Tuesday, June 17, 2014

“Water is Life” – a celebration of WaterFest in its Fifteenth Year

Harding High Earth Club kicks off WaterFest 2014 wtih a ceremony to honor
the many lakes, creeks and rivers in our watershed.
By Sage Passi

WaterFest, the Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District’s “event of the year,” held on May 31st at Lake Phalen, proved once again to be a kaleidoscope of many magic moments. This year we celebrated the fifteenth anniversary of this free public event which honors our clean lakes and provides outdoor fun and opportunities for hands-on learning about the water quality, wildlife, and special ecological features of our watershed.

Shann Finwall, Environmental Planner for the City of Maplewood,
captivates her audience while educating about protecting pollinators.
There are many people and organizations who volunteer their time and energy to make this a successful day. It’s truly a grassroots community event, coordinated by consultant Debbie Meister with support from a cadre of many Watershed District staff, our Board of Managers and Citizen Advisory Committee members, students and teachers from local schools and the University of Minnesota, community volunteers, organizations, local businesses and the City of St. Paul who is a major sponsor and partner for this celebration. 

Clockwise from top left: Families enjoyed quad bikes from Wheel Fun Rentals.  A girl gets a close up look at some of Maplewood Nature Center's live animals.  The MN Herpetological Society was a crowd favorite.  Katie Keefer, on the District's Citizen Advisory Committee (CAC) answers questions at the information tent.

Coupling this event with the city of St. Paul’s sponsorship of the National Get Out-of-Doors Day has proven to be a charmed partnership that has helped this event grow in size and popularity over the past three years. Many local cities in the district in addition to St. Paul pitch in to help finance this event. Our many thanks to the hundreds of volunteers and visitors who made this annual event a big success!!!
St. Paul's National Get Out-of-Doors Day included many fun activities including face painting, arts & crafts, a climbing wall, archery, a bounce castle and more.

Matt Brickman with WCCO's Mobile Weather Watcher
Of course it wouldn’t be a typical WaterFest celebration without some precipitation. Matt Brickman with WCCO’s Mobile Weather Watcher van was set up next to the Pavilion and provided up-to-the-minute weather reports to nearby exhibitors and curious visitors. True to character, this year’s WaterFest took place on a mostly pleasant late spring day with the repeated suspense of when the next downpour would hit. 

But, the threat of inclement weather in the afternoon didn't seem to deter people for very long. Luckily the Water Is Life and waterfall dedication ceremonies had been carried out by noon so that each time after the brief rainstorms hit, the crowds came back, most exhibitors returned to their displays, visitors ventured out in Voyageur canoe rides or got on padelboards and took up the many other fun activities up and down the shoreline of Lake Phalen from the beach house to the Pavilion. 

Left: This optimistic man's shirt says "Sunshine.'  Chalk drawings from The Friends of Swede Hollow got a
fresh pallet after downpours.

We knew there was a good crowd there - maybe one of the busiest yet - but we were delighted to get some final estimates of how many folks participated in the activities.  Check out some of the numbers and highlights:
  • Over 400 people paddled in the Voyageur canoes 
  • There were over 90 exhibits plus many other activities including displays by schools 
  • 519 people participated in St. Paul’s arts and crafts projects
  • Camille Gage, public artist and Romi Slowiak, Art in Swede Hollow organizer engaged participants in arts activities
  • Over 700 people got LEAP Frog tattoos
  • Solar pontoons provided non-stop rides for over 150 people
  • Access to stand-up paddleboards, canoes and kayaks was free at the beach area and busy all day.
  • About 200 people fished and/or participated in the fishing contests
  • 40 people participated in geocaching and spent an average of an hour in this activity


The theme of WaterFest 2014 was Water is Life.  Performances by students from Harding High School, St. Peter and Farnsworth Schools and the Farnsworth marching band (200+ students in the band alone!) reflected this theme during the dedication and turning-on of the restored waterfall on the west side of Lake Phalen.  Thank you to Bryan Murphy, St. Paul Landscape Architect for restoring the waterfall!

Top left: The waterfall on the northwest shore of Lake Phalen, created in the 1950s, had been dry for decades.
Top right: The crowd gathers and waits for the waterfall to be turned on.
Bottom: Farnsworth Aerospace marching band fills the amphitheater.

There were many other activities in the pavilion, around the pavilion, at the beach house and all the way down to the beach.  Here are a few more shots:
Left: Stormdrain Goalie game by Hamline University's CGEE.
Right: Dean Hansen's macroinvertebrate display gets more interesting every year.

Left: Kids got up close and personal with Dean Hansen's macroinvertebrate display.
Right: Artwork, science projects, local organizations, and lots and lots of delighted guests.

