The Humble Beginnings of a Naturalist Intern

Then-volunteer, now-intern Reid along with then-volunteer, now-intern Kahryn
Then-volunteer, now-intern Reid along with then-volunteer, now-intern Kahryn
By Reid Jensen

Every young volunteer looks up to certain people here at The Outdoor Campus. As a youth volunteer I wandered the grounds of the campus with wide-eyed dreams of one day becoming one of The Few, The Proud, The Interns.

These role models seemed to be experts in every sort of craft, from amazing handiwork with a scissors all the way to their ability to teach a wide variety of classes, all while being at that cool college student status. As a young volunteer I dreamed of one day becoming a famed naturalist intern, even joking with my friends about such a crazy, out-of-reach idea.

Then, I decided to try and make this dream a reality.

Reid as a volunteer at Halloween Hike, 2012
Reid as a volunteer at Halloween Hike, 2012
I began to volunteer for as many classes as the volunteer coordinator intern would allow. Along the way, I was learning many tricks of the trade. After a while, the interns I looked up to discovered my dream to join their ranks and once they knew they were more than happy to help me in pursuing my dream.

As I continued to volunteer more often the naturalist interns were finding out where my passions were best suited; they began asking for me specifically as their help for certain classes. After volunteering for a wide variety of classes I began to become very familiar with the programs. I even began to pick up on certain teaching styles and what should be covered during TOC classes. This led to the interns asking if I wanted to help teach class instead of just assisting, or even sometimes teaching classes of my own! I soon began teaching classes with some regularity, gaining confidence with every class.

Reid behind the scenes of The Outdoor Campus as a naturalist intern planning programs
Reid behind the scenes of The Outdoor Campus as a naturalist intern planning programs
Sooner than I thought, I had the chance to apply to be a genuine Outdoor Campus naturalist intern. I waited anxiously by my phone for days until that call finally came. I answered, and was soon grinning ear to ear. I had been offered a job as a naturalist intern. I accepted without hesitation, as any eager college student would be crazy not to.

While working here this summer, I learned that there are many differences between being a volunteer and an intern. But these differences are well worth the experience and I would recommend chasing the dream of a naturalist internship to any eager volunteer.

Interested in an internship at The Outdoor Campus? We’re accepting fall Naturalist Intern applications right now. Must be a college student. Full or part time positions available. $9.45 an hour. Call 605-362-2777 or e-mail with any questions.

To apply now, visit

Reid holding a girl's catch during a fishing class
Reid holding a girl’s catch during a fishing class

Wild Quail Chase

By Kahryn Ragsdale

Outdoor University was a fun-filled, crazy day. And for me, something happened that I wasn’t exactly expecting.

It all started the day before. I had overheard some chatter about a delivery of pheasants to use in the game cleaning demonstration and also some bobwhite quails that we were going to be releasing into the prairie. I love animals, so I was looking forward to seeing these cute birds and had hopes of maybe holding a quail.

Once the van arrived with the birds, I was eager to help bring them to The Outdoor Campus building. Unfortunately, I missed the quail release, but saw a few roaming our nature playscape. It was pretty exciting; I had never seen a bobwhite quail before. After they were released, I accepted that I probably wouldn’t see them again.

Then the big day arrived. The first part of my morning was spent driving a shuttle van between The Outdoor Campus building and the area the volunteers were parking in. The van I drove was unlike anything I have driven before. This van was huge. It was so big that when I hopped into it, I was greeted by a warning on the dashboard: “Warning! Watch out for low clearance. This van is 7 feet 3 inches tall.”

After being relieved from shuttle duty, I drove a Gator around and made sure each station had everything they needed. As the day went on, I started to hear people saying they saw some quails walking around on the trails and on the edge of the prairie. But I didn’t think much of it.

Later in the day I needed to grab something in the Back 40, our building’s storage area. After running around the event for hours, going for a last minute bait run and delivering some supplies to other stations, I came face to face with a quail.

I didn’t know what to do. A feeble attempt to chase him out only managed to chase him under all the shelves instead. Giving up, I headed back out to the event, calling up Ashleigh to tell her about the quail. We then got a little team gathered, consisting of Ashleigh, Derek, Shelly and me.

We went on a wild quail chase.

We almost caught it many times. Eventually, laying on the ground underneath the workbench, searching for the small bird, I sighted him and had Derek chase him towards me. I knew if I moved it would cause the quail to move farther away from me. So as Derek coaxed him to move towards me, I held perfectly still, with my hand held up, getting ready to snatch him. The quail moved towards me and walked right under my trap, and I sprang. The trap worked perfectly. I then came out from all the dust and junk holding this quail. I was super excited. The Outdoor Campus, Outdoor University, Kahryn and Quail

I got my wish; I got to hold a quail.

