Monday, June 17, 2013

Art in the Watershed

By: Cliff Aichinger

What is the role of public art for a Watershed District?

Many of us experience public art every day and yet we may not even know that it was a purposeful addition to our landscape or our public buildings. Public art is not always a sculpture or what we might consider an obvious piece of 'art,' rather we experience it by feeling like a place is beautiful, comfortable or interesting. 
How is this relevant to an organization like us?

In the past, we often designed water management features or structures in a very practical form. This works well to solve the stormwater problem, but we wanted to go further and let people know why we were doing it.  To help with this, the District started incorporating "artistic design" into watershed projects for the purpose of teaching.

By giving an engineered structure an ‘artistic design,’ we open it up to the public and invite them to really look. Doing so allows us to “make the invisible visible,” as the art functions to interpret the purpose of the structure. Curbs or stormdrains could be shaped like waves, concrete could be etched with a flowing water pattern, or downspouts could be designed as rain chains to show water movement. Even rain gardens can be a form of 'living' art with carefully designed plantings to increase the aesthetic of the yard, park or neighborhood.

A tile mosaic of a wetland scene at RWMWD's office.
The District has had the benefit of an “Artist in Residence” for the past 3 years. This experience has taught us that we can think of our work in a different way that also results in increased beauty and increased public understanding of what we do. We are nearing the completion of a public art plan for the District that will help our Board and staff envision how to incorporate art into our activities.

The District has incorporated art into several recent projects and we are exploring other opportunities. We have found that we can accomplish this objective with very minor additional funding, while also increasing the public’s appreciation and understanding of water management and improved water quality. Our involvement started with the construction of our District office building. One of our objectives was to include landscaping features that made water management visible to our visitors, Board and staff. We accomplished this through rain gardens, and roof drainage that made water drainage obvious and visible. Our site shows how much water drains from our roof and the street. We also measure this runoff so we can provide factual information about the runoff and how we manage it.

Ripples near a rain trench on the sidewalk at Maplewood 
We also incorporated visual art into our building design. These features include the ripple design in our entry stained concrete floor, a large mural on the receptionist counter that illustrates a natural wetland scene [photo above]. We also commissioned several art pieces including a tapestry, water color quilt and a cattail sculpture. The latter two pieces also function to reduce echo in the Board room.

The District largest venture into public art is at the Maplewood Mall, where we have developed a fantastic collaboration with Simon Properties to incorporate public art into our water management interpretive elements at the Malls main entrance. The main entrance includes a huge tile mosaic mural depicting a wetland, city scape, and wildlife. The mural is part of the main entrance interpretive features to convey to the visitors the importance and challenge of water and pollution management in the urban environment. Another public art piece will be added to the northwest entrance this summer as part of collaborative project with the artist, Forecast Public Art, the District and Simon Properties.

A cistern at Maplewood Mall collects rain water from the large roof.  A tile mosaic (unfinished in the image above) as well as benches, a manual water pump on the cistern, and wheels that turn when water flows are all ways to draw the eye of the public to teach them what we are doing there and why. 
What else is in the mural behind the cistern?  Visit Maplewood Mall to find out!

We also incorporated the rain drop ripples into the Maplewood Living Streets sidewalks to illustrate rainwater management at each of the 32 rain gardens. 

Rain drop ripples highlight the new rain gardens in Maplewood's Living Streets project.

The District will be completing the Public Art Plan this summer. We hope to develop a funding approach that will allow us to accumulate a modest budget for future appropriate projects.

Art that Moves: Tree of Life Interactive Sculpture Takes Shape at Maplewood Mall

by Sage Passi

Cecilia working on her automata "Birdhouse."
Photo courtesy of TPT' sM N Original series: mnoriginal

I met Cecilia Schiller, a wood sculptor, at a garden party in the fall of 2011. We were both there to celebrate a water-friendly landscaping project that we were involved with at Common Ground Meditation Center in Minneapolis. Her “warm” and inviting wood carved sign that borders the entryway at one of three rain gardens had recently been installed at the center. Seeing her work sparked a vibrant conversation about her growing interest in public art which led us to further discussions. Within several months Cecilia applied for and was awarded a $2000 Jerome Foundation planning grant to collaborate with the Watershed District to research and develop a design for an art project to enhance and raise public awareness about watershed stewardship.