Left: Harding High School Earth Club volunteer helps a visitor mix up her own non-toxic cleaner to take home.
Right: RWMWD's displays attract all ages.
Exhibitors and guests fill the paths at WaterFest 2014.

Lee & Rose Warner Nature Center host solar pontoon rides.
The musician for the Waterfall Dedication ceremony, Don Rose, was canoed in from
the beach by Randee and John Edmundson.

Sage Passi (blue shirt) and Bev Blomgren (holding blue scarves), the creative minds behind
the Waterfall Dedication program stand with St. Peter School Poets.  Also pictured, Don Rose, musician for the program.

The MN Pollution Control Agency's Permeability Plunco had a steady stream of interested kids and adults.

Project WET use fish stamping to teach kids about native fish species.

SCM Yoga LLC hosted free classes near the boat house.

St. Paul Public Works brought their street sweeper to give visitors an up-close view.

MN Stand Up Paddleboarders Association gave free lessons and use of equipment.

Vertical Endeavors exhibitor promoting membership for year-round climbing.

Wilderness Inquiry & Voyageur Canoes take a rain break while visitors goof around while they wait.

The Stormdrain Goalie air hockey game (Hamline CGEE) was a big hit, especially during downpours.

Rice Creek Watershed District's Stormwater Putt Putt golf was far more challenging than it looks!

Wilderness Inquiry staff shows visitors the proper way to hold a canoe paddle.

Hmong Outdoor Enthusiasts provide fishing poles, lessons and co-sponsor the fishing contest.

WaterFest is an opportunity for people of all ages to learn by doing, hear from experts, play a little, stretch, eat some yummy food and join the Watershed community to celebrate the web of relationships we have to water.  Were you there?  Did you see yourself in the photos above? What was your favorite part?  We welcome your comments and discussion below.

Photos by Anita Jader, Sage Passi, and Carrie Magnuson

Keller Golf Course- The Preferred Oasis for Golfers, Birds, Bees, Butterflies and Golf Ball Scavengers

Farnsworth 5th-graders at Keller Golf Course
Farnsworth fifth-graders show off their discovered "trophies" after pitching in
to help with the restoration mid-May.

If you want to see dramatic contrasts between landscapes, experience nature in its prime, learn about biodiversity, bird watch while swinging those irons and stroll while you roll, Keller Golf Course is the place to go.

The perfect spring day at Keller Golf Course.
The perfect spring day at Keller Golf Course.
Transformations, in progress for several years during the restoration, have created a unique atmosphere on the golf course. The course has yet to open officially after a two year hiatus during its renovation, but the compliments keep rolling in from visitors who have had a sneak preview. Chat amongst yourselves because there’ is a lot to talk up and celebrate. Even the Baltimore orioles were very conversive when we were planting with our student volunteers at the golf course this spring. This is year two of an intensive Watershed District partnership restoration grant project. With help from Ramsey Conservation District, Natural Resources staff has been very engaged in restoring a variety of habitats and creating buffers in no-play areas within the site.

Bill Bartodziej and Ramsey County Corrections crew prepare a buffer area for planting.

While prepping a group of fifth graders from Farnsworth during a series of three days of planting, we discovered a hill with beehives near our restoration site. That’s the kind of surprise that is inevitable on such a diverse site. There’s plenty to talk about at Keller Golf Course, but that unexpected opportunity provided a perfect teachable moment to pontificate about pollinators, neonicotinoids and our threatened food resources. And we didn’t have to go more than 50 feet! That’s pure heaven for Master Gardeners who have been assisting the Watershed District and providing educational support for many years on restoration projects like this.

Left: Krogh's class plants on a steep incline at the golf course to slow erosion.
Right: Jaci Krogh (holding the props for her class's performance at Phalen Lake for
WaterFest 2014) is a St. Peter's teacher who has a fondness for Keller Golf Course that
dates back to her childhood.  Protecting the water of nearby lakes has been a theme
all year for her students.
Years ago, Keller Golf Course was a winter playground for Jaci Krogh, a teacher at St. Peter School when she was growing up. She spent lots of time in the area, sledding and hiking. Her nostalgia for the lay of the land and connection to its nearby lakes, I would venture to guess, played a significant role in her decision to involve her class in a year-long project on water this year. Her students wrote poetry and created performances for both a Maplewood Mall art dedication and WaterFest. It only seemed natural to invite her class to be part of the restoration this year, given her long-time relationship to the area. Her class, along with Mitch Thomsen’s three high school classes from Mounds Park Academy and four fifth grade classrooms from Farnsworth Aerospace were the teams this year that helped plant 2600 native plants this spring on the course.

