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New Becker County SWCD leader sees change

Des Moines, Iowa, native Peter Mead became the new administrator of the Becker County Soil & Water Conservation District in April after several years with the Natural Resource Conservation Service’s state office. He says there are a lot of positive things happening in conservation right now. DL NEWSPAPERS/Vicki Gerdes

 In his work with the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), Peter Mead spent a lot of time traveling across the state, working on various engineering projects.

“My mantra was always about doing the right thing at the right place at the right time,” he said.

So when he learned that Becker County Soil & Water Conservation District (SWCD) Administrator Brad Grant was retiring last spring, he thought maybe it was the right time and the right place for a career change.

“I had always really enjoyed working with the people in this field office,” said Mead (the local NRCS and Becker SWCD offices share space in the Detroit Lakes Ag Services building on 8th Street). “It was a real team environment. So I decided to make the jump.”

Mead started work as the new Becker SWCD administrator in April; Grant retired in May. It was the latest in a trio of retirements that took place in that department, starting with District Administrative Assistant Ginger Flynn’s departure in March, followed by District Technician Dean Hendrickson’s retirement in April.

Flynn was succeeded by Jennifer Wentz, who started work almost a year ago, in December 2012, while Hendrickson’s position is still waiting to be filled.

Despite all the staffing changes, however, Mead feels there are a lot of positive things happening at the Becker SWCD.

“It’s a real interesting time in state level conservation,” he said. “Because of voter support (for the Clean Water Legacy Act) from the citizens who value our natural resources, there is now a 25-year supply of dedicated funding for soil and water quality projects.”

It was in part through this funding that Grant, shortly before his departure, was able to secure a $398,000 grant for the county to make water quality improvements “on nine shallow lakes in southwest Becker County,” Mead said.

Those lakes include Boyer, Stakke, Gottenborg, Gourd, Stinking, Lavelle, Marshall and Forget-Me-Not, all of which are located close to the home he and his wife Amber share on the south end of Boyer Lake, along with their three children, Madison, Devree and Cedar.

“It’s a chance right off the bat to make a difference not only in this county, but in my own backyard,” Mead said.

Another positive change in the SWCD office is the recent restructuring of the duties of Ag Inspector Marsha Watland, who is now dividing her time about equally between her agricultural inspection duties and her new job as a shoreland specialist.

“Marsha’s got many years of experience in both agriculture and landscaping,” Mead said. “She brings a variety (of skills) to these shoreland projects, and does a good job of finding solutions for every site and every landowner’s desires for their lakeshore property.”

One more positive is that Becker SWCD “was successful in obtaining a grant for a new partnership with Pheasants Forever, which will add a new Farm Bill biologist to our staff,” Mead said.

In this new position, the biologist “will work directly with the landowners, providing technical assistance for grassland and wetland projects as well as wildlife habitat improvements,” he added.

The SWCD’s tree program has also added some new tree varieties, including “shrub packets for lakeshore owners,” Mead said. “We would encourage anyone with an interest in getting some trees to get in touch with our office.”

In addition, the SWCD is also looking to obtain grant funding for a summer intern through the Minnesota Conservation Corps, who “will assist with all aspect of district operations.”

All of these positive changes would not have been possible, however, if not for the solid foundation that was laid by Grant, Hendrickson, Flynn and their predecessors.

“They did have a good, solid foundation here,” Mead said. “Becker (County) has always been really progressive and well known for getting things done.

“I love the Detroit Lakes office and I’m glad to be a part of it,” he said.

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Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 18-plus years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Detroit Lakes School Board. 

(218) 844-1454