Cecilia's sculpture, "Birdhouse," on exhibit at the
Landmark Center last year.
Cecilia has a fascination with “automata” - interactive mechanical sculptures. Her detailed whimsical pieces have wooden gears and hand carved figures brought to life by the turn of a crank. Her art work has evolved from many years of working behind the scenes in theater to create puppets, masks, costumes and props.

“My automata are small theatrical events without actors,” says Cecilia. “An audience of one is all that’s necessary. I’ve seen how these pieces have an uncanny ability to draw people in and inspire strangers to share in the experience. This led me to search for ways to make them more accessible to everyday people and to look for more public venues.” Cecilia was featured this winter on TPT's program MN Original, a show that showcases Minnesota artists and their work. Link here to the segment.

Throughout 2012 Cecilia interviewed Watershed staff and brainstormed with them about themes and messages to incorporate in her installation. She visited potential locations for her project and participated in a variety of events and meetings to familiarize herself with the Watershed community’s activities and missions. Her research and creative process led her to develop a design for a sculpture to be placed at the canopy drain spout at the northwest entrance at Maplewood Mall. The District was looking for a better conveyance system to transport water safely to the ground and wanted a design that would add visual excitement to the entrance and promote water stewardship in a fun and engaging, interactive way.

Carved wooden gears make Cecilia's sculptures move.
Photo courtesy of TPT' s MN Original series: mnoriginal

“I think there is a synchronicity in our partnership,” comments Cecilia. “The Watershed District is looking for ways to inspire people and challenge them to think about the ways they interact with land and water and consider how their actions impact the environment. My art is symbolic and is reminiscent of what happens in real life. The simple action of turning a crank brings about unforeseen events.”

Scanning the broad range of projects she has worked on, it’s clear that Schiller has a deep commitment to art as an interactive experience. Her many collaborations include projects with the Guthrie, the Children’s Theater, In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theater, Theatre de la Jeune Lune, the Minnesota Opera, Minnesota Dance Theater and Children’s Abbot Northwestern Hospital to list a few.
She will be partnering with Willis Bowman, an artist and mechanical engineer whose recent projects include outdoor public art installations at the Minnesota Arboretum and the Bakken Museum. The two make a dynamic duo whose art promises to intrigue and stimulate audiences who encounter their interactive sculptural art installation at the Mall.
Cecilia in her studio.
Photo courtesy of TPT' s MN Original series: mnoriginal

In the late fall of 2012 Cecilia applied for a $7000 grant from Forecast Public Art/Jerome Foundation for emerging artists to complete her project and secured the promise of a $7500 match from the Watershed District for her sculptural installation. In late March she was awarded the grant. Since then she has been involved in finalizing details for the design and securing the final approval from the Maplewood Mall’s management.

Cecilia's preliminary prototype design at Maplewood Mall
North East entrance downspout location.
Cecilia’s design at Maplewood Mall incorporates a water-driven kinetic sculpture with interactive features. The sculpture will be powered by water from the roof that comes through the downspout into a turbine and moves the upper branches of a wooden “tree” in a circular motion. Sculpted Douglas fir wood slats provide the appearance of a tree trunk and will be cut in a wave pattern to represent water. Wind will also push the branches into a gentle motion or viewers can power the sculpture with a crank from the sidewalk when there is no rain. Levers that are triggered by the passing branches will ring bells as the sculpture turns in a composed rhythm that is reminiscent of water sounds. This rhythm will have the potential to be changed as desired.

