Working outside

OTHO – Wednesday was Lori Gascho’s very first day on the job – as a Friends of Webster County Conservation work day volunteer.

She got to spend the morning at the Ann Smeltzer Charitable Trust Farm south of Otho working with other volunteers and Webster County Conservation Naturalist Karen Hansen.

Their project for the day was to install buckets next to each tree in a group that was planted on the north end of the property last year. The buckets are part of the watering system. Each has small holes drilled in the bottom to allow water poured into them to soak in rather than run off.

Gascho, of Badger, is recently unemployed. She was ready to go to work with her mismatched work gloves.

“I get to be productive,” she said. “I love being outside.”

The work days allow her another experience: many of them take place at far-flung sites throughout the area.

“I’ll learn more about our county,” Gascho said.

Jim Patton, of Ames, has been a volunteer at the work days since he retired three years ago as the Iowa State University Extension director in Fort Dodge.

He, too, enjoys visiting other sites.

“Karen usually takes us to different parks,” he said. “She’s got a pretty long laundry list.”

John Wilson, of Fort Dodge, is in his third year of volunteering with the Friends during work days.

He retired from a career of social work in the school system. The outdoors was a part of his youth that he fondly remembers.

“I wanted to be close to the land again,” he said.

The volunteer chores let him.

“It’s an opportunity not to be an extension of the TV set,” he said. “You feel like you’re returning to something that’s vital in life when we’re out here.”

Wilson enjoys the friendship and the company of his fellow volunteers, he said. Plus, it fills a void that work can’t.

“We all need to do something beyond our careers,” Wilson said. “You feel like you’re doing something. It’s constructive.”

Hansen selects the projects to be done and helps the volunteers at the site. In addition to freeing up staff to work on other projects, the volunteers do jobs that, without them, might simply not get done.

But it’s also Hansen’s goal to expose people to the diverse range of land managed by Webster County Conservation.

“The goal is to get people out to other areas,” she said.

Volunteers can expect to be assigned to pretty much any kind of work. For example, picking invasive garlic mustard at the Skillet Creek Indian mounds is an upcoming project.

In the past, the volunteers have painted, applied mulch, and helped at events.

The group meets the second and fourth Wednesdays of the month at John F. Kennedy Memorial Park. Work starts at 9 a.m. and continues until 11 a.m. Hansen welcomes new volunteers, but asks that they call ahead. Webster County Conservation can be reached at 576-4258..

Volunteers should dress for working outside and bring a positive attitude, like Gascho’s.

“We’re ready to get to work,” she said.