Wednesday, December 16, 2015

A Night to Reflect, Celebrate and Appreciate!

By Sage Passi

Honoring Watershed Excellence in 2015!

Each year we gather together to reflect, celebrate and extend our gratitude for the accomplishments, relationships built, and efforts contributed by individuals and groups in our “network.”

The 2015 Recognition Dinner at Keller Golf Course Clubhouse

On November 12, Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District held our Annual Recognition Dinner and award ceremonies to show our appreciation for our partners, volunteers, teachers, award program winners, community leaders, city and county representatives, Board of Managers, Citizen Advisory Commissioners and District staff who have gifted us with their time and talents in 2015!

What a tapestry of creative energy and empowerment is raised when we collectively acknowledge and celebrate the contributions that each of you make in our community! We sincerely appreciate everyone who has helped us work toward protecting and enhancing our local water and natural resources in the watershed. 


"Conservation Champion" Maxine Bethke with award-designing
glass artist Eric Sommers
Our recognition event took place at the beautiful and stately Keller Golf Course Clubhouse overlooking Keller Lake. The Watershed District has a long-term connection with Keller Golf Course formed through many years of cooperation and partnering on prairie, shoreline and wetland restoration, water quality protection and sustainable land and water practices. There’s something quite majestic and awe-inspiring about the views from this high point above the water. It is a great place to celebrate our connection to water and the land.

That night a heavy rainstorm hit just as people were arriving. It was dramatic how the howling winds off the lake literally “blew” everyone in the door. Don’t the elements often have a way of speaking for themselves? Was this a message about the collective force of the people gathering at this event? One hundred and five people braving the elements, gathering to celebrate and honor each other’s efforts made for a great, energizing evening!
The Social Hour was a great time to reconnect and reminisce.

We kicked off the celebration with a social hour that offered partners a way to reconnect, reminisce, mingle, mix and meet new people. It was great fun seeing mini-reunions pop up all over the room. People were enthusiastically conversing about projects they had worked on together years ago, as well as what they were currently doing.

Throughout the night we projected photos that highlighted the year’s events, projects and the faces of our partners in action. That is always a true feast, a reflection and a re-inspiration!

Celebrating WaterFest 2015 ... one of the highlights of the year.

We celebrated our connections by enjoying a delicious meal together.


Lancer Catering at Keller does it up for our Watershed "Heroes".

We then honored the special achievements of individuals and groups through our 2015 Watershed Excellence and LEAP Award Program ceremonies. These award programs, each with their own criteria and purposes, recognize those who have demonstrated achievements in water and natural resources protection and management, education and stewardship within Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District.

Below are the 2015 Watershed Excellence and LEAP Award Program winners. Half of the winners will be featured in close-up stories in this Ripple issue. The remainder of the winners will be featured next month. Each of these winners have unique and interesting stories!
Watershed Excellence Awards Program

This award program, which began in 2013, was initiated to increase visibility and honor the accomplishments of exceptional “leaders” who have demonstrated outstanding achievements in water resources management, watershed stewardship and civic engagement in a variety of contexts and levels of involvement within the district. Recipients include individuals, organizations, government entities, businesses and agencies. 

Eric Sommers with one of this
year's awards he created.

The District’s Citizen Advisory Commission works with Watershed staff through the summer and fall each year to submit, solicit and review the nominations and determine the winners.

They also seek out and engage artists who are asked to submit proposals for the design of the actual “artistic” award. The CAC is responsible for making the final selection on the design of the award.

The glass artist chosen to design this year's Watershed Excellence award was Eric Sommers. You will be able to read the story of his award design in the next Ripple.

Our awards this year include:

Roger Lake Stewardship Excellence Award: Paul Ellefson 

Recognizes an individual who has, during his or her lifetime, played a significant and long-term role in watershed management and demonstrated leadership in natural resources stewardship.

Outstanding Partner Award: Sean Uslabar

Recognizes an individual, group or business that effectively collaborates to achieve exceptional results in water resources management in Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District.

Conservation Champion Award: Maxine Bethke

Recognizes an individual or organization that works tirelessly to improve and protect the natural environment, persevering enthusiastically through the most trying of conditions.

