Monday, March 4, 2013

It Takes a Team to Tango - A look back at the Volunteer Recognition Dinner

By: Sage Passi

The Watershed District may be a brick and mortar building with a dozen staff and interns working hard for clean water, but it is the teams of people like you that give our work a living, breathing presence in our neighborhoods. While we couldn’t possibly tell every story, we can take a peek at just a few.

Picture it.

Scenario One: Action Central in a back room on the north end of town. No decks of cards, poker chips or cigars. Just a plateful of peppermint candies on a table sprawled with colorful markers, tracing-paper spread and an AutoCAD drawing. Eyes riveted on pages of a Phalen Restoration Guide.  On a blustery, but sunny Valentine's Day afternoon, what do a retired electronics technician, a landscape architect grad student and a retired accountant find in common?  See the photos below for the answer.

Left: Jodi Refsland, grad student in landscape architecture at the University of MN and a Ramsey County Master Gardener brings her skills and talent to the table to help design a planting plan for Our Redeemer Lutheran Church's rain garden in St. Paul that will be completed by volunteers this spring. 
Middle: Dennis Paulson, a retired electronics technician and a member of the Caring for Creation team at Our Redeemer Lutheran Church taps his attention for detail and makes a copy of the design to bring back to an Eagle Scout who will help the church do a fund-raiser to pay for the plants in their garden. 
Right: Linda Neilson, Ramsey County Master Gardener has been mentoring teachers, students, residents and other Master Gardeners for the past six years in rain garden site assessment, design and construction.  She invited her former intern, Jodi (left) to be part of the church project.

Scenario Two: A former agronomist, an ace story teller, a Green Corps intern, an avid birdwatcher and three dozen eleven-year olds converge at a limestone wall overlooking a river valley. As they discuss their observations and knowledge of the land, it’s impossible to distinguish the teacher from the student.

Top left: Mary Ann Simmons provides bird-watching coaching tips for a Farnsworth student on a trip to the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge.
Top right: Nicole Soderholm, a Green Corps intern for the Watershed District carries a sample of water from the pond to Farnsworth students to conduct several water quality tests.
Lower left: Bev Blomgren, a Master Naturalist and retired service learning expert for St. Paul Community Education inspires Farnsworth sixth-graders to visualize the many diverse habitats that converge across the refuge's river valley.
Lower right: Steve Simmons, a writer and retired professor of agronomy at the U of MN holds the "talking stick" and encourages the group to draw on their own creativity and understanding of connections in their storytelling circle.
One of several ponds, formerly used for raising bass, now capture stormwater from the large drainage area surrounding the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge near the airport and the Mall of America.

Scenario Three: A crowd of people assembles on a cold January night to listen to a top-notch tag-team talk about the state of the Mississippi River and its tributary, the Minnesota River. A hundred or so stewardship pledge forms leave the room that night with the guests.

Volunteers and partners celebrate their stewardship
accomplishments and listen to a talk by presenters from the
Friends of the Mississippi River and the
National Park Service
What do you suppose is the common ingredient in these scenarios? There is a lot more to it than meets the eye, but for starters they are all stories about people coming together out of concern for the land and the water. Every year, in late January or early February, when winter settles in and everyone needs a little encouragement and re-inspiration, Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District takes the opportunity to acknowledge its partners, volunteers, interns, staff and Board of Directors for their terrific teamwork, their voluminous volunteer efforts and their creative contributions in helping protect water.

 This year the venue for the celebration was at Jimmy’s Conference and Catering in Vadnais Heights. Over one hundred people braved the winter chill to come together to acknowledge their shared concerns about water and to honor and celebrate their shared accomplishments in working together across the watershed district. This annual dinner serves as a time to renew and make new connections and to look forward to new possibilities for the coming year.

A big thank you goes out to Lark Weller, Water Quality Coordinator from the National Park Service, Mississippi National River and Recreation Area and Trevor Russell, Watershed Program Director at Friends of the Mississippi River who were invited to give a presentation at the recognition dinner about the recently completed study called the State of the Mississippi River Report that their two organizations teamed up to develop.

Trevor Russell, Friends of the Mississippi River,
and Lark Weller, National Park Service, present the
State of the Mississippi River Report at the Watershed
District's annual recognition dinner.

The report highlights 13 key indicators of river health, and details the results in a way that non-scientists can understand. It provides a current snapshot, as well as history and trends, of factors affecting the health of the river and solutions to help protect and improve the metro portion of the Mississippi River.  While the river’s water quality and ecological health have improved over time, it is also facing some distressing trends and challenges moving forward. You can read or download the report on line here at  We will also be featuring future blog entries to review some of these 13 indicators in more depth.  Search this blog for 'State of the River' to find these entries.

Wondering about the pledge?  Follow this link to find out and learn new ways you can do your part.  Encourage your neighbors to do the same! 

Thank you again to all of the volunteers that bring our clean water goals to the neighborhoods.  It is fun, humbling, and a great blend of conversations when we gather so many of you together on one night.  We proudly look at our team and the year ahead and cue the music.

1 comment:

  1. Scenario One: Thanks for your watershed stewardship efforts year after year Linda Neilson and Dennis Paulson! Scenario Two: Steve Simmons--Nice to see the talking stick being used; thanks for your thoughtful contribution !