Get Outside: Heckrodt

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This week, I decided to write about another local beauty: Heckrodt Wetland Reserve in Menasha, Wis. Heckrodt is likely unfamiliar to many of you, but its uniqueness comes from being a “76-acre urban nature reserve with habitats including forested wetland, cattail marsh, open water, created prairie, open field and upland forest. Persisting despite the urbanization that continues to grow around it, the Reserve is home to numerous species of reptiles, amphibians and mammals. Migrating songbirds and waterfowl nest and feed in its protection” (Heckrodt’s website). 

When I was little, I went to Heckrodt for Girl Scouts or on walks with my family, and I remember appreciating the boardwalks, the nature center and the playground they had. However, that was all I really remembered; my family went to High Cliff or Bubolz Nature Preserve a lot more often. 

As a 17-year-old, though, I decided to volunteer at Heckrodt for the summer in addition to working at my regular job. I am still so glad that I made that decision! I remember stepping out of the car that first day and having orientation, where I met many high school students who had the same environmental passion as me. The next day, I spent three hours picking invasive species (garlic mustard and Dame’s rocket) — and I was thrilled! I remember feeling like this was the first time in which I could be Nature Lauren and help our environment … and almost 20 garbage bags later, I felt like my volunteer group had made a big difference at this small reserve.  

Throughout the summer, I got to do a lot of fun tasks. In addition to picking invasive species in the wooded area alongside the prairie and river, I also helped count the number of mason bees in the bee houses around the reserve; sat in a location for two hours to record what I heard and saw for the Department of Natural Resources (DNR); helped shovel new gravel onto a trail; picked up brush after a storm; looked for geocaches that were, without permission, stashed off-trail around the reserve (so we could get rid of them!); clean up the nature center’s terrarium and put new soil in; and did lots of weeding! I loved working out in the open air and hearing the leaves rustle in the trees.  

I would have volunteered the next summer, but I ended up working 36 – 48 hours at my paper mill every week, so, I did not have much free time, nor the energy to volunteer. Even so, that summer was really memorable, and I look back at it longingly; volunteering there helped me to rediscover why I love nature (after previous summers of having to stay at home because there was no one to take me places) and to see Heckrodt from a completely new perspective. As I said, too, it was a summer in which I again rediscovered* that I was fully capable of transcending the boundaries of appreciating nature to actually helping it (*a much younger Lauren used to pick up garbage in the empty lot next door for fun).  

I’ve taken my appreciation for the environment and will to help it to Lawrence as well by joining the LU Environmental Organization, founded by Jim Yang. Just like the kind of work I did at Heckrodt, our group does a lot of work on campus; this includes getting compost bins in all the major residence halls (and before the pandemic, most of the academic buildings), having battery recycling and many more projects. I think it’s great to remember that we have some control over what is happening in a small reserve or academic institution, even if we don’t have arguably any control over what’s happening in Appleton, Wisconsin, the U.S. or the world. 

With that being said, I want to once again say how great Heckrodt is. You should go and visit! This past May, I visited again and saw at least 10 different bird species, deer, gar (a type of fish), a groundhog, tadpoles and lots of turtles in the lake. Everything was so lively, and it was one of the first warm days, so, many people were out walking. In the winter, it will definitely be different but still very beautiful and worthwhile.  

If you take away one thing from this piece, I hope you’ll consider how you can make a difference in helping the environment. Remember, this comes in all shapes and sizes; it could be like what I did at Heckrodt — recycling, donating when you visit a park, picking up garbage or even joining the LU Environmental Organization and helping to take out a compost bin. Anything you do will make some difference, and that’s worth being hopeful about.