Citizen Catalyst Award: Anna Barker

Recognizes an individual or organization that effectively encourages and initiates citizen participation efforts to improve and protect water quality. 

Lake Steward Award: Roger Fox 

Recognizes an individual or organization that enthusiastically engages in lake neighborhood communication and watershed education in their local community.

Youth Engagement Award: Jill Danner

Recognizes a teacher or youth organizer who has demonstrated exceptional commitment and capacity to engage youth in watershed education and stewardship initiatives. 

 2015 Landscape Ecology Awards Program 

We honored our Landscape Ecology Award winners.

The Landscape Ecology Awards Program recognizes private, public and commercial landowners within the Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District that use good management practices to preserve and improve water quality and natural resources. Examples of these practices include the use of native plants in landscaping, rain gardens for stormwater infiltration, rain barrels, creation of vegetated buffers around lakes, ponds and wetlands and limited use of fertilizers and pesticides.

Congratulations to these 2015 LEAP Winners: 
Click the link above to read more about some of their success stories. Be watching for the next Ripple eNews for the remainder of the stories.

It was an awesome year; here’s to 2016!

Honoring Landowners committed to "Water and Natural Resouces Friendly" Practices

By Sage Passi, Simba Blood, Dana Larsen-Ramsay and Cleo Raven Zins

The LEAP Program performs a special role by bringing invisible “gems” out into the light in our watershed.

Honoring the commitment and power of the people who make a significant difference in their own environs of landscapes, neighborhoods and community is the quintessence of the LEAP Program. This year’s LEAP award winners illustrate that capacity to the highest degree.

At our 2015 Awards Dinner we were delighted to honor eight LEAP Award winners.

Some of their stories are shared here, with the remainder being shared in the next edition of the Ripple.

We hope their efforts will inspire you to action.

The Landscape Ecology Awards Program (LEAP) recognizes landowners, including private, public and commercial properties within our district that use best management practices (BMPs) to preserve and improve water quality and natural resources. These practices include the use of native plants in landscaping, rain gardens, rain barrels, vegetated buffers around lakes, ponds and wetlands and the limited use of fertilizers and pesticides.

The Leap Team making a site visit.

The LEAP program has been in existence for fourteen years. Its' success is reflective of the dedication, hard work, creativity and inspiration of the LEAP team! Since its inception, eighty-three sites have received LEAP awards including sixty-four private residences, four schools, four businesses, two churches and nine government entities.

The LEAP team identifies landowners who role model
sound management practices that preserve and improve water
quality and natural resources.

We celebrate the team’s efforts, as well as the dedication of this year’s LEAP award winners. The LEAP program requires a lot of teamwork. Each year the team’s nine citizen volunteers and District Liaison, Simba Blood, Natural Resources Technician, seek nominations, review applications, interview nominees, conduct site visits and select the winners for the award program.

The LEAP Team conducts a site visit at Our Redeemer Lutheran.

They also put together the gifts for the award winners. This year award winners were given a $25 gift certificate from Minnesota Native Landscapes, a Lake Phalen Guide, a LEAP sign to display in their yard and an artisan-made bird bath hand-crafted by members of the LEAP team themselves. 

LEAP team members, Gail Acosta and Roxanne Hanley, show off
two of the hand-crafted bird baths presented to LEAP winners.
The LEAP Team organized a tour of the restoration sites at
Keller Golf Course and their use of sustainable practices. Note
the water friendly cleaning station for their maintenance equipment.

Photo credit: Anita Jader

Every other year the team organizes an Exceptional LEAP Tour highlighting “exceptional” LEAP sites. This year the LEAP Team organized a golf cart tour at Keller Golf Course to guide participants around the extensive native restoration areas on their site. A future Ripple article will provide more about the tour of this award-winning site.

Continue reading below for some inspiring stories from this year’s winners. The remaining winners will be highlighted next month.

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Gene, Alan and Helen Whipple were the first of the 2015 LEAP winners to be announced. Their award-winning residential site exemplifies the adage, “It takes a village”.

