Wednesday, December 16, 2015

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!

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