Lake Country Faces: Here's how a natural resources officer came to Crosslake from California

Melissa Phelps never expected to be in Minnesota.

Melissa Phelps grew up in a desert town, but now she finds herself in Crosslake. Travis Grimler / Echo Journal

Melissa Phelps grew up in a much different place than where she is today.

"So I'm from a very small town called Yucca Valley," Phelps said. "It's 20 miles north of Palm Springs, (California), two hour south of Los Angeles. It's right next to the Joshua Tree National Park. So (I'm a) desert person. It was considered rural then. It's now very populated. So it is now more suburban."

" It's been really good. It's been the challenge I needed it to be."

— Melissa Phelps.

The area grew because of natural attractions, particularly the national park and the "superbloom," an event where the usually barren desert becomes covered in wild flowers. It was there that Phelps was raised and lived until age 21 with the dream of attending a recording and film school in Los Angeles.


And now here she is, a natural resources officer at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Recreation Area in Crosslake. The question is, how did she get here?

"I quickly realized I didn't like LA," Phelps said.

It took Phelps some years "Goldilocksing" before she found a path she really enjoyed. What started with film school led to teaching, then real estate and then at her last stop she worked as a recreation specialist at Fort Riley in Kansas, where her boss finally helped her hone in on a job that really suited her personality.

Melissa Phelps grew up in a desert town, but now she finds herself in Crosslake. Travis Grimler / Echo Journal

"She's this greatest human being ever," Phelps said. "She was talking about parks and recreation and how all these doors are open. And then that really sparked my interest. And I thought, 'This is something I think I could like,' and turns out, I really do."

It may be that her new job harkens back to the love of nature that developed in Yucca Valley, or maybe it was the many camping trips she and her parents would go on several times a year, but her new career path was finally just right for her. Though there are some features she could do without, she likes where she is.

"I came from the desert and I moved to Kansas, and I thought Kansas was green," Phelps said. "No, you come to Minnesota. I had no idea. So I do like that about the area. And I've never been around so many lakes in my entire life. In the desert, there was one lake and it was an hour away. That was it unless you went to the ocean, which was two hours away. I like Minnesota so far, but I don't like the snow."


There are many places where she could have done similar work, but while working in Kansas, Phelps developed a connection to the lakes area.

"I'm engaged and he was in the Army," Phelps said. "He's from Pierz, so we moved to Brainerd so we could be near family and I got a job here, which worked out."

When Phelps and her fiance were considering moving to Minnesota, her boss suggested she try to become a park ranger. She ended up in Crosslake in part thanks to a fake job listing.

"I was looking more into it and I was looking at the National Park Service," Phelps said. "There were lots of things in Minnesota that are parks. So I was starting to get more excited about it. And then I saw it was one of those fake job announcements online that are like some third party company that are posting and they're not real jobs. It was for a Corps of Engineers job. I already knew it wasn't real, but I called the park anyway."

The park directed Phelps to speak to Corrine Hodapp, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers park manager in Crosslake, knowing she would be looking for help in a month.

"So I applied and I was really nervous and excited," Phelps said. "I thought there was no way I was going to get this job. I don't qualify. I don't think so, but then I got an interview, and then it went really well, because I'm here."

Phelps worked during the offseason to prepare for the busy summer. Primarily she prepared web programming, such as planning field trips and weekly activities. She worked with a coworker to create YouTube videos on subjects like planting seeds and backing up a boat trailer. Now, in May she's begun patrolling the park.

She needed to learn a lot for the position, which can be a challenge, but in a good way.


"It's been really good," Phelps said. "It's been the challenge I needed it to be."

Travis Grimler may be reached at 218-855-5853 or Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter at

Travis Grimler began work at the Echo Journal Jan. 2 of 2013 while the publication was still split in two as the Pine River Journal and Lake Country Echo. He is a full time reporter/photographer/videographer for the paper and operates primarily out of the northern stretch of the coverage area (Hackensack to Jenkins).
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