Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Keller Creek's Spring Revival

By Sage Passi

Mounds Park Academy biology students, along with fourteen other classes, help recreate habitat along Keller Creek in year two of this restoration project.

Keller Creek has been traveled for centuries by migratory birds in their long-distance treks, the Dakota journeying to their summer hunting and fishing grounds, egrets in their summer pursuit of frogs, steam powered excursion boats carrying tourists around the “jeweled” lakes, and kayakers exploring the route from Lake Phalen to Lake Gervais and beyond. For a glimpse of Keller Creek’s meandering history follow this link.

This well-traveled stretch, grown over for years with invasive plants, is undergoing a remarkable restoration at the hands of staff and community members.

To witness the progress on Keller Creek to date, mark the night of Wednesday, July 13, on your calendar and join us in celebrating the half-way mark in our four year restoration efforts. We will be gathering creek-side for a wildflower and nature identification walk, creek dipping for aquatic life, bird watching, a visit by Urban Boatbuilders who will show off their custom-built boats, other fun activities and free ice cream! It’s high time we showcased our project! 

Keller Creek Restoration Celebration
Tuesday, July 13, 6:00 - 8:00 PM

Keller Lake Regional Park, Golfview Picnic Area, Maplewood
For more details on this event click here.

Keller Creek Restoration to Date

Keller Creek is an integral part of the Phalen Chain of Lakes, flowing from Keller Lake into Round Lake and Lake Phalen. The creek is a component of a regionally vital fish and wildlife corridor, connecting restored habitats at Lake Phalen, the Phalen Golf Course and Round Lake with those at Keller Lake, Keller Golf Course, and Lake Gervais. With the addition of the new Ramsey County trail and boardwalk, the creek is also part of a large, easily accessible recreational area. 

Keller Creek restoration 2015

In 2015 restoration work began, addressing issues on the east bank of the creek, between Frost Avenue and Highway 61. Invasive plant species were removed, eroding creek banks were protected, two wet meadow areas were created and thousands of native flowers and grasses were planted by students and other volunteers. Two large stone access points next to the weir were reconfigured to improve safely for fishing and portaging. Then last fall work on the western hillside began. Large scale removal of invasive brush and trees began.

Work on removing invasive plants on the western slope and hillside

So what’s been happening in year two at Keller Creek? Let’s travel back a few weeks to the pinnacle of this spring.

Keller Creek’s Spring Revival 2016

The perfect spring morning along Keller Creek

There’s always something quite magical about those last two weeks in May. The Baltimore orioles trill in operatic fashion rivaling Mozart, the sky shimmers with a brilliant cerulean sheen and the crisp spring morning air freshens our spirits. Simba Blood and I wait on the bridge as ducks glide past, bouncing on the gentle waves. Natural Resources interns and Master Gardeners wait in the wings next to trays of native seedlings and pairs of gloves, buckets of trowels and pails stacked nearby. 

Natural Resources intern, Dan Kutschied and Master Gardeners, Sharon Hardy and Jan House, wait for students to arrive while Carrie Taylor, NR intern, waters seedlings.

Then we catch a glimpse of the first class of the season. Emerging from the school bus, they have the energy of butterflies unfolding from their cocoons. They gaze for a minute at the hill’s vista below and then come racing down the steep slope, some of them rolling into a free fall through the grass as they tumble gleefully to the bottom.

The first bus arrives

They pass by the excavation site in the field at the base of the hill. Tuj Lub courts are being constructed there on parkland adjacent to the restoration area. Tuj Lub (pronounced “too-loo”) is a traditional Hmong sport involving spinning tops. The courts are expected to be completed later this summer. Follow this link for more information.

Home for the new Tuj Lub Courts near Keller Creek

The class stops for moment to take in the panorama of reawakening prairie and wetland shoots rising from the east bank and then head along the path to the bridge. Bulrush and arrowhead stand tall, next to the biologs with their feet tucked in the creek’s mucky substrate.

The weir, rebuilt in 1991 to control the flow of water in the Phalen Chain, captures the kids’ attention momentarily with its compass embossed into the stone and the shimmering water slowly rolling southward under its solid arch. We peer curiously at the fish darting beneath the creek’s mottled surface for a few mesmerizing minutes, then cross the creek and arrive at the site of our project.

A view of the weir above Keller Creek shot in 2015.

