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Beuckens finds his way back to the river

By Tom Larson

Sun Tribune

Kris Beuckens knew the job he wanted from an early age, but it wasn't in the family's newspaper business.

After a detour working as a proverbial ink-stained wretch, Beuckens is back doing what he loves.

Through a $120,000 Minnesota Pollution Control Agency grant, the 36-year-old Hoffman native recently joined the Stevens County Soil and Water Conservation District staff to monitor and design methods to help restore the Pomme de Terre River to full health.

"I've always wanted to work for the (Department of Natural Resources) or the Fish and Wildlife Service," Beuckens said. "When I was growing up I thought that would be an interesting job. I did quite a bit of hunting and fishing and when you do you have quite a bit of interest in the outdoors and wildlife."

Beuckens graduated from Hoffman-Kensington High School in 1986 and attended the North Dakota State University, majoring in zoology with a wildlife emphasis.

After graduating from NDSU, he began working for the Fish and Wildlife Service in Morris, spending four years with the service.

But it was clear that he and his wife, Jill Klein, were going to have to move from the area. The Beuckens weren't particularly thrilled about that prospect, and about that time Beuckens' parents, Harvey and Audrey, were ready to relinquish ownership of the Hoffman newspaper they'd owned since 1963. Kris had plenty of experience working at his parent's business and he decided to put his career in wildlife and the outdoors on hold.

"My mom and dad were going to sell the paper so I thought I'd give it a shot," he said. "It was a total change for me but you do what you can do. I really got worn out."

Kris stuck with the newspaper business for seven years before selling it in 2004. He still keeps his feet in the ink, covering sports for the Hoffman and Grant County papers.

Interestingly, it was his wife, who was perusing the want ads in the Canary shopper, that found the county SWCD job offering. He grew up just miles from the river and spent a lot of time in and around it.

"I thought it would be good for me," he said.

The 106-mile Pomme de Terre River is on the state's impaired waters list primarily because of problems in two areas. Fecal coliform and turbidity is a problem from Muddy Creek south, and at Marsh Lake.

Reports on the fecal coliform contamination are underway and Beuckens will be charged with helping implement plans to alleviate the problems. He's also beginning work on the turbidity issues. Beuckens' job is to work with landowners, determining if measures such as incentives or buffer strips can help with the river's problems.

"You find what practices are going to work best to clean up the river," he said.

Key in his efforts will be getting people involved, both to understand the problem and to solicit their advice for problem-solving.

"You have to get the public involved so they can see it as a benefit for everyone," Beuckens said. "You need people to feel like they are part of the project. You want to put a carrot out there instead of a stick beating on people."

Beuckens' efforts will take time. The MPCA grant runs for three years, and by that time he hopes other funding sources will be found so he can continue his work. With a river, like his career path, Beuckens is fully aware it takes time sometimes to get to where you really want to be.

"With the Pomme de Terre," he said, "it took 100 years getting to where we are now, so it will take a few years to do it right."