An innovative tri-focus approach to controlling the noxious weeds in Stark County has landed Travis Jepson the title of North Dakota Weed Control Association's "Weed Warrior" for 2019.

"Helping people come up with a weekly management plan on what best to do to solve the issues they are having is my favorite aspect of what I do," he said. "It's just an honor and it's validating to be recognized by your peers, that what you are doing is appreciated and that they have confidence in your abilities and in your program."

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The NDWCA awarded Jepson the prestigious award for his steadfast work in enforcing state and county noxious weed laws, educating on the subject of noxious weeds and promoting the Landowner Assistance Program.

Jepson's work ethic is evident in his steady rise through the ranks at the Stark County Weed Board. Beginning his employment as a seasonal member of a three-person spray crew in 2005, Jepson's responsibilities grew in relation to the emergent crew, which swelled in size beginning in 2007-resulting in the 35-year-old's meteoric rise to the position of weed officer by February 2017.

"I don't have a degree," Jepson said. "It's just been through hard work and dedication from seasonal worker to the head of the department that I've been lucky."

Not one to boast about his knowledge, Jepson's humility veils a real passion for the world of weeds. Jepson spends much of his free time staying up to date with weed issues on the county, state and national level, even being able to recite Century Code laws regarding weeds verbatim.

"It's state law that you have to control state listed noxious weeds on your property," Jepson said. "In short, if people aren't doing that, it's my job to get them to do that."

Jepson said that a lot of his work is "people work" as opposed to "weed work."

"Most of my time I'm contacting people who have noxious weeds on their property that need to get that controlled," he said. "It's best to stay calm, consistent and patient. You have to take into account every situation."

Kaye Jessen, program assistant with the Stark County Weed Board, said that she felt that the program was in good hands.

"Travis is very talented in all areas of weed control, including application of chemicals, designing and building all types of chemical application equipment, studying new developments in the industry and viewing each person's situation from their perspective," she said. "He's a very empathetic person who communicates well with people and makes people comfortable."

Jepson's ability to "get the big picture" has lent itself to the development of long-term plans for the county that have been instrumental in ensuring that noxious weeds like leafy spurge, Canada thistle and absinthe wormwood remain at bay.

"We've made a lot of progress so far as people seeing the issue, doing their part, and all you can do is keep improving year after year. It's never going to go away, but the more we recognize the issue affects everyone the better off we'll all be," Jepson said. "There's always going to be ebbs and flows when it comes to weeds."

Despite low manpower through the summer of 2018, Jepson and crew fully sprayed every county and state roadway in Stark County once and conducted a second pass on three-quarters.

"We have a fantastic crew that comes back every summer," Jepson said. "This isn't a part-time job for many of these people - it's a second career. I love being out with the crew actually physically spraying the weeds."

According to a Stark County Weed Boarding meeting, the county has shown "massive improvement" in eradicating noxious weeds, thanks in part to the "maturity beyond his years" Jepson has shown since taking the helm.

"I work with an outstanding team and I am truly grateful for the validation," Jepson said.