The Minnesota-Iowa Conservation Corps installed steps on the Lost Creek Hiking Trail to assist hikers in climbing this long hill and also to stop erosion from worsening at the four-mile point on the trail. The Conservation Corps members are, at left, from top to bottom, Jake Geiger of Wisconsin, Kristilee Halpin of New York, Chatfield volunteer Bob Coe and Cat Redmon of Texas. At right, from top to bottom, are program coordinator and Chatfield native Chris Severson, now of Iowa, Katie Thompson of Iowa, Teddy Lasky of Indiana and Josh Meggers from Iowa.  SUBMITTED PHOTO
The Minnesota-Iowa Conservation Corps installed steps on the Lost Creek Hiking Trail to assist hikers in climbing this long hill and also to stop erosion from worsening at the four-mile point on the trail. The Conservation Corps members are, at left, from top to bottom, Jake Geiger of Wisconsin, Kristilee Halpin of New York, Chatfield volunteer Bob Coe and Cat Redmon of Texas. At right, from top to bottom, are program coordinator and Chatfield native Chris Severson, now of Iowa, Katie Thompson of Iowa, Teddy Lasky of Indiana and Josh Meggers from Iowa. SUBMITTED PHOTO


Chris Severson loved rocking a stairway to hiker's heaven.

She, along with a crew of Conservation Corps members, built a stairway on the Lost Creek Hiking Trail west of Chatfield last month.

"I joined the Conservation Corps Minnesota in 2007 as an Americorps member," Severson explained. "I had been living in Vermont, working for a Youth Corps program, but wanted to get back to the Midwest closer to family. In 2009, I moved into a full-time staff position as the program manager, running the newly-formed Conservation Corps Iowa program in Ames, Iowa."

She is now the supervisor of three six-person crews that travel into Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois and Indiana.

"The Conservation Corps of Minnesota and Iowa is a modern day Civilian Conservation Corps. Like the good ol' boys of the 1930s, our young men and women are carrying on the legacy of building trails, planting trees, restoring prairies and implementing watershed restoration practices," Severson commented.

According to the Conservation Corps website, "The Conservation Corps provides hands-on environmental stewardship and service-learning opportunities to youth and young adults while accomplishing conservation, natural resource management and emergency response work. Our goals are to help young people from diverse backgrounds become more connected to the environment, engaged in conservation, involved in the community and prepared for future employment."

It added, "All Conservation Corps programs devote 20 percent of program time to technical-skills training, career-building skills such as resume writing and interviewing, and educational activities focused on environmental science and technology. Using scientific inquiry and experiential learning, the Conservation Corps helps young people learn more about the world around them and think critically about the impact of their personal choices on the environment."

Severson said it is exciting that the Conservation Corps provides an opportunity for 18- to 25-year-old young adults to give back to their community and the environment.

"At the same time, they gain valuable job skills and earn a $5,550 Americorps Education Award which they can use to pay off student loans or continue schooling," she continued. "Our crew members come from all over the country to serve on a crew in Minnesota and Iowa. So, to take one of our crews to my hometown and to help them on the trail stair construction made me proud of where I came from."

The Lost Creek Hiking Trail was routed and cleared by volunteers in the spring of 2011, and the trail opened that following fall, approximately 6.5 miles long and mostly on private land.

According to Bluff Country Hiking Club (BCHC) member Tim Gossman, "If it were not for the generosity of these landowners, the trail would not be possible."

Erosion and difficult hiking made the trail's four-mile mark an ideal place for stairs to be installed.

Gossman noted, "Where the steps were built, the trail is steep, with an intermittent stream at the bottom. Gullies were forming on the hillside, eroding into the stream. So, it was difficult to hike, especially when it was wet, and the gullies were getting deeper. This project will make it easier to hike and keep dirt out of the stream."

He related, "The Fillmore Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) applied for and received a grant from the Conservation Corps of Minnesota and Iowa to provide one of their crews for four days to correct this erosion problem."

Severson stated that it took the crew about three days to manufacture and install the steps. She added that the "weather was quite soggy," but she and her workers pushed through it and completed the project.

"While I did much of the project management for the stair installation, I would like to note that it was the Iowa Hills crew that did all of the grunt work," Severson added. "They spent three days in the rain, cutting the timbers with a chainsaw, digging the embankment, installing the steps and hauling buckets and buckets of rock to fill in the steps. They never complained once about having wet feet, about walking up and down the steep hill to the worksite, and they were so very proud of the work they had done when they were done."

She said the crew was comprised of corps members from Iowa, New York, Texas, Wisconsin and Indiana, and many of them said they want to come back to the Lost Creek Trail in Chatfield to hike the trail and see the staircase they built.

Severson's been busy since the rain stopped, and even busy while it's been raining, but she plans on coming home to Chatfield to hike the Lost Creek Hiking Trail sometime soon.

"I haven't hiked the entire trail, but am planning on doing so this fall sometime," she stated. "The trail has so many natural features you would expect to find if you traveled to Whitewater State Park or Forestville State Park, such as rock outcroppings, clean flowing springs, open prairie savannahs and native timber stands."

No other major changes have been made to the trail, but the steps make it easier to climb the steepest hill on the trail and to enjoy the peace and quiet in the woods, wildlife and the different ecotypes.

Gossman said, "We continue to make small improvements to the trail, and suggestions from hikers are always welcome. Volunteers are always welcome to maintain and improve the trail. We are always looking for new members. If you enjoy the trail, consider joining us."

The Lost Creek Hiking Trail is open all year, with the exception of the deer firearm season in November, and BCHC entertains a busy hiking season.

Gossman related, "We participate in National Trail Day in June, Western Days in August, the End of Season Trail Run in October and host the Candlelight Snowshoe Hike during Chillfest."

The Bluff Country Hiking Club has a forestry field trip slated for July 23 sponsored by the Fillmore SWCD and Zumbro Valley Audubon. Interested hikers should meet at Groen Park on Chatfield's west side at 6 p.m.

For more information on the trail or activities planned, log onto www.bluffcountryhikingclub.org.