Betsy McNulty, Ramsey County Master Gardener, assists a
Farnsworth student during the restoration of this low-lying area.

So what’s behind the efforts at Keller Golf Course these days?

RWMWD Natural Resources Technician, Simba Blood, orients students about planting native plugs.

Bill Bartodziej, Watershed District Natural Resources Manager, Simba Blood, Natural Resources Technician and her interns, Jake Lindeman and Zola Pineles have been knee deep in projects out at the site since the snow melted this spring. Wasn’t that just yesterday? So I asked Bill to make it short and sweet and narrow it down to five bullet points to cover the highlights of the project.
Here’s how Bill summarized it:

  • We are addressing the restoration of 7.5 acres of prairie, wetland buffer, and connected woodlands.

  • Buffers help treat water before running into wetlands and Lake Keller. Large prairie areas reduce run-off and create exceptional habitat. Over 100 native plant species are being introduced into the restoration areas.

  • Keller Golf Course is in the Phalen corridor and is directly connected to county park natural areas.

  • We look at the natural areas in the golf course almost as a preserve. These areas are less disturbed by humans, compared to the adjacent parklands. (A practical example is that colorful forb species are not dug up by plant thieves, like we have seen at Lake Phalen. Also, trampling by foot traffic will be less evident.)

  • This project is a win-win for all of the partners. Golfers are able to experience incredible natural areas in the city. Educational signs will help golfers understand key habitat areas. Water runoff will be reduced. Biological diversity will increase. Quality habitat in the Phalen corridor will substantially increase.
That's a lot to feel good about!

A natural team - Paul Diegnau, Superintendent at Keller Golf Course, and
Bill Bartodziej at home in a golf cart at WaterFest 2014.

"Healthy Wetlands" – A Master Naturalist Creates Journeys Through Southwood Nature Preserve

By Sage Passi

Maplewood Middle School 7th graders experience a wetland at Southwood Nature Preserve.

“No Child Left Inside” is beginning to take root in North St. Paul thanks to the efforts of Master Naturalist, Cathy Troendle who dedicates her time to fostering encounters with the natural world for young people in her community. 

Master Naturalist, Cathy Troendle, The Master Mind for the
journeys through Southwood Nature Preserve.

One of Troendle’s visions for a hands-on learning opportunity for young people at Southwood Nature Preserve in North St. Paul recently sprang to life on May 12 when the entire Maplewood Middle School seventh grade (230 students) jumped into action in a field day that she developed to help them immerse themselves in a nearby environment while learning about the ecological and water quality issues at their local wetland. Cathy, a seasoned volunteer educator, has been providing classroom and field lessons for third through fifth grade students at Cowern School in North St. Paul for the past five years.

The wonders of wetlands.

Troendle’s teaching repertoire includes creating and offering lessons in multiple classrooms for each of these grades in the fall, winter and spring as well as coordinating field trips to the park to investigate prairie and woodland habitats, birds, mammals and frogs. The hands-on experiences she orchestrates in the spring introduce students to plant identification and animal tracking and engage them in the recording of a variety of ecological perimeters including soil temperature, pH and light conditions at the preserve. Her approach builds in elements of play, inquiry, observation and immersion in the out-of-doors.

Experiencing wonder.

The Norwegians have a word for it….. “Friluftsliv” 

Sometimes you need to look elsewhere to find models for this teaching approach. There is a word for this kind of learning in Norwegian. It’s called friluftsliv (frí-loofts-live) which literally translates as “free air life.” The successful connection between child development and the outdoors can be seen clearly in Scandinavian educational systems. In Finland, for example , where they build in ample opportunities to be in the out-of-doors, their educational system consistently ranks as one of the world’s top three countries in academic performance while U.S. schools place well below Finland — 20th in the world, according to the United Nations. The correlation between child development and making connections with nature still remains a frontier in the academic world, but evidence is growing.

According to author, Richard Louv, co-founder and Chairman Emeritus of the Children & Nature Network, an organization that supports the international movement to connect children, their families and their communities to the natural world, the more high tech schools are becoming the more they need nature. Louv, author of eight books, including "Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder" and "The Nature Principle: Reconnecting with Life in a Virtual Age," contends that it is ultimately most effective for us “to live simultaneously in both the digital and physical worlds, using computers to maximize our powers to process intellectual data and natural environments to ignite our senses and accelerate our ability to learn and feel. “ 

You can read more about Louv’s thoughts and research in this area in his article, “The Hybrid Mind: The More High Tech Schools Become, The More Nature They Need, “ published after his keynote address in November 2013 in Boston at a Learning and the Brain Conference, Engaging 21st Century Minds: Using Brain Science, Technology, Nature and Collaboration for Deeper Learning.