Final design prototype of Tree of Life interactive sculpture to be installed at
Maplewood Mall North East entrance.

Cecilia characterized her design by saying, “The Tree of Life used in my design is an image that appears in many cultures around the world and is a symbol of our connectedness to each other and the planet. The Water Tree of Life reminds us of our fundamental dependence on water for survival and the well-being of our environment. By using the Tree of Life symbolism we want to draw awareness to the circular nature of responsible water stewardship.”

Installation will begin this summer and should be completed by late summer/early fall. Watch for announcements for a fall celebration marking the completion of this project.

Congratulations, Cecilia!!! We look forward to seeing your art emerge and sharing it with the public.

Photo courtesy of TPT' s MN Original series: mnoriginal

Sunday, June 16, 2013

WaterFest 2013 - a Day in Pictures

By now we more-or-less expect rain at WaterFest, so with looming clouds and an 80% chance of rain, we thought this year would be no different than several soggy but successful events in the past.  We were delighted, however, when the storm clouds seemed to detour around Lake Phalen leaving us with an amazing day and a fantastic event. 
More details below, but in no particular order, we first present A Day in Pictures.  Thanks to Anita Jader Photography and RWMWD staff for photo contributions.

Left:Dark clouds didn't stop friends and neighbors from coming out to enjoy the day.
Right: Pre-fest and afternoon yoga.
Left: Justine Koch from the U of MN Carp Research team teaches about their study on the Phalen Chain of Lakes. 
Right: The Minnesota Stand Up Paddleboarders Association got folks out on the water despite cold water temperatures and dark clouds.

Asian Outdoor Heritage, Dept. of Natural Resources and Joe's Sporting Goods introduce many to fishing
(including small superheroes).

Left: Maplewood Nature Center teaches kids about plants and pollinators. 
Right: The Federation of Fly Fishers helps guests make fly lures.

Left: St. Paul Parks and Rec provided an archery activity as one of their Get Outdoors activities.
Right: The Ridiculous Puppet Company attracts attention with "The Conversation Booth."

Left: Dean Hanson brings a lively collection of aquatic bugs.
Right: Midwest Avian Adoption & Rescue Services (MAARS) has a colorful array of friends.

MN Department of Natural Resources (Fishing in the Neighborhood), Joe's Sporting Goods and Asian Outdoor Heritage loan out fishing poles and bait hooks to get kids (and adults) excited about fishing.

Far Left: A volunteer helps kids catch images of aquatic animals and plants to teach them about what's under water.
Middle Left: RWMWD's Natural Resources program brings samples of aquatic macroinvertebrates (water bugs and other critters that don't have a vertebrate).
Middle Right: MN Herpetological Society brings some of their rescued animals and lets guests gently meet them and ask questions.  Far Right: LEAP Frog charms kids as she always does.

Left: Several food vendors made WaterFest a culinary delight.  Right: Students take their photo with LEAP Frog.
Left: St. Paul Parks and Recreation provide a jump castle as part of their Get Outdoors activities. 
Right: Rick Gravrok delights guests with giant bubbles and games.
Left: RMWWD's Natural Resources display attracts young and old to talk about native and invasive species. 
Right: Maplewood Nature Center allows kids to get up close and personal to snakes, frogs, turtles and much more.
Far Left: A WaterFest version of Capture the Flag.  Middle Left: Minnesota Water Well Association's (MWWA's) Water Drop mascot dances around WaterFest.  Middle Right: TWO climbing walls encouraged guests to get a better view of the festivities. Thanks to St. Paul Parks & Recreation and the MN National Guard for hosting these.  Right: Eureka Recycling and many diligent volunteers help us make WaterFest a No-Waste Event.

Left: Lee Rose Warner Nature Center gives rides on their solar pontoon boat.  Right: MN Department of Transportation helps us host a Raindrop Mystery Tour stop that teaches about stormdrains and polluted rainwater runoff.