Those of us who were here last year agree in amazement that the planting site doesn’t look anything like it did last spring. The area has been radically transformed. If you had been here during the first wave of plantings in 2015, and had looked across the water to the western edge of the creek, you would have seen a forested wall next to the creek’s slope, thick with invasive buckthorn, honeysuckle and other unwanted vegetation. It’s been transformed into a thick carpet of newly mulched trees and shrubs spread thickly across the western shoreline. Towering above the shoreline edge is a forest of native trees and shrubs that will thrive better without having to compete for space, light and nutrients. 

Insuring a Rich Diversity and a Haven for Pollinators and other Wildlife

The western shoreline of Keller Creek awaiting planting by students.

Four thousand square feet of planting area next to the shoreline are soon to be occupied by four hundred plus students, packed in pairs in small planting squares on a steep and challenging slope over the next few days.

Wall-to-wall traffic at restoration site. Master Gardener Donna Andersen (on right) teams with Weaver fifth graders.

Herculean efforts by Natural Resources staff, interns and a Ramsey County Corrections Nursery team a few days before miraculously made it possible for us to be ready for May 17, the starting date for our two week planting spree. Rain and other challenges on the site had forced the completion of the site into a tight schedule.

In shoreline restoration projects we typically plant into erosion blanket, but this year was going to be different. We were planting under a thick blanket of coarsely chopped mulch, through root riddled ground in tight quarters. Some of the squares were up against brush bundles or biologs placed at the toe of the slope so the kids in the bottom planting areas were right next to the water. But the creek is shallow and no one seemed to mind. Some kids even volunteered for those spots!  

Planting next to the edge wasn't for everyone, but there were some brave volunteers willing to work close to the water!

An occasion fit for dressing up!

Some dressed for the task and some came a little overdressed, but they all dug in, had some fun and worked very hard to accomplish the task of getting their plants in the ground.

We outfitted kids with buckets for the soil they dug out and for removing the deeper mulch around their planting area. Each day we had a new set of classes who alternately planted for about forty-five minutes, then spent the next half hour to an hour exploring the history, landmarks and ecology of the creek as it traveled to Round Lake and Phalen Lake.

Clearing the mulch to plant

We were planting close to thirty wet meadow species – a rich variety of grasses, sedges, rushes and wildflowers including everything from blue bottle gentian and blue flag iris to tussock sedge, turtlehead and wool grass. These long-rooted seedlings, grown by Ramsey County Corrections Nursery, would be planted a foot apart to increase biodiversity, provide sources of pollen and nectar for pollinators, create habitat for wildlife and slow hillside erosion. 

Natural Resource Intern, Dan, assists a student with removing a lake sedge from its pack.

When we reached the last day of planting with all fifteen classes, we experienced a sense of completion and satisfaction, having successfully planted about 3000 seedlings.

Who is involved in these restoration projects and why do we involve them?  

Level Up Academy students pose on the bridge over Keller Creek on their way to Round and Phalen Lakes.

We strive to engage classrooms that we’ve been working with all year. Our first priority is to involve students who have been learning how to stratify and start native seedlings and tending them from start to finish for use in projects around the district. We like to complete the year with a culminating service project, celebrate a year of learning and ground their knowledge in a natural setting. Our target classes this year included six classes of fifth graders from American Indian Magnet and L’Etoile du Nord in St. Paul and three fifth grade classes from Weaver Elementary in Maplewood, a class of 7th and 8th grade environmental science students from Farnsworth, a class of fifth and sixth graders from Level Up Academy in White Bear Lake and three classes of high school biology and environmental studies students from Mounds Park Academy. 

“Teasing” the roots to loosen their root ball before they go into
the ground is an essential step in planting plugs.

Many of these classes have been involved in other planting activities for a year or two before experiencing this opportunity to work in a watershed directed project organized by Natural Resources staff. Each spring before the planting we present a slide show with historical and ecological background about the current restoration project where they will be volunteering.

Master Gardeners who assist with these kinds of projects often return in multiple years to help us. This year, in addition to veteran Master Gardeners, six new Master Gardener interns signed up for shifts. A CAC member, A LEAP team member, our WestFest coordinator and one Master Water Steward also joined our team of adults assisting students with the plantings. I always hear positive comments from both teachers and Master Gardeners who comment on the potency of engaging the community in rebuilding habitats and teaching valuable skills in the art of restoring native plants.

Nancy Nygaard, who works with school classes during the growing season, fell in love with the Keller Creek site during the restoration. “I’m going to have to bring my grandchildren here!”


