Valerie Knurr

Credentials: USDA Forest Service - Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest

Position title: Trails Technician

Woman smiling at the camera with a field of greens behind her.

Major: Wildlife Ecology

Certificates: Digital Studies and Environmental Studies

Graduation Date: May 2018

How did you end up working for the National Forest Service?

I always knew I wanted to work outdoors. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be a park ranger, biologist, photographer, or conservation warden. I applied for a lot of jobs in the natural resources field and my first job out of college was a summer position as a Recreation Technician in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest in Northern Wisconsin. After a few weeks in this new job, I knew I found a career I could do forever. I fell in love with the Forest and all the beautiful scenery the Northwoods has to offer. Unfortunately, it was only a 6-month job.

I applied to become a Conservation Warden with the Wisconsin DNR while I was a Recreation Technician. I got offered a position and started the law enforcement academy. After completing the intense 6 months of Warden training, I knew I was not going to enjoy this job. I wanted to go back to the Forest Service, so I resigned and got my old seasonal Rec Tech position back.

I worked as a seasonal Recreation Technician for the Forest Service in Wisconsin, Alabama, and Upper Michigan. After four years of seasonal positions, I landed a permanent full-time position in the location I wanted to live. It was my dream job! I have been the Trails Technician on the East Zone of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest since August 2021.

What does a typical day look like for you?

My day typically starts by checking email and then planning out what needs to get done in the field. I spend A LOT of my time outside in the forest!

In the summer I spend most days clearing hiking trails, so I’ll grab a chainsaw, ax, safety equipment, gas, and oil, pack up the truck and head to the trail. I usually have an intern or technician to help me. There are 264 miles of trails in the East Zone we are responsible for, so depending on the trail we either hike or drive it with a UTV. I’m responsible for cutting any trees that have fallen across the trail and moving them into the woods off the trail.

While on the trail, I also take inventory of all the signs, trail markers, and maps, and check to see if they are in good working condition or if they need to be replaced or updated. If we run into any visitors on the trail, I’ll talk to them and answer any questions they may have.

After the trail has been cleared, I’ll head back to the office, clean and sharpen the tools we used that day, and put them back where they belong. Then I’ll get back on the computer and log what trail we cleared and write any notes for future projects that may need to get done on that trail. If time allows, I update trail maps or create any signs we may need to post. I also communicate with and keep track of volunteers and what they do in the forest. I log that information in a database I created and keep track of volunteer hours to report at the end of every year.

In the winter I spend most of my time grooming cross-country ski trails in a UTV or on a snowmobile, clearing any fallen trees while I’m out on the trail. I also take photos of the trail conditions and post them on a website and describe the skiing conditions every time I groom. I typically have a little more time in the office during the winter, so I spend that time updating trail brochures and maps or creating new ones to be distributed in the visitor center or placed at trailheads.

How has Digital Studies influenced your career path?

I think my digital studies courses gave me the knowledge and confidence I needed to create consumable content for people visiting the National Forest. I was able to learn the sometimes complex and not user-friendly databases the government uses to monitor its trails and infrastructure more easily after taking my Library Sciences course. And I was able to catch on to the map building software quickly because I experienced many digital creation platforms in courses.

Did you have a favorite Digital Studies class or professor when you were a student?

My favorite digital studies course was Art 107: Introduction to Digital Forms. I had a lot of fun making art on the computer and getting to try a lot of different things. The creativity part was very different from most of my science-based courses, and I was proud of a lot of the pieces I made during that course.

Do you have any advice for current students?

I would give current students this advice: try new things. The time at UW will be the easiest time for you to get out of your comfort zone and really figure out what interests you most. There are so many opportunities at your fingertips and once you leave campus a lot of those opportunities are harder to find. I am glad I got out of my comfort zone and did the digital studies certificate. I took a lot of classes that were very different from my major courses and I learned a lot that I never would have experienced if I didn’t decide to do that.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career thus far?

I am most proud of getting the job I have now and making it what it is. This was a new position and I think I helped shape the Trails Program and establish a smooth mode of operation. I organized a lot of databases and redid most of the maps to make them more standardized and easier to read.