Project WET Coordinator, Janine Kohn (right) invites a young visitor to check out a crayfish the seventh-graders collected.  Deb Armstrong (left) a retired teacher and Master Naturalist who lives in North St. Paul, frequently takes her grandchild for a stroll through the Preserve.

Louv reports that schools that do use outdoor classrooms and other forms of nature-based experiential education report significant student gains in social studies, science, language arts, and math. Students in Finland, for example lead the world in math and science scores; in that country, it’s an article of faith that the best education includes time spent in the classroom — with lots of recess and learning time outdoors.

Taking a close-up look at pond life.
Since she began teaching at Cowern in 2009, Troendle nurtured a dream of developing something experiential outdoors for Maplewood Middle School students. 

" I wasn't seeing any young people in the parks or preserves, " says Cathy.  " I did an informal survey of students at the school that lived less than a mile from the school and found out that 75% didn't even know the preserve was there and those that did really liked going there."

Because Southwood Nature Preserve is within easy walking distance to that school, she approached their principal three years ago and gradually, after intensive planning and coordination, her plans for a learning event came together, thanks to her persistence, dedication, creative problem solving and resourcefulness, not to mention all her many volunteer hours! Now Cathy plans to repeat this field day in the spring of 2015.

Left: What is that crazy looking thing?  Capturing and identifying aquatic life.
Right: Closer than you think, Southwood Nature Preserve is easily accessible with parking right on
Holloway Ave. west of Century Ave. (https://goo.gl/maps/wU0xO)

Besides being an experienced educator, Troendle has good skills as a networker. Ten classroom teachers were engaged at the site during the May field day. She also recruited twenty one volunteers including other Master Naturalists, Master Gardeners, Watershed District and Maplewood Nature Center staff, Project Wet staff from the MN DNR, University students and Audubon volunteers who donated their time to help students journey through five field stations.

The volunteer team at the Maplewood Middle School Field Day.

This powerhouse of volunteers assisted students in getting acquainted with the variety of habitats at the site, learning about the ecological issues and evaluating the water quality in the wetland.

Lead Naturalist at Maplewood Nature Center, Ann Hutchinson, encourages a student to discover hidden
macroinvertebrate life in the pond.  Curiosity is spawned.

Learning stations were set up by volunteers to incorporate hands on activities that included buckthorn busting, simulating the challenges of bird migration, investigating monarch habitats, techniques of birding and the use of binoculars and wetland monitoring. Several service learning opportunities were built into the day including pulling buckthorn and removing invasive Canada Goldenrod.

Clockwise from upper left.  Tackling buckthorn at Southwood Nature Preserve.  Competing with classmates for who could get the longest goldenrod root out of the ground while working to preserve monarch butterfly habitat.  Experiencing the challenges of migration.  The "bird" who successfully migrated. 

I hope that the positive outdoor experiences at Southwood Nature Preserve provide evidence to educators about the value of offering these kinds of opportunities to help stimulate their students’ senses and curiosity in the natural world. As Louv concludes, “Few today would question the notion that every person, especially every young person, has a right to access the Internet, whether through a school district, a library, or a city’s public Wi-Fi program. We accept the idea that the divide between the digital haves and have-nots must be closed. But all children also have a right to develop a wider spectrum of their senses and mental abilities, to know the real world, and to be fully alive.”


Looking for another up-coming opportunity to explore Southwood Nature Preserve and spend time observing its wildlife? Check out this June event.

Friends of Frogs Hike at Southwood Nature Preserve June 20

Frogs are excellent indicators of wetland health. Join Biologist Carole Gernes for an entertaining and educational evening class at Southwood Nature Preserve in North St. Paul (https://goo.gl/maps/wU0xO) on Friday, June 20, from 8:30 to 9:45 p.m.

Southwood Nature Preserve is home to at least five species of frogs.
Photo courtesy of Carole Gernes.

Learn to identify frog and toad species by their calls. Receive a free Minnesota DNR frog poster, instructions for making a frog call, a phenology check list and a list of good areas to hear frogs.

Dress for the weather and bring a water bottle. Wear long pants long-sleeved shirts to prevent mosquito bites, and good shoes for hiking. Recommended for ages 6 and up, with an adult. Please RSVP to
laurie.koehnle[at]northstpaul.org or call 651.747.2504.

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” — Annie Dillard

Church Rain Gardens Are On a Roll In the District

By Sage Passi

Maplewood Lead Naturalist, Ann Hutchinson, advises French Immersion students
on how to plant at Redeeming Love Church.

