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Sustainability Leaders on the Rise – Outdoor Leadership Crew Impacts

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Sustainability Leaders on the Rise – Outdoor Leadership Crew Impacts

The Fall 2023 Outdoor Leadership Crew (OLC) season has come to a conclusion with achievements far and a variety of skills gained by the Restoration Assistants (RA). “As I look back upon the season, I see a lot of little moments that have helped each RA continue to build upon becoming incredible leaders in land stewardship” noted OLC Crew Lead and Conservation Education Instructor, Olivia Dove.

There are a myriad of stories to share from the season, from collaborating with volunteers, meeting animal friends, and partnering with other organizations along the way. OLC had many takeaways from the season.

The first few weeks of the season focused primarily on restoring the bottomland forest at Lower Meramec Park, a section of the Meramec Greenway. The crew spent a few weeks clearing competing plants such as Sericea lespedeza, around 285 trees that had been planted within the last three years. This project was a true test of the crew's ability to not only grow as a team, but tolerate the elements of the heat, and navigate new tools. The excitement of the project grew (literally) as 43 new trees were planted on site. The Restoration Assistants had the opportunity to work alongside the AmeriCorps St. Louis Emergency Response team, a crew similar to OLC, focuses on environmental stewardship and restoration. With the collaboration of multiple organizations, the Lower Meramec project came to a ‘tree’mendous finish!

Throughout the season, the RA’s addressed several other sites and opportunities. Projects varied with many different objectives planned by Great Rivers Greenway Conservation Coordinator, Bryn Blackburn. The OLC crew spent many work days removing invasive species such as bush honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica L.), wintercreeper (Euonymus fortunei), privet (Ligustrum spp.), and bradford pear (Pyrus calleryana).

“One of my favorite parts about invasive species removal was when someone on the greenway would stop and ask what we were doing” said Olivia “at first, I would address greenway users the first few weeks, but eventually, the RA’s began engaging with them and it was great to hear them explain the importance of providing wildlife with diverse habitat and promote native species.”

Other projects included planting milkweed seedlings, trash pick-up, tree fence repair, and shrub planting. The project at Kiener Plaza Park dividing hostas was probably the most unique and memorable project. Not only was it cool because the RA’s were working practically next to the St. Louis arch, BUT, it was a testament to the mission of Great Rivers Greenway to see the literal community connections being made all the way downtown in the heart of the city. The widespread need for restoration and habitat preservation was undeniably fascinating. No matter what project the OLC crew was working on, or no matter where they went, they all had two things in common: a great spirit and passion for land stewardship, and tickseed trefoil (Desmodium spp.). The tickseed trefoil is one of the trickiest seed dispersers, and those buggers got all over the RA’s clothes at almost every site they went to! Even at Kiener Plaza Park in the heart of St. Louis, SOME WERE FOUND!

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OLC Crew Members (Left to right) Allen, Amber, Pam, and Julia holding a deer shed and skull found at Blue Bird Greenway, covered in tickseed trefoil (Desmodium spp.)
Photo by Great Rivers Greenway

Ah yes, the truck. They crew could not have successfully caravanned to their work locations without the help of JET (Just Enough Truck). At the beginning of the season the RAM 2500 Tradesman Crew Cab 4x4 appeared to be a bit “too much truck” as Fletcher, Community Programs Supervisor, and Olivia called it. Soon enough, after packing the truck with the tools and necessities for the work weeks, crew members found that just like Goldilocks said, this truck was just right - just enough truck. Between the 14 weeks, JET became like another member of the OLC family serving as the comical Spotify playlist DJ. JET’s favorite band must have been Cold Play because “Viva La Vida” was always played multiple times throughout the day on the shuffled crew created playlist.

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Photos: JET (top images) packed for the day with al the OLC crew’s essentials

While the RA’s typically work a Tuesday-Thursday schedule, they also participated in the Saturday Fall Conservation Volunteer Days hosted by Great Rivers Greenway. The volunteer days were some of the RA’s favorite projects. “The volunteer days were wonderful opportunities for the RA’s to grow in skills such as community outreach and education” says Olivia, “but my favorite part of those days was seeing the RA’s thrive off of what they called the ‘volunteer energy’, the strong spirit and enthusiasm the volunteers brought to the events.”

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Photos: OLC Crew Members Pam Taylor (top left) teaches volunteers about proper tool use while Amber Blackmon (top right) shows a volunteer how to identify invasive species.
Photos by Great Rivers Greenway

Even when volunteer numbers exceed expectation, the crew led the volunteers through identification, and tool use with confidence and their dialogue with volunteers grew into a natural interaction almost immediately. “By the last volunteer day, I was nearly applauding in the background with how well and naturally the OLC crew led volunteers through bradford pear removal” noted Olivia. “We of course celebrated this achievement with donuts.”

Outdoor Leadership Corps is also focused on providing training and workforce development to the crew. This season, those trainings were provided by the tree stewarding nonprofit, Forest ReLeaf. Billy Hagg, Forestry Manager, led the crew through three tree stewardship trainings: tree ID, mulching, and pruning. Each of these trainings allowed the RA’s to fill their metaphorical tool kit with more stewarding skills. The crew also teamed up with Great Rivers Greenway and Forest ReLeaf for two of Forest ReLeaf’s volunteer tree plantings. Restoration Assistant Julia Beckner had noted the success of this partnership stating “I think that how the tree planting volunteer days have evolved over just this season is going in a great direction, so continuing with that model we have and building off of that is great!”

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Photos: (Top left) OLC Crew Members put their mulching skills to work at a volunteer tree planting event. (Top right) Billy Haag teaches OYC crew members about tree pruning

The workforce development days within OLC focused around a few pathways, personal career interest/opportunities at the garden, Human Resources Q and A, and mock interviews. The OLC leadership team is thankful to all the Missouri Botanical Garden staff who helped facilitate the workforce development days to provide unique professional perspectives to the OLC crew. This season, the RA’s had the opportunity to attend the horticulture open house- a unique opportunity to hear more about how horticultural operations and projects are successfully achieved at the garden! Fletcher also created an online resource for crew members to utilize, condensing all of the information presented throughout the season and new materials to reference for future career building after the program. “I’m looking forward to more professional development and exploring where my career may go in the future!” commented Restoration Assistant Payton Ginestra.

While the season was full of memories that can’t be condensed into numbers, the OLC acquired some great quantitative achievements as well. The OLC crew completed work over 11 different Great Rivers Greenway project sites. Across those locations the crew facilitated invasive species removal over 6.5 acres, cleared brush away from 285 trees, assisted in the planting of nearly 200 trees, planted 120 native prairie species, and removed one rogue tire and almost 2 cubic yards of trash.

Olive notes, “While I’m sad this season has come to a close, I am incredibly proud of the achievements from this crew. Not just the numerical achievements, but the personal growth, teambuilding, and friendships made along the way. I can’t wait to see where this zest for restoration and stewarding the land takes each and every one of them!”

Fletcher and Olivia are already gearing up for the next season, starting January 22, 2024. OLC will have three returning crew members, and two new additions. The program has also added the position of Assistant Crew Leader to provide more leadership and professional development opportunities to one returning crew member. We are both excited to be a part of the participants' success in finding future careers in conservation in greater St. Louis area.

If you are interested, or know someone who might be interested in these positions, look for the “Restoration Assistant” job posting on the Garden’s website in June for the fall 2024 season. If you have any questions contact Fletcher: mfletcher@mobot.org

| Categories: Sustainability in the Community | Tags: Outdoor Leadership Corps, OLC, professional development, stewardship | View Count: (295) | Return