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Wilmes returns to lead recreation, natural resources section

Published Oct. 27, 2015
FARGO, N.D. - Mark Wilmes, is the new St. Paul District recreation and natural resources chief.

FARGO, N.D. - Mark Wilmes, is the new St. Paul District recreation and natural resources chief.

After working in six different districts and four divisions during his 27-year career, the new St. Paul District recreation and natural resources chief has returned to where it all began. 

Mark Wilmes, a Mankato, Minnesota, native, began his career with the Corps of Engineers working as a summer park ranger at Baldhill Dam, near Valley City, North Dakota. He worked at Leech Lake, near Federal Dam, Minnesota, the following year, and in the St. Paul District office before transferring to the New England Division to work as a park ranger.

Working on the East Coast, Wilmes climbed the ranks while learning about the Corps’ flood control, hydropower, recreation, environmental stewardship and environmental compliance programs. After nearly 15 years of service in New Hampshire, Connecticut and Vermont, he was on the move again to the Louisville District where he worked at Rough River Lake in central Kentucky.

While working in Kentucky, Wilmes said the Rough River Lake project, consisting of four campgrounds and three marinas and had the "largest, most contentious shoreline management program in the Louisville District." He said he learned a lot about dealing with people while working there, as well as the need to manage natural resources for future generations.

Eager to learn more about the Corps, Wilmes said he accepted a temporary assignment to work as the operations project manager at Greers Ferry Lake in north central Arkansas. The project, one of the biggest in the Corps, has an annual visitation of approximately 7.5 million visitors. The project also has 14 campgrounds, 1,260 campsites and nine marinas. Wilmes said the enormity of the project was evident once he arrived. During his tenure at the project, he encountered tornados and dealt with a severe flood that remains the flood of record for the lake. He said it was a "baptism of fires, but it was a great learning opportunity."

In all, Wilmes has managed more than 30 projects within the Corps. He said the experiences have taught him a lot about being a leader. "I’m used to being out in the public," he said. "I’m used to being the face of the Corps."

In addition to learning how to deal with the public, Wilmes said he’s learned "a lot of different ways to do things and to see things." He added that his experiences have taught him to appreciate what the Corps represents. "We are a proud organization," he said. "I tell all of my younger employees that we have a long history and each employee represents the Corps and serves as the face of the organization."

The face of the St. Paul District recreation and natural resources section said he’s looking forward to the challenges and opportunities here. He said the district’s project lands are much smaller than some of the projects he’s managed in the past, but he said this affords him and his staff the ability to work with a variety of stakeholders to preserve these areas for the next generation.

Looking into the future, Wilmes said he’s focused on what he refers to as the three Ms – money, manpower and mission. He said the money drives what can be done, but the people are the lifeblood of the organization; and, collectively, they help the Corps accomplish the mission.

Wilmes said part of his mission right now is to build the bench for the next generation. "My goal is to always leave a place better than I found it," he said. "I try to hire the future leaders and develop and mentor them to lead the next generation.

"I have a vision for what I’d like to see, what is best for the Corps of Engineers," he added. "I’ve been fortunate to have worked for 27 years for this great organization. I’ve seen a lot of great places and met a lot of great people, but it’s nice to be back home."