Left: Minnehaha Creek Watershed District's Stormwater Putt Putt Golf game teaches about rain water's route to the river. 
Right:  Friends of the Mississippi River talks about their storm drain stenciling campaigns.

Left: Ramsey Conservation District's popular native plant giveaway.  Right: A volunteer hosts games that help teach what rainwater might come in contact with before it reaches groundwater or surface water.

Left: WaterLegacy came to talk about education and citizen engagement.  Right: 3M clowns entertain and create hundreds of balloon creations for guests.

Left: Matt Brickman hosts the Mobile Weather Watcher (which was especially entertaining with the weather that day!).  Right: Farnsworth Marching Band puts on a parade and show.

Left: Wilderness Inquiry teaches guests boat safety and paddling techniques - sometimes getting people in a canoe for their first time.  Right: A volunteer helps kids net up cards showing animals and plants that are commonly found in wetlands.

Left: The Center for Hmong Arts & Talent puts on a variety show while several people look on, including these girls who had rented a bike from Wheel Fun Rental (right).

Left: The Girl Scouts of Minnesota & Wisconsin River Valleys present "It's Your World - Love It." 
Right: Using arts and crafts to teach about native plants.

There are many more photos up on Facebook.  Check them out and tag yourself if we caught you on camera. 

We estimate that about 4000 people turned out for WaterFest this year!  It's unbelievable how much this celebration has grown.  Thank you to the staff, students and volunteers that helped out, to our Board of Managers for their support, and to Anita Jader for capturing so many great images.  An extra big round of applause goes out to Debbie Meister, our event coordinator extraordinaire.  So many volunteers, exhibitors, food vendors, activities, permits and nitty gritty details are not easy to wrangle, but she did an amazing job.  Thank you so very much for making this event a success.

Were you at WaterFest this year?  What was your favorite part?

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Les Tours de Watershed

by Sage Passi
Jason Husveth leads a tour at Tamarack Preserve

As the summer season finally sneaks up on us, spend a beautiful summer night at one or more of these venues, touring some of the Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed loveliest haunts. First on the itinerary is a jaunt through the crown jewel of the District’s wetlands – Tamarack Nature Preserve in Woodbury on Tuesday, July 16th from 6:30-8:30pm. Learn about the park’s history, geology, unique blend of ecosystems and biodiversity. Then take your pick from a guided walk along the boardwalk at a fairly quick pace, observing and learning about the lore of some of the most unique bog flowers or participate in a more detailed study and identification of the flora along the boardwalk with the expert guidance of Jason Husveth, plant ecologist. Meet at the Tamarack Nature Preserve parking lot, 1825 Tower Drive, at 6:30 p.m. This tour is co-sponsored by the City of Woodbury and the Watershed District. No preregistration needed. Just show up!

Next in the series is the annual Phalen Wildflower Walk on Wednesday, July 24 from 6:30-8:30. Learn about the history from the maestro of shoreline restoration himself, Bill Bartodziej, our Natural Resources Specialist who master minded this 7 year project. Then walk along the wet meadow, one of the loveliest stretches of the shoreline project, identifying the many summer flora that grace this edge of the lake. Meet at the beach house on Phalen Drive at the southwest end of the lake at 6:30. Please register by calling Shelly at the Watershed District at 651-792-7965.  More info and a printable flier here.

The third in the series of tours, The Exceptional LEAP Tour on Monday, July 29th from 5-9pm will spotlight several award winning projects in the district. Visit four exceptional landscapes designed to protect and improve water quality and natural resources including the District’s office demonstration gardens. Meet at the Watershed District office at 2665 Noel Drive in Little Canada to embark on the air-conditioned bus ride for this tour. Registration is limited to 55 people. Please call Shelly at 651-792-7965 to pre-register.
If you would like to nominate a yard (including your own) for a LEAP award, get more information and a downloadable form here.

New signage around Lake Phalen allows you to make your own tour!