Battle Creek Middle School teachers and Ramsey County Master
Gardeners accepted the LEAP Award for the Whipple's rain garden
as the Whipples were unable to attend the ceremony.

Two of the Whipples’ partners, Sue Fourniea and Josi Grote-Stumpf, science teachers at Battle Creek Middle School, helped their students become involved in developing this award-winning rain garden. Fourniea was concerned about run-off entering nearby Battle Creek so she helped her classes send letters to the neighborhood around the school seeking a resident who would offer their yard as a location for a demonstration rain garden that would infiltrate the urban runoff.

Battle Creek Middle School students remove sod for the project.

Gene Whipple, a student at Crosswinds Middle School in Woodbury at the time, was familiar and excited about the rain gardens at his school initiated by 2015 Watershed Excellence Award winner and retired Crosswinds teacher Anna Barker. He enthusiastically responded "yes" to their inquiry. He also persuaded his neighbor to participate along with his parents. The project has clearly made an impact on Gene, who is now pursuing a college degree in sustainability and is on the path to finding other ways to “make a difference”. Good luck Gene!

Gene Whipple leveling the basin for his rain garden.

Multiple Battle Creek Middle School classes walked over to the site, and with help from Ramsey County Master Gardeners, conducted a site assessment, performed an infiltration and soil test, removed the sod and excavated the rain garden. Gene then completed the excavation and leveled its basin. Gene and Alan, his dad, installed an erosion blanket on the berms and positioned rocks in the center. Master Gardeners worked with Sage Passi from the Watershed District on the planting design. Finally, students and Master Gardeners returned to assist Gene with the planting.

Linda Neilson and Rose Cherlin guide students in the site assessment.

Planting the Whipple rain garden was a team effort!

The rain garden successfully infiltrates water from both neighbors’ houses and prevents it from running into the nearby storm sewer and Battle Creek. It also attracts a plethora of pollinators. What a great example of collaboration. Congratulations Gene, Alan and Helen!


Butterfly milkweed in bloom in the Whipple Garden this past summer.

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Playschool Childcare Center and Director Carol Acosta won a LEAP Award for their site which includes rain gardens that absorb parking lot runoff, reduce erosion and add visual interest. Their site also includes a lovely peace garden.

Carol and Gail Acosta and team display their award and prizes.

Carol involved the center's children in the planning, planting and enjoying of the rain and peace gardens! Seventy-five percent of her students are special needs children.

An eye-catching detail in the garden

While designing the peace garden, the students said they wanted to include color and blueberries. One student said “When I eat I feel peaceful”.

Playschool's Peace Garden

Since their project began, students have been busy enjoying an influx of exciting wildlife,  including fox, rabbits, pocket gophers, hummingbirds and even eagles.

Playschool Childcare Center's award-winning site

Carol is fortunate to have her mother, LEAP Team member Gail Acosta, assist with many of the projects on the Playschool site. She has many future plans to add to the plantings, including work on the steep slope of an adjacent property she recently purchased.


Carol Acosta, Director of Playschool Childcare Center

Congratulations, Carol, and thanks to the Playschool family for all your hard work!

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Kristy Odland of Saint Paul received a 2015 LEAP Award winner for the plantings she's done on her steep slope in an effort to minimize the water runoff from her property into neighboring Beaver Lake.

Kristy Odland accepts her award with Meredith Cooley
from Local Roots Landscaping

The extensive plantings in Kristy’s rain garden are ninety percent native plants. She adds new plants every year and plans to expand even further!

Kristy's hillside with native plants helps stop erosion and attract pollinators.

In a testimony to her decision to replace the turfgrass in her yard with a rich variety of native plants, Kristy comments, 
“I’ve noticed that people stop by and talk when I’m pulling weeds, not when I’m cutting the grass”.

Kristy's welcoming flagstone pathway

When the LEAP team visited her garden they walked down her flagstone path and noticed an astounding number of butterflies and bees.


Butterfly Milkweed attracts monarchs

Kristy's native plantings provide color and also help protect nearby Beaver Lake.

