Monday, March 14, 2016

Pollinators - Plight and Possibilities

Dr. Marla Spivak, Director of The Bee Lab and professor in the
University of MN Department of Entomology
Dr. Marla Spivak, well-known University of Minnesota Professor of Entomology and research expert on bees, will be giving a talk, "Pollinators: Plights and Possibilities - The Facts about Honey Bees, Wild Bees and other Pollinators and Ways you Can Make a Difference" at an environmental forum sponsored by Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District and H.B. Fuller Company. 

Pollinators - Plight and Possibilities
Thursday, March 24, at 7:00 PM
H.B. Fuller Company, Willow Lake-B Building
1200 Willow Lake Blvd.  Vadnais Heights
The event is FREE! Refreshments will be served!

Find out the important roles pollinators play in our lives. Discover the complex issues and obstacles plaguing honey bees, wild bees and other Minnesota pollinators. Learn what researchers have uncovered as contributing factors, and how Dr. Spivak’s Bee Lab and others are using these results to successfully win the fight to improve bee colonies and habitats for all pollinators. Dr. Marla Spivak will enlighten you with her fascinating research and the creative solutions her team has developed to help our pollinators. She will provide you with practical ways you can improve pollinator habitat in your yard, at your business,
and in the community! 
Learn about the Bee Squad and their unique mentorship techniques in the Twin Cities to foster healthy bee populations and pollinator landscapes and the University of Minnesota’s plans for a new Bee and Pollinator Research Lab and Discovery Center for the public.
Dr. Marla Spivak is the Director of the Bee Lab and a professor in the University of Minnesota Department of Entomology. She is a 2010 MacArthur Fellow, commonly referred to as a “Genius Grant” recipient. Her interest in honey bees began in commercial beekeeping forty years ago, and has led her to a Ph.D. in Entomology and her passionate research on bee pollinators. She is currently working with students on cutting edge projects to develop “bee-lawns” – pollinator habitat in urban landscapes, the health of commercial honey bee colonies and a survey of native bees in Minnesota. 

RSVP to Debbie Barnes at 651-792-7959 or e-mail her at to reserve your spot. Click here for directions.

Please join us! You won't want to miss her fascinating story! 

A Month in the Life of a Watershed Educator

By Sage Passi

At the beginning of the Governor's Water Summit, a group of protesters expressed their concerns about the Sandpiper oil pipeline, holding signs saying "Love Water Not Oil."

It’s been a wild past few weeks. As they say, “all in the day in the life of” a watershed educator.

Water Summit

I attended the Governor’s Water Summit and joined over 800 people who participated in this event. Gov. Mark Dayton hosted this groundbreaking summit on February  27th to bring Minnesotans from all walks of life together to discuss one of the most pressing issues facing, not just current Minnesota residents, but our children, grandchildren, and future generations: clean water.

The Governor is calling for each of us to develop a “water ethic” and recognize that water use by all of us affects all other Minnesotans who rely on abundant and clean water both now and in the future. While the summit itself was only one day, this is a conversation that will be ongoing during the legislative session and beyond. Gov. Dayton is seeking input from all corners of the state on this issue, and he invites you to share your thoughts by completing this SURVEY.  He plans to hold a Water Action Week in April 2016 to build on the momentum of the summit and to get citizens more engaged in water issues.

Pollinator Outreach, Habitat Restoration, and Research

I’ve participated in several other large events including a Pollinator Town Hall Forum with  State Representative, Rick Hansen from the Environment and Natural Resources Committee, Dr. Karen Obehauser, monarch expert from the University of Minnesota , butterfly conservation biologist, Dr. Erik Runquist from the Minnesota Zoo, and native bee specialist, Crystal Boyd from the Minnesota DNR.  I learned at this event that there are now ten cities in Minnesota that have passed pollinator resolutions including Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Maplewood.

I had the opportunity to attend the Wild Ones Conference and hear Heather Holm speak on Native Bees: Their Role as Pollinators of Native Plants and Cultivated Blueberries. Holm's knowledge on native bees and honey bees continues to impress me.  Her book, Pollinators of Native Plants is a great resource and if you haven't heard her speak you can visit her website for a list of upcoming engagements. RWMWD is co-sponsoring an Environmental Forum with Dr. Marla Spivak, the University of Minnesota expert on bees, who will be presenting a talk, Pollinators - Plight and Possibilities, on March 24 at the H.B Fuller campus.  For a printable flyer, click here. 

Protecting pollinators is in the headlines and at the forefront of many educational initiatives this year. Seven fourth grade classes from Farnsworth and L’Etoile du Nord are participating in a pollinator planting project at Fish Creek in May with the help of Maplewood Nature Center and Great River Greening and grant funds from the Xerxes Society.  Watch for a future article about Maplewood's three-year collaboration with Great River Greening.