Each year, Mitch Thomsen, a Mounds Park Academy science teacher involves his classes in growing many trays of native seedlings for community watershed projects. He also tends the school’s own large prairie and wetlandhabitats. He offered these comments and a thank you after his classes worked on the Keller Creek project this spring.

“Thanks again for the great opportunity yesterday. I was pleased with Simba’s excellent instruction and the wonderful assistance provided by the interns and master gardeners. It was great that the students were able to see the progress on the work we did last year on the east bank. It is amazing to see how far this area has come in just a few short years. They worked hard, no one fell into the creek and lots of plants were planted." 

Simba Blood, the District’s Natural Resources Technician who is leading the restoration efforts at the creek, demonstrates how to plant with Mounds Park biology students.

Mitch continues, 

“Whatever ties you have with the weather are perfect. Like last year, this year’s weather was great. The explanation of natural corridors will dovetail nicely into our ecology unit next week. It was a wonderful experience for all and I was, at last, able to get some pictures and send to the school so they have a sense of what we are doing there.” 


Diane Noll, Level Up Academy music teacher, and Tracy Leavenworth,
school consultant who works with classrooms throughout the District

Diane Noll, the music teacher for Level Up Academy who has engaged their entire school in watershed related activities this year, had this to say about the restoration outing,
"THANK YOU!!! We had a wonderful experience planting and walking the Keller Park area! You do such important work for our environment, and our future. THANK YOU!!!"
"All the way back to school on the bus, the kids were all a-buzz about everything they saw and did. You are surely planting the seeds for future environmentalists."
One of the many discoveries at Keller Creek – a dragonfly emerging
 from its nymph stage as it sheds its exoskeleton (exuvia) on the Keller Creek weir.

Our Watershed District would like to send out our huge thank you to the many hands that helped out this year. We are looking forward to witnessing how the plants mature and watching the pollinators and other wildlife return!

You Can Be a Master Water Steward

Brian Bowman and Anna Barker, RWMWD Master Water Stewards, visit the Stormwater and Learning Center Park in at MWMWO’s office in Minneapolis.

Freshwater Society developed the Master Water Stewards (MWS) program in 2013 to equip citizens with the knowledge and skills to help improve water quality at the grassroots level. After piloting it for three years in Minnehaha Watershed District, the program expanded in 2016 to engage seven watershed districts and one municipality and is now expanding statewide. This year, Freshwater Society will work with even more partners to train stewards. By 2018, they hope to see many of Minnesota's forty-six watershed districts implementing the MWS program.
Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District began implementing this program in January 2016. We currently have eight Master Water Stewards who have been participating in the on-line training and live training sessions with the other cohort teams from Rice Creek Watershed District and Capitol Region Watershed.
These Master Water Stewards are presently involved in identifying properties for their capstone projects and developing education outreach components in their own neighborhoods. Certified Master Water Stewards will volunteer fifty hours of community service after completing their certification, up to twenty-five hours each subsequent year and participate in ongoing education in order to maintain their certification.

RWMWD’s Master Water Stewards team visits Cross Lutheran Church to learn from Sherry Batterman how congregation volunteers tend their rain garden across from Wakefield Lake.

RWMWD is now seeking candidates for the upcoming year’s Master Water Stewards program in our watershed district. The program is slated to begin October 11. Please contact Sage Passi at 651-792-7958 or email Sage for more information about becoming a Master Water Steward for Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District. 

We need you!!!
An online application is located at this link.


Learn more about becoming a Master Water Steward
Come to an Information Session
July 26 

Freshwater Society
2424 Territorial Rd. Suite B in St. Paul5:30 - 6:30 PM 

August 9 
Freshwater Society
2424 Territorial Rd. Suite B in St. Paul
5:30 - 6:30 PM

Mississippi Watershed Management Organization
2522 Marshall St. NE, Minneapolis
5:30 - 6:30 PM

September 6

Minnehaha Creek Watershed District
15320 Minnetonka Blvd - Minnetonka
5:30 - 6:30 PM

Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed and Capital Region Watershed Districts
1410 Energy Park Drive, Suite 4, St. Paul
5:30 - 6:30 PM

September 20
Bang Brewing
2320 Capp Road, St. Paul 
5:00 - 7:00 PM 
Click here for details.

Pilot Program Results
To date, stewards in the metro area have connected with more than 1,000 people through outreach and educational events, and have installed rain gardens, rain barrels, cisterns, a dry creek bed, and a permeable driveway.

Their efforts have prevented more than 1.2 million gallons of polluted stormwater runoff from entering our lakes, rivers, and creeks EACH YEAR!

