Working at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge

This summer my 15-year-old daughter, Selina, had the pleasure and awesome experience of being one of five kids to work on the Youth Conservation Corps crew at the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge as well as several other locations around Wisconsin.

Selina’s supervisor was Dennis Nielsen, a well-traveled man who truly loves my golden retrievers Fire and Ruby.

The other members of this crew who became very close by summer’s end were 17-year-old Caleb Dehmlow of Adams, Noah Mecklenburg, 17, and Annie Freidrich, 15. Mecklenburg and Freidrich are from Necedah. Last but certainly not least was 18-year-old Michele Baumgart of Mauston. Michele is totally addicted to waterfowl hunting and a really fun young lady to be around.

For myself, Selina being honored with this job was extremely cool as I have been addicted to the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge since I first laid my eyes on it back in 1971.

The kids would start work at 7 a.m. and they became comfortable with me and the staff at the refuge because I would bring a puppy to work when I would drop off and pick up Selina.

What I observed from the kids’ conversations and by spending two days in the field with them was super cool. One part of a day was maintaining, checking traps and banding mourning doves.

Another full day was spent at the Genoa National Fish Hatchery tagging 800 4-inch sturgeon. Selina told me about a monster bluegill that lives in an aquarium at the hatchery and I really want to see it.

One of my days in the field was actually spent on the water and that was the beautiful backwaters of Lake Onalaska (along the Mississippi River). On this particular day there were 10 crews in flat bottom boats with 4-5 people in each crew.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service runs this job where each crew is diving for water/wild celery and writing down the percentage of vegetation that they gather from the bottom of the river in about a 2-foot square with about 15 GPS locations for each crew.

In our boat, Bob Garret was the boat operator and worked the GPS. Selina kept all the stats which is a very important job and I was a diver along with Evi Rader and Holly North.

Every piece of vegetation in the square has to be removed and the percentage of each written down. You cannot mind mud or diving into the unknown. Water celery is very valuable to diving ducks as they migrate. The hopes are that the water celery is recovering in this section of river.

I feel all the full-time NNWR workers and I noticed was how this crew of five kids from three towns really jelled as they worked in mud, bugs and heat all summer long.

Another project for the kids and Dennis Nielson was duck banding. It did not work out so well and that was simply because of drastically changing water levels and such warm temperatures that ducks were not attracted to bait.

Weed eating and posting boundaries for the refuge were probably two of the most common jobs for the kids but simple jobs such as cleaning the visitors center at the refuge had to be done as well. On that matter, the visitors center at the NNWR is incredible, I am not steering you wrong. Check it out and tour this vast area of forest, oak savannah and marsh.

On one of the last days a lunch and awards ceremony were held for the kids and it was kind of like a school graduation. Because of a knee injury and having the skills to do it, Selina was given the job of creating a video for the ceremony which showed the kids’ and Dennis’s summer experience.

There was humor, good music and a very educational learning experience for everyone who watched the video.

Now my good pal Doug Staller, the NNWR manager, and Leann Wilkins, NNWR deputy manager, have seriously got Selina thinking of becoming a wildlife biologist. Selina has promised to volunteer 300 hours for the NNWR in high school. She put in several Saturdays last year at NNWR as a freshman.

My hats off to everyone that gave these five kids a true memory of a lifetime!


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