Wednesday, December 16, 2015

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.


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