Jim Stensvold has spent the last decade volunteering in both Saint Paul Parks and National Parks.

He has been focused on restoring native prairies and plantings through leading events like Restore! and “Seed Squads.”

How did you get started volunteering in our parks?

My first experience with parks was coaching at a rec center for ten years while I was still working. Then I attended a few planting events at Mounds Park where we planted some of the prairie area. After so many years inside an office, I was looking for opportunities to be outside and to connect with nature as I approached retirement. That’s when I really started to volunteer with both the National Park Service and Saint Paul parks.

What have you done over the years?

I have taken out a lot of buckthorn! I have worked mostly at Mounds Park, which is near my home, and Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary restoring the native prairie. I started as a volunteer at various events and four years ago I became a crew leader.

I also lead a crew at Coldwater Spring in Minneapolis every Thursday for the National Parks. I am always looking for volunteer events in the parks. Sometimes the events include schools and corporate groups as well. They always include active work together and education, so I keep learning and helping teach others.

I have wanted to help with a mammal survey, but those are usually scheduled when we’re in Wisconsin at our cabin. One of these years!

What has been most rewarding to you?

Taking out invasive species like buckthorn is very hard work but also very rewarding. You can look out at the end of the day and really see the impact you’ve made. When you plant an area, it is wonderful to return through the season and over the years to check on its progress.

I love learning about the plants. I do recognize many of them now.

This year I was approved to work at Bruce Vento by myself. With the pandemic cancelling so many spring and summer group activities, it was wonderful to get outside and make a difference – and to have something on the schedule! I spent 3-4 hours each day for a couple of days each week at Bruce Vento working on the prairie.

What would you say to encourage others who might want to give volunteering a try?

The fall Seed Squad events are great for families because all ages can participate. You get to be outside, doing something together, all while learning about native plants and the environment. If you keep coming back, you get to know the repeat volunteers who share your interest in plants.

These events are important because we harvest native seed that we know grows well in the specific conditions of that park. Some seed goes back into that park, some is planted in other parks with similar conditions. It’s a great way to restore native habitats throughout our parks.

We built our home in Highwood 30 years ago and I had a lot of buckthorn to remove and replant with native plants for both sun and shade. That trained me well. I have also learned new things to take back to my home gardens through my work in parks.

Volunteer in Saint Paul parks! From Wildlife Monitors to Park and Garden Stewards, there are ways to make a difference that connect you to nature. Learn more