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Katie Klepinski '08
Cook County Soil and Water Conservation District
Throughout this internship I was involved in many different projects. I participated in several county, SWCD and city board meetings, which taught me a great deal about local government. I was present for the decision making process of a very controversial issue. A group of landowners in the Poplar River watershed have been trying to form a subordinate service district. If passed by the county government, landowners in the watershed will be taxed for the specific purpose of improving the water quality of the Poplar River. It is controversial because the majority of the land is owned by a ski resort, Lutsen Mountain, which caused most of the erosion and pollution during construction of the mountain in the 1980s and with more recent projects. I was involved with the process of providing information to citizens and recording anonymous citizen reports.
I spent the majority of my time during January working on the SWCD’s website. When I arrived, the website was difficult to use and did not provide information useful to citizens. One of the major goals of the SWCD is to educate citizens. In order to do this, a user-friendly website is necessary. The new website is much more user-friendly and provides information that will help citizens conserve natural resources in their county. I was also involved with several small projects. I prepared information to assist supervisors with their decisions, worked with a precipitation monitoring program and created several fact sheets for the county.
I learned a great deal about the inner workings of local government. The process in Cook County was very slow, but I was pleased to find that the citizens’ requests were well represented. I was also awed by the high level of citizen involvement. It was impressive to meet so many landowners who were invested in preserving the natural resources of Cook County. This was most obvious when working with the Forest Stewardship Program and local watershed groups. Working with the SWCD was a great way to experience the true “grassroots” conservation effort. The staff work very hard to make projects happen, often with little financial support. I truly enjoyed the opportunity to work in an office that provides opportunities for citizens to make a difference in the world.