TROY MILLS — A controlled prairie burn south of here Thursday afternoon revealed a dense colony of large ant hills — many of them 3 feet high and 6 feet in diameter.
“We’ve seen these before, but never so many in a concentrated area,” said Rob Roman, roadside vegetation manager for the Linn County Secondary Roads Department.
Members of a Conservation Corps Iowa crew, veterans of scores of prescribed burns, said they too had never seen such an impressive concentration of large ant hills.
Roman said Linn County got a grant from the Living Roadway Trust Fund to pay its share of the costs associated with an eight-member Conservation Corps Iowa crew that has been helping county workers conduct controlled burns this week.
“They are controlled burn experts, and we’ve got a lot done this week,” he said.
The controlled burns eliminate woody plants that encroach on native grasses and encourage flowering and seed production, Roman said.
The Ames-based Conservation Corps Iowa, an Americorps program in its third year, trains young adults in hands-on natural resources management.
“We spend a lot of our off time camping in state parks, which is fun in itself,” said Dain Spurgeon, 24, of Cedar Rapids, in his second year with the Corps.
Its three crews conduct prescribed burns, remove invasive species and build trails for county conservation departments, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, DNR and other non-profits such as the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation.
Upon completion of their 10 month term of service, Corps members receive a $5,250 education award to pay off past student loans or to continue with their education.
Crew leader Eric Feld of Lake City said the experience is much like an internship. “It looks good on your resume if you want a full-time job in an environmental field,” he said.Members also have the opportunity to network with potential future employers while working with project hosts, said Corps program manager Chris Severson.