Leaving Things A Little Bit Better

By Dan Ruiter, DNR Regional Information Officer




Dave Terry’s life has come full circle, and from all appearances, he couldn’t be happier with returning to where he started from.

Dave is one of the buildings and grounds “caretakers” at Nerstrand Big Woods State Park in southeast Minnesota. Nerstrand Big Woods is where Dave spent every Sunday at as a child. Six decades later, he spends five days a week at the park that holds many cherished memories located just miles from his lifelong home in rural Northfield.

At Nerstrand, Dave holds two part-time positions. He works two days each week for Greenview, a nonprofit that employs people over age 55. He also works part-time for the DNR’s Parks and Trails Division at the same park. It is an arrangement that’s been in place for more than a decade and was the perfect way for Dave to “slow down,” as he put it, after selling off his dairy herd in 2006. He still farms with his brother, Ed, on the Terry family fourth generation farm; he just doesn’t farm as much these days.

Farm and park work have something in common. You do them outdoors, which suits Dave Terry well. “I’m out in nature,” Dave said. “I like the people I work with, and I like to build things and repair things, and it helps me accomplish my goal each day, which is to have things a little better than when I came here.”

Making the park a better place is something Dave takes pride in. He combined his love of the park with another passion: wood carving. A dozen of his nature-based carvings are on display inside the park office. He even provided the inspiration behind the park’s playground.

“I researched equipment for the nature play area and found that most equipment out there was plastic,” Dave said. “That’s not nature. You’ve got to have the feel and smell of real wood, so we spent time locating the right trees for the project.” He designed and built much of the children’s play equipment which includes a bridge and balance beam, teeter totter, slide, train and mushroom table.

As someone who has long advocated for park improvements, Dave’s impact at Nerstrand Big Woods goes beyond the office and the playground. In a park known for its waterfall and wooded landscape, his work on the park prairie acreage is noteworthy, too. He helped seed a 40-acre wildflower area starting in 2009. On a late August afternoon, the vibrant wildflowers, monarch butterflies and bees were everywhere.

“The prairie is a pet of mine,” he said. “I’ve taken pictures of 30 different plant species on that prairie, and it is a good feeling to see that. A darn good feeling.”

Name: Dave Terry

Been at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources since: 2006

Hometown: Northfield

Hobbies: Restoring antique tractors, antique tractor shows, wood carving

Image courtesy Minnesota DNR

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