This is the fourth and final in a series of conversations with our 2020 Huron Pines AmeriCorps members. We talk highlights, takeaways, and what their average days have been like in a not-so-average service year.
Huron Pines AmeriCorps member Nicolas Theisen as introduced by John Beck, chairman of the Lake Enhancement Committee of Lake Township, Missaukee County; and Mimi Zwolak, president of Missaukee Lake Association:
“My grandson was working on his Eagle Scout project this summer and Nick was instrumental in helping him accomplish his project. They built containers to recycle fishing line and set them up at five locations around the township. Nick has been a role model and set an example of what’s possible in the world of environmental science, and it really impressed me that he took the time to do that.”— John Beck, chairman, Lake Enhancement Committee, Lake Township
“(Nick) came to our annual meeting in July via Zoom and did a whole presentation on the Michigan Natural Shoreline Partnership, where property owners assess their shoreline and find ways to improve their score. I loved his enthusiasm. He did a phenomenal job in a hard situation.”— Mimi Zwolak, president, Missaukee Lake Association
Q&A with Huron Pines AmeriCorps Member Nicolas Theisen
Position: Conservation Technician, Missaukee Conservation District
Hometown: Rochester Hills
Education: Bachelor’s degree in environmental science and management with a minor in Science, Technology, Environment and Public Policy (STEPPs), Michigan State University
Interests: Anything to do with the outdoors — I like to fly fish, backpack, hike and forage. I spent a lot of my summer wandering woods, camping, and checking out the streams of Northern Michigan.
What drew you to Huron Pines AmeriCorps?
I grew up visiting Higgins Lake so I have always been drawn to Northern Michigan and water. Huron Pines AmeriCorps seemed like a great program to get experience in the natural resource field and my position has let me get involved with water resource management in Lake City and Missaukee County.
What experiences have you had during your service you think will serve you best on your career path?
I have had many experiences that will be of great value to me in the future but, if I had to pick one, I think it would be working with community members on invasive aquatic plant identification. We helped enroll the three big lakes in Missaukee County in Exotic Aquatic Plant Watch offered through MiCorps. I went out in the field with one of the community members to help them sample their lake and identify aquatic plants. The only invasive that we found was Eurasian watermilfoil. Working with and educating community members about issues in the lake has been a great experience.
What was it like to share the message of stewardship with the lake association and volunteers?
So many people value the lakes they visit in the summer because they are beautiful natural areas but there is often not enough information out there on how they can help keep them clean. After I presented to the lake association via Zoom, it was great to get emails and responses asking how landowners can do their part and become Shoreland Stewards, a program developed to protect and enhance natural shorelines.
In what ways did your work change after COVID hit? What was the biggest challenge you faced and how did you adapt?
After COVID hit, my service term definitely changed. Community outreach and volunteer events were all put on pause as so much was uncertain in regards to planning events. So much of this outreach had to be done on a virtual platform. The conservation district also had trail events which needed to be pushed back until later in the summer when outdoor gatherings were finally allowed.
Once we could hold outdoor events, it was great to see people safely coming to our events following all COVID precautions. We held a “Basics of Backpacking” event and “Nature Journaling/Leave No Trace” event where just a few people came but all said they really enjoyed the events. Some were new to outdoor activities, only starting to hike during the pandemic. It felt great to provide education to people new to the outdoors so they can recreate responsibly and keep the natural areas that we love clean.
What was your best day?
My best day had to be a stream monitoring training that was provided to 10 Huron Pines AmeriCorps members through Au Sable Institute. We ended up having an awesome training day on the Manistee River learning how to sample macroinvertebrates to monitor stream quality. It was really great to finally get in-person training again and to see other members after such a long time of virtual human contact.
Anything else you’d like to share?
I am grateful to have had the opportunity to be a Huron Pines AmeriCorps member. It has given me valuable experience and helped me figure out the path that I want to continue on in the future.
Learn more about Huron Pines AmeriCorps at huronpines.org/americorps.
Nick took a moment during a nature preserve clean-up event in Midland in September to talk about stream monitoring, his personal highlight of the 2020 field season. Check out the short video below.