Thank you to Kristy for all of your beautiful work. We will enjoy watching your rain garden grow!

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Congratulations to Char Brooker and Gene Mammenga of Maplewood for receiving their LEAP Award! Char and Gene have converted much of their yard into a wooded oasis and gardens, with minimal lawn and a slope that blends seamlessly with the adjoining natural area.

Char Brooker and Gene Mammenga receive their LEAP award.

Their garden is fulfilled with native woodland plants.

The runoff from their roof is directed onto plantings and natural areas.

Turkeys seem to enjoy roosting in their mature oaks and pollinators flock to the diverse plantings. According to Char, the project has also resulted in energy savings.

Here’s how Char explains it, "In the winter, our sunny south windows present a calming scene with lots of winter birds. In the summer, it's shaded and filled with lots of birds for our tabby cat to enjoy!

Char's cat loves to watch the birds that are drawn to her garden.

A big river birch provides shading of the north side of the house in summer. We love having windows open and hearing the outside world - not an air conditioner."

Char and Gene's yard is lush and full of many plantings. 
Char and Gene extended a special thanks to CAC member, Mark Gernes, who has observed their property changes over the years.

Thank you, Char and Gene, for your hard work and dedication in creating such a lovely, watershed-friendly yard!

Honoring Citizens' Excellence in the Watershed

RWMWD’s Watershed Excellence Awards Program honors individuals, organizations, government entities and businesses that demonstrate outstanding achievements in water resources management, watershed stewardship and civic engagement within Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District. 

Each year it's always a difficult decision determining who should be given these honors because there are so many deserving individuals and groups in our Watershed. It is exciting and heartening to know there are so many people who qualify for this distinction.

So we will continue to honor and express our thanks to many of you each year!

How does the Watershed Excellence Program work?

A District Citizen Advisory Commission committee teams up with Watershed Education Specialist Sage Passi through the summer and fall each year to solicit, submit, review award nominations and recommend the winners to the Board. Then, they conduct interviews to round out the story about the award winners. 

In addition, they identify, recruit and engage artists who submit proposals for the design of the “artistic” award itself. The CAC committee also recommends the final selection of the award design to the District’s Board of Managers.

Here are stories of some of our 2015 Watershed Excellence Award winners. Be watching for the stories about the other winners in our next Ripple Effect. 

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 Jill Danner – 2015 Watershed Excellence Award for Youth Engagement

Photo credit: Anita Jader

A round of cheers for Jill Danner! This award recognizes a teacher or youth organizer who has demonstrated exceptional commitment and capacity to engage youth in watershed education and stewardship initiatives.

Harding Earth Club gets directions from Jill about planting acorns.

Jill is a real powerhouse and a creative organizer who has involved youth from the East Side of St. Paul in many environmental actions over the years. Young people gravitate to Jill because she makes things fun! 

Jill talking with students about tending oak seedlings.

Jill, a former TA at Harding High School, started and ran the Harding Earth Club for eight years. As many as eighty kids attended the club that met each week during her tenure.

Jill is still in touch with many of her volunteers through Facebook even though she retired a couple years ago. Former club members write to her about their trips out into nature and keep in touch because Jill made a real impact on them. She made a point of getting youth outdoors on projects in order to instill a love for the environment and to teach them how to protect it. She took the Earth Club on camping trips, visits to her horse stable and bus trips around the watershed to work on projects, all in the spirit of group fun and empowerment.

Jill and the Harding Earth Club use GPS to document
plants in Parkway Woods.

You name it ... Jill has done it with kids and with gusto.

Jill passed the reins on to other teachers when she retired several years ago. Teachers, Shannen Lachkameya, Sinthaug Has and Andy Jones continue to support the Earth Club. Jill’s influence has taken root with twenty-five to forty kids who meet weekly to learn about environmental issues and work on projects together.

Preparing for a District hill restoration

The Earth Club’s focus has always been on action. Jill's accomplishments with youth over the years include a Phalen Chain of Lakes clean-up involving six bus loads of student volunteers, numerous restoration and invasive species removal projects around the cities, education outreach activities about environmental friendly cleaning projects, volunteering at WaterFest and annual plant sales at Harding High.

