The Friends of Nerstrand Big Woods State Park officially formed in September of this year.
A driving force behind the creation of the new friends group was Emily Nesvold, a P&TCM board member and Northfield resident. “I saw the need for this group back in 2011 when I was organizing the Parks & Trails Council’s bike ride at Nerstrand,” says Nesvold. While planning the event she worked closely with the park manager, Elaine Feikema, and learned about the many needs of the park.
Often parks have limited staff capacity to fulfill all the needs of the park, so an organized group of volunteers can be invaluable. “I’m very excited about this Friends Group,” says Feikema, who has worked at Nerstrand for eight years. “They will be able to provide extra support for programs, fundraise for new facilities, help out with maintenance, share about the issues in the park, and most importantly be ambassadors.”
Often the challenge is starting a Friends Group is not in finding work to do, but in focusing that work. “At first there were many different ideas for what the group could do,” explained Nesvold. We have a couple master naturalists, who are very interested in education, plus an ecologist who knows a lot about prairie reclamation, and some who are interested in legislative advocacy. Eventually the group decided on a mission that is broad enough to encompass the many of the interests yet hopefully will provide enough focus that the group is effective.
Brett Feldman, P&TCM’s executive director, helped to add some direction for the group by connecting them with other friends groups across the state and suggesting different types of mission.
“We are being mindful of how to move forward,” explained Feikema. The first few months were focused on the nitty-gritty work of establishing a mission and bylaws. “If you want to see peoples eyes glaze over, start talking bylaws,” jokes Nesvold. But they are also planning some exciting events, starting with a prairie seed collection event this fall and a candlelight ski in January.