A TOC Family Photo Shoot

A TOC Family Photo Shoot

By Matthew Stoffel

I was out on the trails in the Gator, taking pictures for an upcoming project. The camera’s battery was insisting it was time to charge, but I was determined to try and finish the short loop that still remained on The Outdoor Campus’ woodland trail. Even if it meant turning the camera off after each picture to await the next subject.

The Gator’s tailgate made a racket as I rounded the corner, and I’d long since abandoned the idea of encountering squirrels or other wildlife with the beast’s engine giving off its usual low growl. But it appears I overestimated the intimidation of the machines persistent snarl.

Standing on either side of the path was a mother doe and her twin fawns.The Outdoor Campus Deer Matt First Shot They stood and eyed me a moment before returning to grazing. I was maybe 40 yards away, engine still protesting silence when I hit the break and stared. I took one photo before even shutting the Gator down. It may not have been sound, but at the time my logic was that if the engine didn’t scare them, turning it off might.

But the family stayed both as I shut it down and as I advanced, snapping pictures with caution. When I’d closed the gap by almost half the mother finally started to cross the trail. As she did, the two fawns took the hint and stole into the trees. I held where I was as the doe reached the spot her progeny had used as an exit. She eyed me but stayed still.The Outdoor Campus Deer Matt Doe A

I was trying to decide whether or not to try and get closer for another shot of the doe before she too vanished when I heard a runner approaching behind me. I got her attention, put a silencing finger to my lips and then indicated the mother. The runner looked on with me a moment before telling me about another doe she’s seen with just one fawn. Then she continued her workout down an alternate route to return me to my dilemma.

In another moment of hesitation, the doe decided for me and slipped among the trees.The Outdoor Campus Deer Matt Fawns D I advanced slowly, still seeing her colors through the leaves. When I got even with where she had crossed the trail I could see her and one fawn clearly, only 20 yards or so away. The other fawn, less visible, was off to the side but ambled into my sightline again as I continued to take pictures.

The rush of the opportunity, awaited all summer, was upsetting the focus as my hands shook. Combined with the branches that violated my sightline, the pictures weren’t perfect by any means. Still, the pictures, quality aside, are mementos to one of the most awing experiences of my summer. Photographing this family gave me a new sense of what nature has to offer in such immersive moments. Moments that can take our breath away.

I should get out on the trails more.The Outdoor Campus Deer Matt Fawns A

On the Road to Adventure

The Outdoor Campus CodyBy Cody Green

For the past two summers I have been an intern here at The Outdoor Campus in Sioux Falls. While I have been here, I have also been an Outdoor Education major at Black Hill State University.

Going to school at Black Hill State has prepared me perfectly for this internship. A majority of the classes I have taken in school are nature based or go into some of the skills that we teach here such as paddling, archery, orienteering and camping.

As wonderful as that is, I am now looking to explore more on the adventure education side of it all: more intense activities like backpacking, whitewater trips, downhill skiing and rock climbing. These are some of the things I am looking to do with my life in the next few years.The Outdoor Campus Outdoor University 2013 Rock Climbing

Rock climbing has been a big part of my life for the past couple years, and this year I am working on becoming a certified guide for rock climbing. This coming summer I will apply to become a guide for a rock climbing company out in the Black Hills. I have worked with this company before and a lot of the teaching they do is with families, so I can take the skills that I have learned here at The Outdoor Campus, teaching a wide range of ages, and translate them into working with a wide range of ages in a more adventurous setting.

Another sport that has been a big part of my life is skiing. I will do any skiing I can get my hands on, whether it’s cross country, downhill or touring (where you ski up the hill and then ski back down). I love to do it. So one thing that I am really interested in is to work on a ski mountain. The two main areas I would love to work is either giving ski lessons or working ski patrol.

The Outdoor Campus, Cody Slack line Balance
Cody slacklining

Once again, working here has helped me develop ways to communicate with a wide range of ages, so working with young students on ski lessons would be great. I have worked with some instructors before and it is a great experience to teach someone a new sport or hobby, just like we do every day at The Outdoor Campus.

Over the past year I have taken some of the courses I need to become a certified ski patrol member. I think that this would be the sort of job that I would have the most fun working. As ski patrol, your job is to make sure that everyone is safe and, if they are injured, you get to help them, which seems like one of the best jobs you can have.

