It is by no means uncommon for young people to change their mind on an ideal career more than once, but local conservation officer Eric Sullivan has never deviated from the job he wanted as a child.

“I had a strong desire to get in with the DNR from a very young age,” Sullivan said. “I had a few contacts with DNR officers throughout my childhood that I just saw in the field, and I was always interested in how they did their jobs. That was always there for me.”

The Long Prairie native and University of Minnesota-Morris graduate has been with the Department of Natural Resources since 2015, working out of the Walker station for a year before covering the Pequot Lakes area, which he continues to do.

Before working with the DNR, Sullivan was a police officer for the city of Baxter. While ending up in the lakes area was not always part of the plan for him, his childhood prepared him for life near the water.

“I grew up on a resort, and I lived the resort summer lifestyle - with the lake, entertainment, customer service and things like that - as a young individual,” Sullivan said. “I just always enjoyed the lake. It was my favorite place to be, and fishing has been my No. 1 passion in terms of free time.”

Sullivan said the work he does has a lot of variety, mainly depending on the day of the week or the weather conditions. He also serves as a field training officer for the DNR, working with new hires, which can bring its own share of variety.

One thing he enjoys about the work he does is that the vast majority of interactions with the public are positive ones, and people are quick to express their gratitude for the services of local conservation officers.

“It’s a very different type of law enforcement work,” Sullivan said. “The people we serve - a high percentage of them are out enjoying themselves and trying to do the right thing. So most of the time, our contacts are very rewarding. Everyone is happy to see a conservation officer that is out protecting the resources that the public has access to."

Many of those positive interactions come in one of several youth programs he is involved in, including firearm, snowmobile and ATV safety courses.

“Any time you have the opportunity to have a positive interaction with a young individual in the community, it’s an opportunity to cherish,” Sullivan said.

Those interactions have been limited in some respects this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the resources of the lakes area still need to be preserved and the DNR is prepared to do that.

“We still have a job to do in public safety,” Sullivan said. “There are certain points of the job that you can’t really change in certain situations. As far as general operations, we definitely have taken extra precautions, including social distancing. … It has definitely changed some of our procedures, but ultimately we have to do our job efficiently and protect the public.”

Sullivan said that while living in the lakes area wasn’t always part of the plan for him, he has absolutely no plans of leaving.

“This is definitely an area where our family wanted to end up, and have our kids grow up in this community,” he said.

Dan Determan may be reached at 218-855-5879 or dan.determan@pineandlakes.com. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Dan.