Nielsen keeps the trails safe at Gypsum City

Tasha Nielsen’s workplace is a hidden-away treasure full of hills, timber, lakes and around 45 miles of trails.

As the trail technician for the Gypsum City Off-Highway Vehicle Park, part of her job is riding all those trails with an ATV, though she doesn’t get to go very fast.

“People don’t even know this is here,” she said. “I say I work at the ATV park, because people don’t know what OHV is, and they say where’s that?”

The park is located south of Fort Dodge along County Road P59, and Phase I opened in 2005. When the 30 additional miles in Phase II open later this year, it will be the largest OHV park in the state, she said.

Nielsen has a chart to keep track of which trails she has checked. She’ll pick perhaps 10 trails a day, and go through making sure they are in good condition, clear of debris, and no branches or sticks are blocking the trail.

“We have a drag we pull behind the ATV, that puts the dirt back where it’s supposed to be, and gets the ruts out,” She said. “Obviously when people ride it, it gets kicked everywhere.”

The new trails are being constructed by Trails Unlimited, an enterprise program of the U.S. Forestry Department. Nielsen ensures they’re all properly labeled.

“Right now we’re so busy doing signage,” she said.

Every time two trails intersect, they need to have a sign. Every trailhead needs its own sign also, showing what kind of vehicles can ride the trail plus the degree of difficulty.

Part of her job most recently has been making sure all those signs are visible in spite of all the new growth.

“We started putting signs up in the spring, when there was nothing around them – now it’s all grown up,” she said.

Originally from Minnesota, Nielsen said she learned to love the outdoors in part from the many camping trips she took with her mom. She moved to the Fort Dodge when she was 12.

“When we moved to Fort Dodge we discovered Dolliver,” Nielsen said. “It was cool because we went there when I was younger, and I started working there when I was 18. I used to enjoy this park, and now I’m actually working and letting other people enjoy it.”

“Normally I was just doing the park maintenance. The mowing, the weed-eating, trimming the trees, just making the park look pretty,” she said.

There, she got a practical education from Dolliver Memorial State Park Manager Kevin Henning.

“Everything from just your general maintenance, how to change oil in tractors, how to fix plumbing, electrical work, anything possible. He taught me how to chain saw. I was brand new to the game,” Nielsen said. “He taught me everything I know, pretty much. I learned how to drive tractors and skid loaders from my grandpa and my uncle.”

She first started working at Dolliver and Brushy Creek State Recreation Area while going to college, and later graduated from Iowa State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in animal ecology, and a minor in criminal justice.

She also completed three terms with Americorps working at Dolliver.

After that, she spent some time working at the Webster County Jail.

“I just needed something else because my job at Dolliver was just seasonal, and I needed something to do,” she said. “With that criminal justice major, I thought it’s related, and I’d like to know more about the system.

“But it was definitely – there were no windows, or anything up there, so I was always wondering what was going on outside.”

Even though her current job is seasonal once again, for now it’s been worth it.

“I love the outdoors. I hunt, I fish, I golf, anything that can be done outside, I probably have done or do,” Nielsen said.

The new section of the OHV park will offer plenty of chances for fishing, she said.

“It’s a lot different from Phase I. There’s a lot more timber, where Phase I is more open,” she said. “It’s more scenic. There will be a lot of people back there fishing.”