holes for rain ponds and building a berm to keep rains from flooding the bear exhibit.

Toyota, sponsor of Voluntour Across America, has a corporate philosophy of giving back to the community, according to one of the plants vice presidents, Takao Gonno. “The concept is called Shakai Koken which translates meaning social contribution,” Gonno said.

The big event in Kentucky marked the end of the 2008 Voluntour Across America and the “Heartland Voluntour” which covered more than 2,900 miles and six states recognizing and participating in volunteer events on public lands.

Students from Kentucky University's CASS program.

Franklin County High School Football Team.

Toyota employees and family take part in a variety of activities.

Working on the Habitrek trail.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Ohio State University & Keep Columbus Beautiful

Columbus, Ohio was recently named one of the cleanest cities in America...that can be attributed in part to the efforts of Keep Columbus Beautiful. Today KCB partnered with the Ohio State University Students Engaged in Responsible Volunteering for their annual Community Commitment day of service. Over 1,500 OSU freshman participate in this event aimed at getting college students involved in the local community, and it is one of the largest service events held on a college campus.

Buckeyes gathered early to receive assignments that ranged from helping local youth, serving meals and outdoor clean up. KCB organized the outdoor clean up portion of the event, and nearly 600 students participated in litter removal and beautification projects in neighborhoods surrounding the OSU campus.

Event organizers, Jack Bruce, Mike Eizyk and Cristen Porter (pictured below) did an amazing job coordinating this effort.

Sherri Palmer, along with the KCB staff also did an excellent job organizing the students into groups and getting them sent out into neighborhoods armed with litter picker-uppers, trash bags, gloves and other helpful tools.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Ice Age Trail: Lapham Peak

Getting families to get outside and enjoy nature together was the goal of the event hosted by REI and the Ice Age Park and Trail Foundation. And with 30 parents and children joining volunteer organizers, Frank and Russ for a 1.5 mile hike at Lapham Peak near Milwaukee, Wisconsin, that goal was met.

Lapham Peak is the highest in the county and is a favorite recreation spot for many locals. Visitors hike, backpack, snowshoe, cross country ski and camp at this 1,000 acre state park.

Volunteer naturalist Mike Fort lead the hike and explained the prairie restoration project that volunteers from the Foundation, along with the Friends of Lapham Peak have been working on for many years. Participants had an opportunity to collect seeds that will be planted along the trail as a part of the restoration efforts. Kids experience nature first hand walking along the well groomed trail, looking to the sky as a flock of geese flew by and chasing a little frog in the grass.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Cochran-Fountain City FFA & the Upper Mississippi National Wildlife and Fish Refuge

The morning started early, but the students of Cochran-Fountain City and the staff from the Upper Mississippi National Wildlife and Fish Refuge were enthusiastic and cheerful. We met at the Lower Spring Lake Landing, just outside of Buffalo City, Wisconsin to take boats to one of the islands that students from the school's Future Farmers of America chapter spent time volunteering on.

The islands were constructed through the Environmental Management Program to restore habitat and diversity to the 500 acre backwater lake that is located on the Wisconsin side of the Mississippi River. Restoration of these islands is crucial to the natural habitat and migrating birds.

Students from the FFA chapter participated in a variety of activities through out the refuge. They worked with Refuge staff to remove two full pick-up trucks full of young purple loosestrife (an invasive species), documenting plant species during the growth season and loosestrife beetle propagation. Our visit to Water Snake Island showcased one of the biggest projects taken on by the students...the planting, tubing and matting nearly 1,000 native floodplain forest trees!

It was the first time students had returned to the island since planting the young trees, so to see their progress was exciting.

Thanks to the Upper Mississippi National Wildlife and Fish Refuge for their help and amazing boat driving skills! And thank you to Chris Jumbeck, the FFA advisor and teacher at Cochran-Fountain City.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge

The Voluntour made its way to the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge in Prairie City, IA, today. Once we turned on to the road that entered the Refuge, I felt like I had been sent back in time. The prairie grass was tall and waving in the wind. The view was stupendous - a real view of nature without a building to block it. We followed the road to the Learning Center and even this was developed to fit into the natural habitat. The building is built into the hill and ground to keep the aesthetic feel of the surrounding landscape.