Going forward, more than 400 pounds of silt, leaves and plant material, animal waste, automobile gas and oil spillage, excess salt, and other debris will be removed from our neighborhoods annually.
Stewards are certified by participating in a broad training curriculum led by experts in the fields of hydrology, stormwater management, water policy, community-based social marketing, and rain garden assessment and installation.


Master Water Stewards, learn how to design rain gardens at a rainscaping
training session presented by Rusty Schmidt.

They complete a capstone project that captures rainfall and allows more water to soak into the ground, and lead a community outreach event. Stewards then become a point of knowledge and influence in their communities.
We are looking forward to seeing the impacts of our Master Water Stewards in action in Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District.

Monday, June 27, 2016

WaterFest Celebrates Clean Water and Grows Community

By Sage Passi
Photo credits Anita Jader and Sage Passi

Senator Foung Hawj, a resident of East St. Paul celebrates WaterFest with friends.

The passports have been tallied, the thank you notes delivered, the signs and their posts have been tucked back up in the garage for another season, but the memories are still strong in our minds from this year’s successful WaterFest! Once again we dodged the inclement thunderstorms and despite a short spell of rain, we bought together an enthusiastic crowd at Lake Phalen on Saturday June 4 to celebrate water and our connections with each other in our award-winning, sixteenth annual festival.

This year we narrowed the footprint of WaterFest from the channel north of the pavilion to the boathouse, consolidating our activities in an area that was easier to access. We added some new exhibits including the DNR K9 zebra mussel sniffing dogs, the Water Bar featuring flights of St. Paul, Woodbury and White Bear Lake water, and new activities focusing on pollinators and aquatic invasive species. We drew in new partners, businesses and schools who joined the festivities. We were blessed with the support of a large group of Junior ROTC volunteers from Harding and Johnson High Schools who were incredibly helpful throughout the event and during the clean-up. What awesome teamwork!

ROTC volunteers check in school volunteers and pass out WaterFest T-shirts at the school table.

We’d like to offer a big thank you for this year’s event, “Make A Splash" to our partner, the City of St. Paul, and the other cities in our watershed, the many organizations, schools, businesses, volunteers and sponsors who made this event come alive. A special round of applause goes to our organizer, Debbie Meister for bringing it all together!

Debbie Meister, the Grand “Maestro” of WaterFest

Here are a few snaps shots to rewind and capture the tale of this year’s celebration.

Combination Celebration 

Each year WaterFest is coupled with St. Paul’s celebration of National Get-Out-of-Doors day. What a better way to start the day than with a yoga session by beautiful Lake Phalen.


The day begins with a salute to the sun.

Lake Phalen is the centerfold for this event. Fishing on the lake is always a popular venue at WaterFest, with FIN (Fishing in the Neighborhood) and Joe’s Sporting Goods providing equipment, lessons and a fishing contest.

Wilderness Inquiry draws a steady crowd throughout the day,
providing paddling lessons and voyageur canoe rides
through the Phalen Channel.

The climbing wall set up by St. Paul Parks and Recreation is always a big hit.

WaterFest is a Great Way to Get Acquainted with Our Community 

Many of our partnering organizations and schools set up their exhibits outside the pavilion and along the sidewalk to capture the attention of people passing through the park. 

Payne-Phalen District Five Planning Council from East St. Paul is a regular exhibitor at WaterFest.

L’Etoile du Nord and Farnsworth Schools offer tips on monitoring water quality and preventing non-point source pollution that can contribute to algae growth in our neighborhood lakes.

The Amphitheater was the site for many performances by local talent. The Hmong Center for Arts and Talent recruited and emceed the acts throughout the afternoon.

Students from Level Up Academy in White Bear Lake performed an original song composed for WaterFest.

The City of St. Paul showed off their street sweeping truck.

Many local businesses demonstrated their services.

Meanwhile Inside the Pavilion ... the Crowds Went Wild

Inside the pavilion, dozens of exhibitors drew in their audiences with many hands-on activities that captured the attention of the young and young at heart, providing teachable moments throughout the day.

The Minnesota Herpetological Society offers a tactile and fun way to learn about the behavior and habitats of reptiles.

The Federation of Fly Fishers created customized fishing flies.


Maplewood Nature Center volunteer teaches WaterFest visitors how to identify aquatic invertebrates from their pond.

Many visitors stopped to get a free native plant at the Ramsey
Conservation District’s table or this one where they could make
a pledge to plant for clean water and pollinators. Want to
make your pledge? Go to

 Protecting Water is Our Goal
Erin Meister provides samples of tap water from several cities at the Water Bar, stimulating conversation about the sources, protection and quality of drinking water.