Our Keller Creek Restoration Project is another large endeavor to create refuge for wildlife and a corridor to enhance habitat for pollinators and migratory birds.  We spent two weeks finalizing our schedule for the 15 classrooms that will be involved in that restoration in May.

Meanwhile, during this past month, trays, plastic lids and huge bags of soil were hauled to schools in my aging Toyota. My own refrigerator was stuffed with dozens of bags of seeds our Natural Resources staff preciously gathered and classes stratified so they could be dropped off every few days for hundreds of kids who were planting them indoors with the help of our Master Gardener teams during the past two weeks. 

Rochelle Robideau, Ramsey County Master Gardener, helps students plant native seeds.

It’s a testimony to the commitment and the capacity of the Master Gardener program that volunteers can help run this seed-starting operation solo in classrooms while Tracy Leavenworth, my school consultant, and I have been busy meeting other educational demands this month. Rochelle Robideau, a Ramsey County Master Gardener School Coordinator, has taken on much of the responsibility for leading these classroom activities with students along with other Master Gardeners in the last couple of years. In the meantime, organizing our mammoth planting and field trip schedule for April and May almost turns into a full-time job for a few weeks in February! Thanks to Ed Shinbach for putting up our posts on Sign-Up Genius to recruit volunteers for our planting projects.

In the midst of all this fervor, I had to seriously stop and reflect last weekend when I received the very sad news that one of our very dedicated Master Gardeners, Andy Holewa, had died unexpectedly a few days before. I’m still taking that news in and much of what I do each day brings me back to the realization that it is the precious uniqueness of each individual who contributes to the wellbeing and protection of our watershed that support and insures the viability of our community and its resources. 

To read more about Andy Holewa, click HERE.


Andy Holewa and kids examine seeds before a planting.

Aquatic Invasive Species Education

On a chilly afternoon in late February Tracy and I met up with Tina Wolbers, one of the DNR’s two AIS Prevention Planners. Debbie Meister, our WaterFest consultant had reserved some displays for Waterfest through Tina. Tina led us by flashlight into the DNR Building’s cold, dark exhibit hall at the State Fair Grounds to give us a sneak preview of their aquatic invasive species displays that we plan to bring to WaterFest on June 4. 

I wanted to get a jump start on preparing the volunteers who would be stationed at that exhibit on June 4.

The DNR’s Aquatic Invasive Species display illustrates how to inspect watercraft for zebra mussels and other invasive species.
We've invited two DNR conservation officers, Larry Hanson and Julie Siems with their zebra mussel-sniffing dogs to WaterFest this year to be a part of our Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) station. The dogs assist the conservation officers with boat launch inspections.  More than 100 Minnesota lakes, rivers, and wetlands are already infested with zebra mussels, which clog water intake pipes, cut swimmers' feet and disrupt natural ecosystems.  Eight new lakes were found to have zebra mussels in 2015.

Finalizing Clean Water School Grant Projects

During the last week of February, Matt Kumka, our Barr consultant, and I made the rounds to finalize the Clean Water School rain garden projects, along with the top decision makers - the principals and District 622 and 623 facility staff. We were seeking their approval on the 99% completed rain garden plans for the large-scale projects that will be constructed during the summers of 2016 and 2017. As I sat down with the business manager of School District 622, Randy Anderson, to get his sign off on these projects, I couldn’t help reflecting that reaching this point in this two-year process was a “watershed moment” if there ever was one in my years of working with schools.

Matt Kumka, Barr Engineering, Mike Boland and Mark Renstrom from District 622
and Randee Edmundson, CAC, discuss the design for Harmony Learning Center's rain garden.

In the midst of that meeting, I learned from Randy that the school district intends to pass a pollinator resolution. This was music to my ears and resonated with the "buzz" about protecting our pollinators going on at my Blue Thumb meetings and the Wild Ones Conference.

Coordinating Volunteers for the Phalen Freeze

In the busy month of February, we also had the big mid-winter celebration - Phalen Freeze Fest on February 20th!  We had a great turnout of volunteers from Harding High Earth Club, Johnson and Harding High ROTC, Urban Roots, and many other organizations.

Winter Maker was no match for Shingebiss this year at Phalen Freeze Fest with the
warmer-than-normal temperatures.

To read more about Phalen Freeze, click HERE.

