Exploring the Badlands

Exploring the Badlands

When I flew out to South Dakota, I did not expect to be sliding down Badlands, holding onto my hiking pole for dear life, soon after my arrival. 

The Northern Great Plains Inventory and Monitoring Network (I&M) travels to various parks in the area, monitoring vegetation. This information is important for the parks to implement proper management procedures and to learn about the effects of climate change, park visitors, invasive species, and wildlife on the various parks ecosystems. Parks change so much over time and NGPN helps scientists and visitors alike visualize and understand these changes.

Walking around the Badlands National Park is quite a unique experience. Because rain causes so much erosion in the park already, park managers aren’t too concerned with the erosion caused by people, meaning folks don’t have to avoid creating social trails here (Unlike other parks, where straying off the path is not permitted!). 

To set up a plot for vegetation monitoring, we first have to locate the correct GPS location. This is how I came to be sliding down a very steep dirt mound, trying not to freak out in front of my new coworkers.

Once we found the correct location, we set up two, 50m lines, and measured the plant life and soil coverage at certain intervals. Setting up a new plot is easier with more people. The whole process took most of the day. At the end of the day you are physically tired from hiking around in the sun and mentally tired from trying to remember all the plant names you have to identify!

I have yet to begin my project at Mount Rushmore where I will also be working this summer. There I will be focusing on social trails; how to manage and fix the ones that have already been created, how to discourage visitors from creating more, and how to spread awareness and education about the harm such trails cause. I’m definitely excited about this summer! 

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