I’m so close to finishing my minimum number of volunteer hours as an AIS Detector through MAIRSC (Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center) for my Conservation Champions project funded by Como Friends. I need to complete a minimum of 25 hours this year and as of this month I’ve finished 24 hours!
August has been a very busy month. I continued with some projects featured in my last blog, “Fish, Fish, and More Fish!” including more fish dissections for carp research and angler surveys. Recently, I was able to table at the Minnesota State Fair for both University of Minnesota Extension and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR). I was super excited about this because the state fair is so close to Como!
Minnesota State Fair with UMN – Extension
My first shift at the Minnesota State Fair was at a booth through University of Minnesota Extension. UMN Extension’s mission is “Making a difference by connecting community needs and University resources to address critical issues in Minnesota”. There are many programs and events through UMN Extension including 4-H in Minnesota. For the State Fair, I was in the 4-H building at a set-up called…
I signed up for shift times online by filling out a google form and was notified about a week before when I was scheduled to work. I was mailed my state fair ticket (free!) and some directions of where to go. The only hard part was that I showed up on the day I was scheduled to work in the right place but having no idea what I would be doing. If you’re anything like me, I read “Augmented Reality” and thought something related to “Virtual Reality”. That is not what it is.
There was a beautiful set up including a wooden deck overlooking a fake lake (large picture of a lake), a fake campfire with real camp chairs, a boat, and other assorted outdoor furniture and accessories. Sprinkled throughout the space were plants, poster projects with information about invasive species completed by 4-H participants, and little lightning bolt symbols. While working at this exhibit space, I had two ipads which interacted with these lightning bolt symbols. You would walk around with the ipad and find something with the symbol such as this weird metal thing pictured below. Then, you would use the ipad to scan it.
Woosh! Once scanned, a new screen with more about that part of the exhibit would appear on the screen! For example, the weird metal thing is plates used to monitor lakes for the presence of zebra mussels. The informational screen that would pop up might include facts, pictures, links, and videos to learn more about invasive species. For example, as a reminder to drain your livewell…
I enjoyed volunteering in this area because it was relaxing, indoors, and the technology component was especially engaging for young people. It was challenging also because most of the 4-H building is full of projects completed by 4-H participants. Many visitors came in to see what youth had created instead of participating in something themselves. For those who were interested in participating, we had some tough competition nearby including a zoonotic diseases themed escape room and music coding area. The slower pace of visitors did allow me to have longer conversations with smaller groups of visitors. The ipad really connected with some people as well. I had a few younger visitors that used the ipads for 15-20 minutes!
Minnesota State Fair with the DNR
My second volunteer post was in the DNR Building which was very different from volunteering in the 4-H building. First it was more competitive to volunteer with the DNR. When I saw the posting as an AIS Detector, I went online to see what shifts were available and there were only like 3 left! Shortly after signing up, I began receiving many email communications about my shift including the mandatory quiz I had to take online before being able to volunteer. I got a lot of information about safety and emergency protocols, where everything was in the building, the upstairs check in and relaxing area I had no idea existed, and what I would be doing during my shift. They also provided their volunteers with an entrance ticket (free)!
If you’ve ever been to the DNR Building at the Minnesota State Fair, you know there’s a TON of stuff to see and do. I was next to fish tanks and snake enclosures. There were 4-wheelers and kayaks you could sit in. The pond is outside. You can climb the fire tower. On and on and on!
I was volunteering in the invasive species area of the DNR Building. Even just in that one area, there’s a lot to see and do. I was in the middle of a three-table set up that had informational pamphlets, visual examples of invasive species, giveaways like license holders and boot brushes, and invasive species temporary tattoos.
Near the tables was additional informational signage and a touchscreen interactive display about how to help prevent the spread of both aquatic and terrestrial invasive species.
I began my shift by signing in and getting to borrow a blue DNR vest as pictured below. My task was to basically facilitate everything at the three tables. I helped tons of people (kids and adults alike) apply temporary tattoos, I had conversations about invasive species, and I handed out lots of giveaway items.
At the DNR tables, I engaged with lots of people, but they were shorter conversations than in the 4-H building. Many people simply wanted the free stuff and to move along. A few people had very specific DNR questions that I did not have the answer to. Many interactions were very positive though. I appreciated that most people were in the environmental mindset when in the DNR building because it was easier to connect my main takeaways with other things in the building they were interested in. People might have seen an awesome fish that is native, so I could connect that to the impact of invasive fish. They might be into the kayak, so I could connect that to cleaning your water gear. Whatever they came into the building focused on, I could connect with something else at our table even if it was to just take a temporary tattoo.
I was not sure what to expect when volunteering at the Minnesota State Fair. I was nervous about not knowing enough information or being incredibly bored because no one would want to talk to me. Neither was the case! The AIS Detectors program had given me enough information and experience that I felt confident in talking and connecting people to the impact and work being done around invasive species here in Minnesota. I needed to direct a few people to other sources and some people did not want to engage but that’s always going to be the case in a come-and-go style tabling situation. Most of my interactions were positive.
An important part of any conservation work is engaging with the public about it. Now that I’ve done some hands-on work to help stop the spread of aquatic invasive species, it was fun to share some of that knowledge and experiences with others. The DNR and UMN Extension and MAISRC cannot do it alone. The impact of regular people making “Clean, Drain, Dispose” and “Play, Clean, Go” a part of their lives also makes a huge difference.
There’s still time to make learning more about invasive species a part of your Minnesota State Fair visit! I encourage you to check out both the augmented reality area in the 4-H building and the invasive species area in the first floor of the DNR building!
– Alexa, Learning Experiences Specialist