Student's field work project leads to job opportunities in conservation

December 16, 2014
Nick Harnish at the Goth Conservency

PLATTEVILLE, Wis. — Nick Harnish, a University of Wisconsin-Platteville senior with a double major in criminal justice and political science and a double minor in geography and social and environmental justice, has several job opportunities in the field of conservation, thanks to the success of a field work project he completed last summer at the L.E. Phillips Scout Reservation property in Haugen, Wis.

The project was made possible through the support of UW-Platteville's Pioneer Academic Center for Community Engagement, an initiative and funding source for campus-wide coordination, integration and leadership of community-based scholarship of engagement projects and internships that involve students, faculty, staff and community partners.

Dr. Richard Waugh, professor of geography at UW-Platteville, and Dr. Travis Nelson, associate professor of political science and coordinator of the social and environmental justice program at UW-Platteville, served as Harnish’s advisors on the project.

During the six-week cooperative field experience, Harnish created and implemented a conservation plan for the L.E. Phillips Scout Reservation property in Haugen, which houses 3,000 Boy Scouts at a 10-week camp each summer. In implementing the plan, Harnish maintained the grounds of the property, built trails and worked to reclaim the natural landscape. He also provided customer service to camp guests and ensured that the rules and policies were enforced.

The success of Harnish’s field work project has led to two additional opportunities that have given him a chance to have an even greater impact on conservation – working with the Chippewa Valley Council – Boy Scouts of America in Eau Claire, Wis. and working with the Goth Conservancy, a 20-acre property in the Town of Middleton, Wis.

In August 2014, the Chippewa Valley Council, which serves more then 4,600 youth in 10 counties in northwestern Wisconsin, hired Harnish as its conservation chair. In this position, he is implementing conservation initiatives for scouting in the area as well as serving as a public liaison with public agencies to maintain trails and campsites.

In addition, Harnish consulted with the National Park Service, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, and the Wisconsin Department of Health and created a sustainability and conservation development plan to manage and maintain the CVC campground. After the plan was reviewed and accepted by CVC, Harnish began implementing it in multiple phases. This summer, he and five co-workers took photos and documented all of the property's wildlife, fauna, biomes and habitats and created an invasive species plan. Currently, he is working on creating a park in Camp Brunswick, a private property that was donated to the council. His vision is to create a park where community members of all ages can learn about ecology, conservation and outdoor ethics, using the “Leave No Trace” principles, which encourage responsible outdoor activities with minimal impact on the environment.

In September, Moira F. Harrington, member of the Town of Middleton Park Commission, contacted UW-Platteville to see if there was a student interested in helping develop a sustainability plan for the Goth Conservancy. Waugh and Dr. Lynette Dornak, assistant professor of geography at UW-Platteville, immediately thought of Harnish for the position. Waugh, who has a conservation background and Dornak, who has a Geographical Information Systems background, are serving as Harnish’s advisors during this project.

As Harnish began working with the Town of Middleton, he discovered that while the town has had an ecological assessment and conservation management plan of the Goth Conservancy completed in 2006, the property was not reaching its full potential and not very many community members were using it. And so, during the spring semester of 2015, Harnish will use ArcGIS – a geographic information system used for making maps – to digitally create a conservation/sustainability interpretation plan that will guide Middleton to use the conservancy to its full potential. His plans for the property include managing the trail system; establishing and maintaining an oak savannah and prairie; and creating two amphitheatres. One of the amphitheatres will be in a kettle – a geologic term for circular depression – and one in another area of the property, with seating donated by Mae Hartwig, sister of Royce Goth, who gifted the land that is now Goth Conservancy.

On Dec. 3, Harnish, Waugh, and Dornak attended a listening session at a town park commission meeting in Middleton to solicit community input for the development plan and received ideas from about 20 residents and council members. “Nick presented very well and by the time the session was over, everyone was directing their questions primarily to him, as they realized that he had an excellent grasp of the project and an interesting vision for the future of the Goth Conservancy,” said Waugh.

“The Town of Middleton is very excited about this incredible opportunity to work with someone with Nick’s knowledge and experience to better enhance one of our greatest assets in the town,” said Sara Ludtke, deputy clerk of the Town of Middleton in Middleton, Wis.

In early April or mid-late spring, Harnish, Waugh and Dornak will present the first draft of the plan to the Town of Middleton and then incorporate any changes the group recommends. The final plan will be done and approved in May, by the time Harnish graduates. The Town of Middleton will then implement the plan as it sees fit.

“It is exciting that the formal education I have received and the connections I have made through faculty members at UW-Platteville are enabling me to implement my knowledge about conservation management to try to make a positive difference in the environment,” said Harnish. “It is so important for people to have the chance to experience and connect with nature.”

“I have always tried to live by the motto, ‘Let the adventure find you,’ and so far, it has,” Harnish said. “My minor in social and environmental justice and the mentorship of UW-Platteville faculty members have been critical to my success in gaining hands-on experience in a field that I love. Finding professors who are as passionate as I am about conservation was key.”

Harnish hopes to work with the Department of Natural Resources as a game warden or land supervisor someday.

Written by: Laurie Hamer, College of Liberal Arts and Education, 608-342-6191,


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