Cities Step Up

In late February I joined a meeting with a city HUD official from Woodbury, Paige Ahlborg, our BMP and Project Manager, Woodbury Park and City staff and Washington Conservation District staff to support a shoreline project at Carver Lake. Afterwards we walked the shoreline of Carver Lake with Woodbury’s park staff to see where the city intends to rebuild boardwalks and address erosion issues with HUD grant money and cost-share funds from the Watershed District. This conversation has opened doors to potentially partnering on further cost share projects near the shoreline and some collaborative educational activities at the lake.

In the past couple of months I've been working with Cities to organize a Level 2 Smart Salting training to help city public works and street superintendents assess and make good decisions about their salt use on city streets. Thanks to Fortin Consulting and Ramsey Conservation District for helping me get this training on the calendar for the end of April.

Master Water Stewards Get Proactive

On a Tuesday evening two weeks ago I dined with our new Master Water Stewards at Pippin’s Restaurant in Roseville and listened to them chat about some of their life experiences in their careers and education as a way to get acquainted and build teamwork. Six out of the seven present at the dinner said they were going to their caucuses the next week and wouldn’t be at our scheduled Master Water Stewards training session on March. It seemed fitting since we would be starting our unit on Community Engagement at the end of March!

Within a day of the caucuses, I received an email from one of the Master Water Stewards, who attached a resolution that she had brought to a vote at her local caucus. It's an example of what a courageous, energized, and empowered person can do to get the attention of their community and raise energy for the cause of water!  More power to you, Anna B! I’d like to share your resolution with our Ripple audience.

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By Anna Barker
Master Water Steward and Master Gardener

“. . . perhaps from the Algonquian . . .CAUCUS: 1. U.S. meeting of party members, esp. in the Senate, to decide policy; 2. Often derogatory, a) meeting of a group within a larger organization or party; b) such a group. The Oxford Dictionary of Current English.

“Political skill is about managing the emotions of other people.”  

In this vein of thinking, I got into the swim of things on Tuesday March 1, 2016 for my local party caucus at Woodbury High School. Attendance this night was 1000+ over the anticipated number of 2000, which was the record-breaker in 2008. After wading through the winding lines of folks peering at fuzzy maps posted on cafeteria windows to find their caucus room, I made my way to the far end of the building and joined some of my neighbors in what felt very natural to me: an English teacher’s classroom.

I voted for my preferred presidential candidate and checked in with our caucus chair about what I had to do to write a Resolution. He directed me to prepared copies of the RESOLUTION FORM. Check. I filled in the blanks and checked the required boxes, then checked in with my neighbors nearby, making introductions for those who didn’t know one another. Smile. So far, so good.

The next piece of work was to actually create my Resolution. Never did this before. Learning as I go. Thought: “If I can do this, maybe lots of others are doing it, too.” Nope. When it came time to present and take questions from the Precinct 5 attendees (by this time, around 100!), only one other person had a Resolution to share, and that was from a representative of Common Cause, MN. Mine was based on facts I’d gotten earlier in the day when I was doing my prep work from the League of Conservation Voters and “the water guru” from Governor Dayton’s Office (fresh off the Water Summit in St. Paul held “first come, first in for attending” on Saturday, February 27,), with about 1,000 present.

A plea for “relevance and action.” 



And then: Follow up the next day.

Per my Senate District 53 local level rep, Deb, after I called the number that my contact at the Gov. Office suggested: “… attend the Convention Committee meeting at Jerry’s Foods on March 10th and make sure that your Resolution moves forward to go to the State Convention.”

OK then. Yes, I will.

I thanked Deb, and she thanked me for my follow up.

My response: (and you can quote me!) “You’re welcome. If you don’t follow up, you don’t get results.” She agreed.

Here’s my Resolution:

“Based on the Proclamation from the Safe Drinking Water Week of May 3-9, 2015, which stated the following:

WHEREAS: Minnesotans depend on an adequate supply of safe drinking water for their health, quality of life, and economic viability; and

WHEREAS: PROTECTING the source of rivers, lakes, and underground supplies of water is the first step in ensuring safe water; and

WHEREAS: Nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus are threats to sustained safe water supplies and an issue that public water systems are addressing with a variety of strategies; and

WHEREAS: All Minnesotans rely on safe drinking water from public water systems in their homes, schools, and places of work and play,

Therefore: we, the residents of Precinct 5 in the City of Woodbury in the Great State of Minnesota, do hereby resolve to support public education efforts and outreach on behalf of Safe and Clean Water.”

Done. Presented. Unanimously approved, and I got applause!


So, onward! Next steps have been taken. More will follow.