The Harding Native Plant Labyrinth

Two of Jill's legacies leave visible reminders of her positive watershed influence - a native plant labyrinth in the high school courtyard that students helped design and build and a massive planting of native plants behind the Watershed District office on a steep hillside slope that helps reduce erosion into Gervais Creek.

Harding Earth Club working to stop erosion
on hillside behind District

Jill continues to be involved with the Watershed District today. She serves on the Citizen Advisory Commission and provides counsel on community endeavors like the Phalen Chain of Lakes Water Trail Project and Phalen Freeze Fest.

Congratulations, Jill! Thank you for your vision, enthusiasm, mentoring and spirit of adventure.

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Wonder who's behind the beautiful plants you see in the District’s restoration projects, shorelines, rain gardens, our office site and other projects around the District?

Celebrating the accomplishments of Sean Uslabar

It’s Sean Uslabar: 2015 Watershed Excellence Outstanding Partner 

The District honored Sean Uslabar with the 2015 Watershed Excellence “Outstanding Partner” Award. This award recognizes an individual, group or business that effectively collaborates to achieve exceptional results in water resources management in Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District.

Award Winner Sean Uslabar
with Tina Carstens and Bill Bartodziej

Sean, Manager of Ramsey County Correctional Greenhouse and Nursery Facility, is the man behind the scenes whose green thumb, business sense and skillful knowledge about growing native plants, shrubs and trees has supported the District’s large and small scale habitat restoration and stormwater management efforts for many years.

Sean partners each to grow thousands of native
plants, shrubs and trees for our projects and
others around the county and state.

Sixteen years ago, Sean started the native plant operation at Ramsey County Corrections and the production has been growing ever since. Over the years, he's provided hundreds of thousands of native plants for the District’s projects.

His work has improved the quality of our restorations and saved the Watershed tens of thousands of dollars in the process. In addition, he provides native plants to cities, counties, nature centers and many other organizations throughout the state.

Sean wearing one of his many hats
at Ramsey County Corrections

Sean does it all; he balances the budget, fills orders, manages inmate crews, runs the greenhouses and even finds time to share his knowledge by giving tours.

Sean fills an order for HB Fuller’s restoration project.

Sean supplies trucks, tractors, and inmate work crews for District projects and has even been known to get out into the field as well, seeding natural areas on Keller Golf Course.

Sean seeds a Keller Golf Course restoration area.

We express our deep appreciation Sean, for being such an outstanding partner!

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Maxine Bethke – Conservation Champion

Maxine Bethke - Conservation Champion

Congratulations to Maxine Bethke, an Oakdale resident, who was awarded the  "Conservation Champion" Watershed Excellence Award!

This award recognizes an individual or organization that works tirelessly to improve and protect the natural environment, persevering enthusiastically through the most trying of conditions.

Maxine Bethke received the “Conservation Champion”
 Award for her conservation efforts in Bethke Park in Oakdale.

Maxine started a neighborhood sanctuary and has been a long-time advocate for Bethke Park, a seven-acre nature park in Oakdale. Previously dominated by buckthorn, reed canary grass and hybrid cattails, it is now a vibrant place with native plants and wildlife galore, thanks to Maxine's efforts and others she involved including agencies, organizations and individuals.

Bethke Park in Oakdale

Click here for a map to Bethke Park.

Maxine removed mountains of buckthorn, planted a forest of native trees and shrubs, controlled a slew of invasive weeds, planted a host of native flowers and documented the re-emergence of many native woodland plants, including some rare and threatened species.

Maxine turned an invasive-dominated piece of
land into a jewel of a park for everyone to enjoy.

She turned the park into a nature observatory; installing and maintain wood chipped trails, bird blinds, benches and boardwalks. She has also installed a Little Free Library stocked with identification guides and other nature-themed works.

Thank you, Maxine for your long-standing commitment to conservation and habitat improvement!
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We greatly appreciate all our 2015 award winners. Watch next month for more inspiring stories like the ones you've just enjoyed.