Al Murray, volunteer coordinator at the Refuge, met us and showed us the video that all students involved in their Environmental Education program see before they do anything else at the Refuge. The video gave the history of how the prairie has come full circle – at least on the 5500 acres that make up the Refuge. The Refuge prides itself on bringing back the prairie, from the prairie grass and native species of plants to the wildlife, as it was over a hundred years ago.

The students from Emerson Middle School were helping to tag Monarch butterflies. We got a chance to see how this works. Each student is given a butterfly net and taken into the butterfly garden. They wait patiently and watch until a butterfly lands on one of the many plants. Once they catch the butterfly in their net, Refuge staff note its sex, the person who caught it, places a tag on it, and sets it free. The tagging is done because the Refuge is the mid-point of the Monarchs migration route to Mexico. When they make it to Mexico and are caught, the tag is checked and the Refuge is notified if one of their tags is found. The Refuge will then send a certificate to the school of the child who tagged that butterfly.

The Refuge has approximately 60 volunteers. These volunteers help to maintain the Monarch butterfly garden, take care of greeting visitors, managing the bookstore, and leading some of the Environmental Education programs. Below, volunteers Arleen Vander Ploeg and David Wharff are joined with Refuge Manager, Nancy Gilbertson and Volunteer Coordinator, Al Murray.

Al took us around the Refuge to show us some bison. Unfortunately for us, they were not to be seen. The Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge is an awesome place to visit. The volunteers and staff are all welcoming and helpful. The views from the many areas of the Refuge are something to behold. The photos are good, but they don’t do justice to the real thing.

Dowling Catholic High School

This morning we had the pleasure of meeting a handful of outstanding students and faculty at Dowling Catholic High School in West Des Moines, Iowa. Dowling signed on as a Take Pride in America School in 2007.

We met with teacher Karen Soliday and Assistant Principal, Dave Marcouiller, and students, Scott Fitzpatrick, Josh Holtkamp, Robyn Tong, Noel Kutz, Alivia Tison, Jill Bialzak and Hayle Streff.

Robyn, Noel, Alivia, Jill and Hayle are student VIP leaders. VIP, or Volunteer Initiative Program, works to get students involved in volunteer activities in their local community. The program has about 75 core students, but most volunteer opportunities are open to the entire student body. On September 27th, nearly 100 students and faculty from Dowling will venture up to Cedar Rapids, Iowa to participate in flood recovery efforts.

Josh and Scott help operate the Home Recycling Exchange, a place for members of the community to bring large, unwanted home items to be recycled or re-used. So far over 1500 tons of material have been recycled. Because of these student's efforts, these items are taken care of responsibly, instead of being illegally dumped on our public lands.

Thank you Ms. Soliday for making our visit possible!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Saylorville Lake

Greetings from the road! After a rainy start in Missouri, it was great to see the sun and Saylorville Lake. Saylorville Lake is a man-made lake operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, that is just 11 miles north of Des Moines, Iowa. We were greeted by two of Saylorville Lake's outstanding volunteers...John and Betty Turner. The Turner's have been volunteering at Saylorville Lake for 8 years and have accumulated over 2800 hours of volunteer service!We quickly found out that the Turner's are just one example of outstanding volunteer service at the lake. All of the volunteers at Saylorville Lake pitch in and help out where needed, and don't let anything stop them from serving. One volunteer, Mark McGrew is currently recovering from a heart transplant, and can't wait to return to the lake to volunteer. Prior to his surgery, he could be found doing a variety of things...from driving a tractor to putting up bulletin boards. It's because of these dedicated volunteers that every visitor's experience to Saylorville lake is enjoyable.

Natural Resource Volunteers, Will and Judy Carter, spend most of their time pruning, mulching, raking and clearing trails, but today they helped out by picking up new maintenance trucks for the lake. For the volunteers at Saylorville, every job is in their job description.A special thanks to Emily Coffin and the staff of Saylorville Lake for making our visit possible. It was great to see the "old school" Take Pride in America logo at the visitors center.