Follow up IS key. Doors remain un-open to access the Button Pushers who “know what I don’t know” about what needs to happen in order to get actions of relevance brought to the public’s attention. In order to have positive, creative results that make a difference for the residents of both the City of Woodbury and the entire great state of Minnesota, we need to “be a WE” and connect our emotions to those also on the Team of Rivals so that the results of our efforts will be beneficial to ALL.

Yours in peace and service,
Anna Barker

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I need a long winter’s nap and it’s almost spring! No such luck!

Eeegads! It’s been a crazy-busy month. Thanks to the individuals and communities who have stepped up to the plate to take action in support of our lakes and water resources.

Phalen Freeze 2016 in Photos


Just a couple weeks ago, the air temperature was in the 40s, but Lake Phalen in St. Paul had still had 15 inches of ice. 

Tips Outdoors provided gear and guidance.
"We moved here from San Diego two years ago," said a mother of two girls who were peering down into a slushy hole in the ice.  "We've wanted to try ice fishing but there is so much to know and so much gear to get for just a single outing.  This is so great.  I'm sending pictures back to my family in California and they all think we're crazy!"

The Phalen Freeze brought ice fishing and so much more into arm's reach for the community.  Activities including snowshoeing, arts and crafts, bonfires with smores, and an audience-participation puppetry performance had people of all ages smiling. 

Left: Snow bowling was not as snowy as predicted, but just as fun. 
Right: Phalen Freeze volunteers warm up by a bonfire. 

Indoor activities were fun and educational.  Kids played "trucks" while their parents learned about responsible salt use in the winter.  People of all ages created crafts and paper/foil hats to be used during the puppet performance.
Members of Harding High Earth Club volunteered at the event, making props for the play, talking to the public about St. Paul Parks, Programs and more.

More members of the Harding High Earth Club wearing animal masks for the performance
of the Ojibwe story of Shingebiss. 

Left: Masks made by community members prior to the event were available for any visitor to use in the performance.  Right: St. Paul staff shows Freeze-goers how to use the GPS for geocaching.

Volunteers from Urban Roots and City of St. Paul Education and Outreach Intern
gather at one of the bonfires between tasks.
Left: Food truck, The Soup Coupe, was on hand to sell winter comfort food in a bowl to fest-goers.
Right: Harding High and Johnson High ROTC members built bonfires, cut firewood and hosted lawn games.
Young community members enjoy the warm winter day.
For the performance of Shingebiss, puppeteers used the ice as a stage.The double-decker boat house patio provided great viewing for the audience-participation portion of the show. Guests wore animal masks and waved "wind" streamers that were cued throughout the performance.

Left: Young audience members picked out masks to use at the performance. 
Right: The Phalen Boat House patio provided a great view of the show.

Top Left: In the Ojibwe story of Shingebiss, the brave duck who refused to be defeated by winter invites the Winter Maker into his home.  Top Right and Lower Left: Audience members of all ages participated in the play by making animal sounds and using animal puppets or streamers when cued by the narrator.  Lower Right: Shingebiss enters the ice to hunt for food despite all of Winter Maker's best efforts to drive him away.

Faith Krogstad, Education Coordinator for the City of St. Paul summed up the event with saying:

“The second annual Phalen Freeze Fest introduced many families to Phalen Regional Park and outdoor activities like ice fishing and snowshoeing. As the event was winding down, the moon rose over the lake and we heard great horned owls calling. Telling the Ojibwe legend of Shingebiss reminds us that nature is all around us, and it is important to get outside and enjoy it.

This event is only possible with the hard work of Saint Paul Parks and Recreation partners: Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District, Urban Roots, TIPS Outdoors Foundation, Wilderness Inquiry, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Polar Devils, JROTC, and the Saint Paul Public Library.”

Left: Clear skies and a nearly-full moon over ice fishing.  Top Right: The Ojibwe story of Shingebiss was told in storybook form along a lit path.  Lower Right: Community members meet while making smores over a bonfire.

Thank you to staff and volunteers that made this event such a success!

Sunday, March 13, 2016

A Tribute to Andy Holewa

By Sage Passi
Andy Holewa was a dedicated Ramsey County Master Gardener whose love of kids
and gardening always shined in the watershed projects he supported.


I remember meeting Andy Holewa on one of my first rain garden projects at a home near Farnsworth Aerospace School on the east side of St. Paul. I had just put together a team of Master Gardeners who were fresh out of the first round of what would become a series of many rain garden trainings for both Master Gardeners and the public. I thought to myself,

“What’s a better way for all of us to learn how to design and construct rain gardens than to throw a group of dedicated volunteers together and let us have at it?” 