Want a self-guided tour at your own leisure? Take a loop around Lake Phalen to visit our newly installed interpretive signs around the lake. They are located at the southeast and south west sides of the lake, on the hill in front of the Pavilion overlooking the lake and at the observation deck on the north side of the lake. They are colorful, snappy looking signs developed by Watershed District and St. Paul Parks and recreation staff and designed by Scales Advertising with information about the history of the lake, wildlife and flora, the shoreline restoration process, preservation of the shoreline and the “risky route” of water through the Phalen Chain of Lakes.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Spring Cleaning

By Nicole Soderholm

Now that our field season is in full swing, it’s time for an update on RWMWD’s pilot program introduced in our April 11, 2013 post in ‘The Ripple Effect.’ This program focuses on estimating the true cost (in reference to both money and time) of maintaining rain gardens on a city-wide scale.

Minnesota Native Landscapes, whom we have contracted with for maintenance this summer, has been busy performing the necessary initial work: the spring clean-out. Spring clean-outs generally include debris removal (trash, leaf litter, etc.), sediment removal, and cutting back plants. Removing sediment and debris will allow for unrestricted flow of rainwater to the gardens –allowing them to soak up the maximum amount of water. Cutting back plants helps make room for faster, healthier growth. Generally we find that rain gardens with more plants function better and require less maintenance in the long term.

We are happy to report that we are already seeing positive changes. Take a moment to glance at the photos below to see for yourself!
A vast improvement thanks to a thorough spring clean-out and some warm weather!

This newly-installed garden is starting to show plant growth.  As the plants grow larger, they will be able to soak up more run-off that flows into this basin.

Moving forward with the pilot program, Minnesota Native Landscapes will work with RWMWD to determine plant and mulch replacement as well as erosion control on a site-by-site basis. Meanwhile, we are collecting data on time and materials required to complete this large-scale rain garden maintenance project. You can contact Paige Ahlborg (paige.ahlborg[at] if you have any questions about the pilot program.

For tips on maintaining your rain garden, check out our Rain Garden Maintenance Guide 
or attend the Watershed District's Rain Garden Rewind workshop.  The workshop takes place at Robinhood Park in Maplewood** on June 20th from 6:30-7:30pm. Register for this free workshop by contacting Shelly Melser at 651-792-7965. 
Interested in learning more about rain gardens and the role they play in protecting our lakes and streams? Visit our Rain Garden webpage for information and helpful links/resources.

**You can get to Robinhood Park by taking Hwy 36 to White Bear Avenue, going south on White Bear Ave to Frost Ave, then going west on Frost Ave for eight blocks to Manton St. You will then turn right (north) and drive/bike two blocks to Skillman Ave East. Go west on Skillman and park on street.  NOTE: Highway 36 will be closed between Highway 61 and White Bear Ave at the time of the workshop.  Come from the east or find another route to White Bear Ave and Frost Ave.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Mystery of the Month - June

This bright yellow flower has a look-alike. Did you know that distinguishing between the two could be the difference between having a plant-based skin burn and simply enjoying a native Minnesota plant?

By Carole Gernes, Ramsey County Cooperative Weed Management Area (RCCWMA)

Wild Parsnip in bloom.  Photo by K. Chayka (

Wild parsnip (Pastinaca sativa) is an invasive plant that Ramsey County hopes to eliminate. Touching wild parsnip, a Minnesota Noxious Weed, may cause severe skin burns. An escaped garden plant, its seeds are spread by sticking to feet, tires and mowers. Parsnip grows close to the ground the first year and up to four feet tall when flowering. Umbrella shaped flower heads are two to 10 inches wide, containing many tiny yellow flowers. Each parsnip leaf is feather-shaped, with many large-toothed leaflets growing from a central vein.