The Outdoor Campus Cody Orienteering

Engineering the New Fire Pits

If you were at Outdoor University, hopefully you made it around to the outdoor cooking station for a campfire treat. But you probably didn’t stop and contemplate the mechanics of a campfire. Don’t worry: Our naturalist intern, Dom, took care of all that contemplation for you when he redesigned the fire pits this summer.

By Dominic Boyer

Dom and fellow naturalist intern Cody dig for one of the new fire pits.
Dom and fellow naturalist intern Cody dig for one of the new fire pits.
Now that the new fire pits at The Outdoor Campus are up and running, it’s time to provide a little insight into our design.

Our old fire pits followed the traditional approach, a rough circle dugout with the circumference lined with football sized rocks. The bottom of the pit was dirt and the ashy remains of many fires. While these pits served their purpose well, the thick layer of ash retained water and formed a layer of sludge days after the last rainfall. Consequently, the rocks began to slowly sink into the pit. As this layer of sludge was shoved out, the pits deepened. Less oxygen was able to fuel our fires, as the majority of the flames sat well below the existing ground level. The deepened pits made it harder to manage the coals, and the short diameter of the pit didn’t allow for very many kids to observe what was going on.

To address these concerns we planned for a larger diameter, a better drainage system to increase oxygen flow and a more prominent ring to clearly mark the safety boundaries of the pits.

Pea gravel lines the pit bottom, below the lava rock.
Pea gravel lines the pit bottom, below the lava rock.

Sandy had ordered two steel fire rings with a moveable grate. Since these rings were four feet in diameter, we began digging a seven foot circle in a spot farther from the existing trees to allow plenty of space for future tree growth without having to relocate the pits. Much of the sod we dug went into filling the old pit. That sod has since settled out, and the older pit location is barely noticeable.

One of the two completed fire pits.
One of the two completed fire pits.
The seven foot rings were dug a foot deep with a small sloped mound in the middle to drain water away from the center of the pit. Six inches of small pea gravel lined the pit. Another three inches of lava rock on top of that allowed for more air ventilation under the fire.

The steel rings were placed on top of those, and the lava rocks leveled out to be even with the ground level. This allowed for better air circulation as well as better drainage. The inside rock level is slightly higher than the outside to insure there will be no standing water in the pit, even if the entire seven foot circle is filled with water. The larger football sized rocks were then set against the steel ring to prevent the ring from moving and for visibility.

This fire pit's maiden voyage!
This fire pit’s maiden voyage!

So far, these rings have performed well, and hopefully they are up to many more seasons of smacos.

Maggie Engler Shares a Love for Raptors at OU

By Matthew Stoffel

Maggie Engler says she’s always been fascinated by birds.

“I think that birds are universal. It’s something that almost everyone can be interested in because they’re everywhere.”

The Outdoor Campus Raptor FeedingHer passion makes sense considering she is both a Rapid City Journal Outdoors & Recreation columnist writing exclusively about birds and co-founder of Black Hills Raptor Center.

Maggie will be representing the raptor center on Saturday at Outdoor University in Sertoma Park, along with four birds of prey. A red-phase Eastern screech owl, an American kestrel, a great-horned owl and a Ferruginous hawk will all make the journey from the Rapid City area to Sioux Falls.

The four raptors and Maggie will be doing two shows on Saturday for Outdoor University, at 10:30 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. Audience members will have the rare opportunity to be within mere feet of these extraordinary creatures.

For Maggie, spreading the experience is fun, but also means a lot of work.

“They have to be with me at all times, or they have to be in a secured room,” she says. “I function as their caretaker and the one who protects them from harm, and I take that role very seriously.”

Both Maggie and the birds have undergone training to appear in presentations like the ones that will occur Saturday. Maggie herself had to log several hours working under a mentor, pass an exam and verify her ability to provide housing, food and healthcare for the birds of prey.

Just as Maggie had to get used to the raptors, they’ve needed to get used to her and people in general. Each of Black Hills Raptor Center’s birds are in some way not releasable into the wild, but also had to learn to be handled with a tether and glove, travel in a crate and adapt to camera flashes, loud noises, and people watching them eat.

“Every bird is different,” Maggie says. “You try the thing first that worked in the past, but they have to have the personality that can handle [performance].”

Maggie has brought birds to Outdoor University before, and the live raptors have been a crowd favorite. She hopes that birds can continue to find a connection with people.

“If I could get people to grasp one thing, it would be how absolutely essential birds of prey are to humans. We are linked and it’s a strong link. Birds of prey make our planet healthier and safer for humans.”

And you can find out exactly how at either 10:30 a.m. or 2:00 p.m. on Saturday, August 3rd at Outdoor University in Sertoma Park, Sioux Falls.

OU13 Raptor Shows