Angie Hong and Jenn Radtke, our Watershed partners in EMWREP (East Metro Water Resources Education Program) oversee their new displays that engage visitors about water conservation and groundwater protection.

Hamline University provided several kiosks and the popular Stormwater
Goalee game to teach participants about the prevention of pollution
that can cause harm to our lakes, wetlands and rivers.


The DNR brought their K-9 zebra mussel sniffing dogs to remind people to clean their watercraft and equipment after each use to help prevent the spread of invasive species.
It was a great day for connecting with old friends and new, learning how we can work together to protect our local lakes, improve our habitats and enjoy our natural environment in our watershed.

We hope you had a chance to join in the fun! Please come next year!
A pair of super heroes!

Wanted! Nominations to Honor Excellence in the Watershed

Tina Carstens, Watershed Excellence Award winner Maxine Bethke and Simba Blood at the 2015 award ceremony

Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District is now accepting nominations for our 2016 Watershed Excellence Awards. This award program honors the accomplishments of exceptional “leaders” who demonstrate outstanding achievements in water resources management, watershed stewardship and civic engagement. These awards recognize individuals, organizations, faith communities, government entities, businesses and agencies. The Citizen Advisory Commission works with District staff to review the nominations and determine the winners. Nominations are due by August 5th. The award ceremony will be held in November.

When submitting your nomination, please include the contact information (email and phone number) for both you and the nominee, the award category and a brief description of the nominee’s contribution or accomplishment in one of the following categories:

Innovation in Government Award
Recognizes and celebrates excellence by a government agency in implementing innovative policies, programs or projects to protect and improve water quality within Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District.
Outstanding Partner Award

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

Roger Lake Stewardship Excellence Award

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.

Citizen Engagement Award
Recognizes an individual or organization that effectively facilitated citizen participation efforts to improve and protect water quality.
Youth Engagement Award
Recognizes a teacher, youth organizer or organization that has demonstrated exceptional commitment and capacity to engage youth in watershed education and stewardship initiatives.
The “Buckie” Award
Recognizes an individual(s) who have persevered very enthusiastically through the most trying of conditions while engaging in watershed and natural resource management in Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District. Please note: the title of this award may have a new “nickname” each year dependent upon on the type of activity involved. For example, the “Buckie” award for outstanding work in buckthorn removal.

We are not limited to the six award categories listed above, although we will only be giving out a maximum of six awards each year. If you have a suggestion for another category and want to nominate someone in that category, please feel free to do so. We welcome and will consider these kinds of creative suggestions!

Nominations are due by August 5th and should be sent to Sage Passi, Watershed Education Specialist, at sage.passi@rwmwd.org or by mail to Sage Passi, Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District, 2665 Noel Drive, Little Canada, MN, 55117. 

Summer Interns Dan and Zola Hard at Work!

Dan Kutschied

Dan has been working with the RWMWD on a part-time basis for about one month and is excited to finally be joining the crew as a full-time member.

"It has been refreshing to be able to work in the field and really see the sites changing as we work on them," said Dan. "I really look forward to witnessing the evolution of the sites we are working on throughout the season."

Dan continued, "I recently graduated from the University of Minnesota with a degree in Forest and Natural Resource Management. It has been interesting to put some of my education to use with the District and to continue learning through this opportunity. Prior to graduation I had an internship with a tree care company and also have several years of experience working at restaurants."

"When I am not working, I spend most of my time with my wife and our two pit bulls. I like to hit up brewpubs and go to shows when the opportunities arise. I frequently put my restaurant experience to use by cooking fancy meals. I try to go on hiking and camping trips when I can, skip out of the U.S. when I find a cheap plane ticket and see other areas (and brewpubs) throughout the states when I cannot manage the international trips." 

Zola Pineles

Hello Ripple Effect Readers! Zola here telling you a little bit about myself and the role I play at RWMWD and beyond.

This is my second year as a District intern with a year in between as a Natural Resources Technician with the City of St. Paul. The pull of Simba, Bill and the rest of the awesome staff was too strong and I am back as the Keller Golf Course intern. There, I manage twenty-five acres of awesome habitat restorations.

When not dodging golf balls, I play with my puppy, camp, go to beaches with friends and prepare for my next semester at the University of Minnesota.

If you see a girl at Keller Golf Course with a camo hat and over-sized blaze orange t-shirt, that’s most likely me! Give a wave!