I was anxious to witness how this group of Master Gardeners would work together to solve the challenges we were facing at this site. It would be one of many opportunities to see Andy in action. He had some very pointed suggestions about how to figure out the inlet and outlet levels for this rain garden tucked into a relatively narrow space between two yards. To be honest, at this early stage of demonstration projects and without much experience, I figured out this was over my head. But Andy was confident and talked me through it. 

Andy supervises Battle Creek Middle School students checking the
basin level in a rain garden being built at a St. Paul home near the school.

It was the first in many instances when Andy would get me through a tough challenge. Only dedicated souls would stick to it through this rough and tumble time-intensive approach to involving youth in constructing a residential rain garden.

I won’t forget anytime soon one of those demanding projects that Andy helped us with when we had a couple weeks of almost non-stop rain while excavating a neighborhood rain garden near Battle Creek. Day after day, rotating middle school classes crossed the creek and came to dig out this rain garden in the mud during their forty-five minute class periods. Andy stuck to it and helped us through that arduous stage of the process. If something was left unfinished, it was often Andy and a few other dedicated Master Gardeners who hung in there with it and helped finish the job. 

Several years after the completetion of the rain garden that was constructed with Andy's help and other Ramsey County Master Gardener volunteers and students.


A couple of weeks ago it was a tremendous shock and a very sad day when I heard of Andy’s sudden death. Since then I have been pausing often to grieve, reminisce and get in touch with how much I have appreciated Andy’s presence and his contributions to the work in the community that we had been immersed in together over the years.

When I look back on my experiences working with Andy for the past seven years, I realize how incredibly helpful, dedicated and patient a person he was and how lucky I was to have had the opportunity to work with him and have his support for our watershed work.

When Andy arrived at the scene in his “souped up” red Firebird, I knew things would be “OK”. Then I’d take a deep breath and often follow his lead. If I made a suggestion he didn’t think made sense, he’d gently offer an alternative. Then we’d ruminate on that idea for a bit and then go with his idea. He was usually right.

Andy with kids at Farnsworth in December 2015 while seed stratifying.

Andy had a gentle way, a sense of the ironic, and his heart was always there. His problem-solving talents served us well, many, many times. He didn’t flinch when kids were tough to work with in the classroom or in the field. His patience saw him through most challenges. He had a genuine love and respect for young people. Andy was dedicated to engaging them in learning about gardening, habitat restoration, rain gardens and the environment.

Andy applied what he learned and passed his knowledge on to others, which got them interested too. He also practiced what he preached. I remember listening to him enthusiastically describe the rain garden he decided to put into his own yard.

Andy was very resourceful. Not that many years ago, when doing a renovation on a pretty distressed front school yard and we had planted all the woodland species we had purchased, Andy came through with additions from his own yard to enhance a couple sections of the hillside that needed some filling in and erosion control. That was not the only time he found ways to fill in a gap.


Andy plants hostas on the shady steep slope in front of Farnsworth
Aerospace’s upper campus in east St. Paul.

The last project I worked on with Andy was quintessential. Of course I had no idea it would be the last time we would have a chance to be together as a team. It was one of those projects that I knew called for Andy’s special skill sets and resourcefulness. It was fall, way past the tax season when Andy was always tied up helping other people. Most Master Gardeners had already put in their quota of hours and we were short of help. I knew the project was going to be a challenge,  but I also knew I could count on Andy. We had worked together on the front garden areas of L’Etoile du Nord years ago and had put in a hillside restoration site. Now that school had moved to another site and these gardens were overgrown and neglected.

On the day of the project, we had a team of eighty corporate volunteers coming to work on various projects on the site. The expectation was that, amongst many other goals, we'd be able to transform what had become an unsightly front entrance garden area into something civilized and attractive. 

“Your mission, Andy Holewa, should you choose to accept it: Transform this
overgrown, in-need-of-TLC front garden area in front of Parkway Montessori."


I was feeling rather panicked. I didn’t know what to expect from the volunteers and wasn’t sure our elaborate garden plan could even be implemented. When the Better Together lead organizer for the work day proposed a rather ambitious undertaking in the space, Andy was not daunted. He stepped into fine form. He had already done some of the homework. He had contacted another Master Gardener and collected plants from her yard to use as groundcover. Andy and Roxanne Eggen, another Master Gardener, had the cool heads and savvy to put these energetic, corporate volunteers to work installing pavers for a path that gave access to what would later become a Japanese garden in back and create some formality to the front area next to the rain garden we had built some years before. When that was completed, Andy helped other volunteers get the donated plants in the ground along the path. Mission accomplished!

Once again, Andy saved the day.

Andy puts “order” back into the front garden at Parkway Montessori.

He will be sorely missed. 

Thank you, Andy, for your awesome gifts. Our watershed has been truly blessed!