The bells doth toll,

Church rain gardens

are on a roll.

With rains like last night’s

they could be full.

All right, I admit this is rather “soggy” poetry. It’s Sunday, it’s sunny, we’ve had way too much rain, the weeds are a mile high, it’s the middle of June and my own gardens are all crying out for help, but the news must get out. So what’s been happening on the church front? And what’s been happening on the weather front? The two questions, after all, are very much related.

A couple of weeks ago four of the rain gardens at Redeeming Love that I had committed to planting the next day with a group of classes sadly looked like this photo below.
A typical rainy date sight in the world of rain gardens.  They are doing what they are supposed to do - capture water!
Oh me of little faith. Not a reason for panic. Just a glitch in the schedule. I knew we couldn’t get them marked and ready for planting the next day, but I was relieved to know that by the end of the day all these rain gardens behind the church had drained properly. Watching them perform well the rest of the rainy week increased my confidence and the rescheduled planting a week later went off without a hitch.

Farnsworth Aerospace fourth-graders planting four
rain gardens at Redeeming Love Church.
I’m happy to report that now most of the rain gardens at Redeeming Love Church near White Bear Avenue and Highway 36 in Maplewood constructed last fall are planted, thanks to the efforts of Outdoor Lab contractor Chuck Hanna, his staff and seventy-five fourth graders from Farnsworth Aerospace and L’Etoile du Nord Schools in St. Paul who helped with the gardens out behind the church. Special applause for the expert assistance of staff from Maplewood Nature Center. It’s no small task marking and preparing these large gardens and getting ready for a planting - it took a couple of days of hard work so hats off to Ann Hutchinson, Oakley Biesanz and their intern for their diligence and organizational skills in helping taking the lead on this. Many thanks also to the Ramsey County Master Gardeners and one Master Naturalist and the teachers who spent the next day in the hot sun, helping students put about a thousand plugs in the ground.
Ramsey County Master Gardener, Kristina DeLaundreau, helps Farnsworth
students plant little bluestem at Redeeming Love Church.
I’ve got an offer from Ramsey Conservation District to help me put the finishing touches on these rain gardens next week along with some Girls Scouts so from here on out it’s all about fending off the little goslings standing watch for lunch on the outskirts of the rain gardens, keeping them weeded and sitting back and watching the seedlings thrive!
Pastor Jerchah Heurh, church volunteers, and Master Gardeners Kris Baird and
Jan House hard at work in the rain garden at First Hmong Assembly of God.
A special thank you also goes to Ramsey County Master Gardeners, Kris Baird and Jan House and Master Naturalist Brian Larson who helped me coordinate the planting of the third rain garden at First Hmong Assembly of God in east St. Paul with their team of 10 multigenerational church volunteers who were recruited by Pastor Jerchah Heurh. It was fun to discover that one of the youngest planters from that church was a Farnsworth student we worked with at the planting at Keller Golf Course this spring.
Left: A completed rain garden behind First Hmong Assembly of God.
Right: Brian Larson, Master Naturalist, plants alongside volunteers at First Hmong Assembly of God.
We are happy to announce that three other churches in the Watershed District that have submitted their applications for upcoming rain garden projects that will tap into our state Clean Water Legacy funds and our BMP cost share program are Grace Church and Prince of Peace Church in Roseville and Woodland Hills Church in Maplewood. Church of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin in Maplewood intends to submit their application in July. So we are rounding the bend on this grant project and feeling hopeful that we are making a dent in helping improve water quality in these impaired sub-watersheds through the implementation of infiltration projects on church grounds. Kudos to Paige Ahlborg, our Project Manager and Ramsey Conservation District and Barr Engineering staff for their work in recruitment and developing concept plans and designs.

Rule #1: Never plant a rain garden alone. Those
saturated soils can be like quicksand! 
Photo courtesy of Laura Niederhofer.

 At the far south end of the District in Woodbury, another rain garden project was recently planted by church volunteers at Christ Episcopal Church. Since I wasn’t there to witness the process, they contributed a number of photos. I’ve included one here that Carole Pastorius, our Administrative Secretary shared with me. She said it reminded her of an experience she had in one of the Watershed District’s rain gardens shortly after we moved into our new office. On the day of our open house event, she spied a pop can in one of our street rain gardens and she stepped into the garden to retrieve it. She said she sunk into what seemed like quick sand and asked a passer by to help pull her out!  The volunteer planting at this church rain garden  experienced the same thing.  

We want to say a big thank you to the volunteers that have made these gardens happen.  We have made a lot of positive progress in terms of stormwater management and habitat creation, all while meeting some great folks along the way!