Wild Parsnip is often confused with the MN native plant, Golden Alexanders.  These drawings can help you distinguish.
Wild parsnip flowers may be confused with golden Alexanders, a beneficial native plant. Golden Alexander leaves have small teeth along the edge and an over-all palm-shaped or triangular form. Parsnip usually starts blooming in mid to late June. Golden Alexanders blooms earlier in the spring. Please do not remove any suspect plants! If you suspect a plant is parsnip, and it is yellow after June 20th, please report its location to the RCCWMA by emailing or calling 651-792-7977.

Successful removal may take several years.  Contact RCCWMA for removal advice and cost share information.

On the Screen: Everyday de-Musselin - Gangnam Style. Tips to Stop Aquatic Exotic Species Invasions

By Sage Passi
Carver County's video tackles aquatic invasive education.

Lookout Eurasian milfoil! Gangnam style tactics will get you yet! Here’s a fun video recently produced by Carver County Water Management Organization to get the message out to the public about how to slow down the invasion of aquatic exotic species. You can link to the video here.

Minnesota waters are threatened by several species of exotic invasive plants and animals that can be unintentionally spread by water recreationists. The video call attention to four species of concern and warns you that it is illegal to transport these “hitchhikers” on public roads or to launch a boat or trailer with these species attached. Eurasian milfoil, zebra mussels, curly leaf pondweed and flowering rush are the targeted species. The video features tips that will help prevent their spread by cutting down on their transport between lakes.

Eurasian Milfoil: In nutrient-rich lakes Eurasian milfoil can form thick underwater stands of tangled stems and vast mats of vegetation at the water's surface. In shallow areas the plant can interfere with water recreation such as boating, fishing, and swimming. The plant's floating canopy can also crowd out important native water plants.

Zebra Mussels: Female zebra mussels can produce 100,000- 500,000 eggs per year. Mussels may attach to motors and possibly clog cooling water areas. Zebra mussels can also attach to native mussels, killing them.

Curly-leaf Pondweed: In spring, curly-leaf pondweed can form dense mats that interfere with boating and other recreation on lakes. Curly-leaf can displace native aquatic plants. In mid­summer, curly-leaf plants usually die back, resulting in dying plants piling up on shorelines. An outcome is an increase in phosphorus that produces undesirable algal blooms.


Flowering Rush: This exotic flower can form dense stands which may interfere with recreational lake use. Flowering rush may also crowd out native plants and in turn harm fish and wildlife.

Catchy rap lyrics, sung by the main character are repeated throughout the video. “Invasive species on the boat tonight…..Invading waters so you’ll have a bad time…….zebra mussels make you lose your mind……Clean them off or else you’ll have a bad time.” This rap should catch the attention of boaters who may not be aware of the issues.

Video star, Bryant Admundson, implores boaters to keep an eye out
for zebra mussels under their boats.

To keep our lakes protected from aquatic invasives, please keep your eyes out for these invaders and practice these safety steps!
Left: Drain your boat before leaving the launch.  Right: Check under your boat, trailer and hitch for aquatic plants and animals who have hitched a ride!
DRAIN: Pull the boat’s drain plug and leave it out when traveling. Drain the water from the bilge, live well, motor, ballast tanks and portable bait containers before leaving the water’s edge and the lake area.
CLEAN: Clean your boat of any clinging vegetation or attached zebra mussels. Places to check include the prop, underneath the boat, the trailer and hitch and any additional equipment such as water skis and wake boards, etc.

Left: Drain your bait bucket before you leave the lakeside. Right: Dump leftover bait.

DISPOSE: Dispose of your bait on site. Do not take it to another lake.

DRY: Allow your boat to dry out for at least 5 days to kill the AIS larvae. If you plan to use your boat sooner, rinse your boat with high powered hoses and hot water.

Bryant Admundson resorts to a hair dryer to dry his boat.

Even if you can't dance or rap, taking simple steps to avoid the spread of aquatic invasive species is easy. Spread the word, not the invasives!  Help keep our lakes safe from these invading plants and animals.
Even you can do everyday de-Musselin.