Sheila Carleton's love of the outdoors hasn't wavered since childhood.
Now that passion is fueling the 20-year-old's future and may even be part of putting energy in vehicle tanks and putting food on the table.
A natural resources management student at Central Lakes College in Brainerd, Carleton found her career niche when she started volunteering in high school. When she walked in the door at the Natural Resource Conservation Service with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, she wasn't sure what she'd be doing. But she was willing to dive right in.
Sheila Carleton, 20, a natural resources management student at Central Lakes College, recently sorted trees in the DNR building on the Crow Wing County Fairgrounds for an annual tree sale with the Crow Wing County Soil and Water Conservation District.
Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls
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She worked with grant writing, worked with contour farming and grazing rotation and helped the Crow Wing County Soil and Water Conservation District with its tree sales and water table readings. Carleton said her CLC instructor Gary Carson encouraged her volunteer efforts, including her work to protect trees from deer grazing with bud caps.
"I think the program here at CLC is wonderful," Carleton said, noting areas covered range from soils to fisheries, water and minerals and agriculture. "It covers every area of natural resources and it gets you out in the field."
Carleton, who graduated from Brainerd High School in 2007, said working in an environmental field is rewarding.
Advice for others? I'd say volunteer - that was my smartest thing ever. Carleton said some people were surprised she was volunteering time each week while in high school. But she enjoyed the time and it helped her land a federal job. It's the best thing anybody can do.
Other interests: Camping, fishing, photography. She enjoys Pillsbury State Forest and would like to return to the Badlands. I love nature photography.
Hope for a summer trip: A camping trip to the Boundary Waters.
Greatest adventures: She took a job to go to Isle Royale for moose research with a 74-year-old University of Minnesota professor she met once. They camped, backpacked and portaged their canoe for 14 days. It was really strenuous emotionally and physically, Carleton said. He set up all the food and everything and the food was molding. I'm so glad I can tolerate stuff. I'm not a picky person at all. It was bad.' Winter camping near Ely for Central Lakes College was also an adventure. It was actually winter survival so we learned a lot.
Tree she'd want to plant on her own property: Weeping willow.
Favorite native tree to Minnesota: Burr oak.
Favorite crop: Alfalfa.
Favorite animal: Chickens. She supported the option to have urban chickens. It's neat to have your own. I'd love to have my own chickens.
"I don't think enough people appreciate it," she said of the environment. "I think it's neat to be able to have a job where you are either encouraging people or (are) able to give financial aid toward conservation projects or practices. I think it's really rewarding to see that happen. It's something I love."
Carleton plans to study ag crop production at the University of Minnesota-Crookston next year, working with farmers in conservation and environmentally friendly practices. She thought she'd be working in forestry or as a conservation officer until she spent more time with agriculture. She helps out at a dairy and beef operation south of Brainerd.
"To farm you have to appreciate the land and the farmers are the stewards of the landscape on the big scale and I think that is very important."
She's working with a project in Staples to grow grass that may be used for bio fuels. She might be better served harnessing her own energy for general distribution. Carleton also works in personal care assistance and incorporates the outdoors in her work with an autistic boy.
"He can identify plants and he appreciates butterflies and that's so much fun and it encourages him to learn and it's great," she said.
Carleton describes herself as a homebody. She can't remember the last movie she saw and doesn't spend much time planted in front of a television or following the antics of celebrities. She enjoys nature photography and has books of plants she's taken. If she's reading it's probably a plant identification book. If it's a rainy Saturday if she's not working, she's probably going to be organizing photographs or spending time with family.
"She's always willing to do anything asked of her, always a pleasure to have around," said Jim Chamberlin, SWCD forest technician. "I expect great things of her."
RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5852.
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