Thursday, December 22, 2016

A Little Birdie Told Us ...

By Simba Blood

The newly-designed LEAP Award sign
In the middle of a very warm November, Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District Board, staff, partners and volunteers flocked together at Keller Golf Course for our annual Recognition Dinner. This was a time for us to step away from 'Minnesota Modesty' and shout our praises for ‘clean water warriors’ from the mountains - or at least the top of the hill at a golf course.

A very special group of folks were recognized that evening; people who have made landscaping decisions that directly benefit wildlife and water resources – winners of the Landscape Ecology Awards Program (LEAP).

LEAP celebrates landowners in the Watershed District, including private residences as well as public and commercial properties, that use good management practices to preserve and improve water quality and natural resources. The District's citizen-volunteer LEAP Team manages this program and conducts all judging. These awards are given annually.

LEAP recognized the first group of award-worthy stewards fourteen years ago, in 2002. Since that time, 83 sites have been celebrated by the program, including 68 private residences, 4 schools, 6 businesses, 3 churches and 10 government properties.

This year, seven properties received the LEAP accolade at the RWMWD Annual Recognition Dinner, held on November 16. Our thanks and congratulations go out to the winners – we hope you find their stories as inspirational as we do!

2016 LEAP Award Winners

Children’s Discovery Academy
Julie Boggess, Casi Parranto accepting
433 Little Canada Road, Little Canada  

The prairie garden lining the front side of Children’s Discovery Academy is a little linear home for butterflies, bees and other pollinators. This project – the inspiration of former director, Jill Finnagan – has replaced a strip of struggling turf grass with a diverse mix of flowers that are better able to withstand the challenging conditions and help intercept the roof runoff directed to them. 

Students have been involved in the garden from its inception; helping to grow the plants from seed and watering the gardens. The children have enhanced the garden by decorating the rocks used as a colorful border. The school now has a small vegetable garden so the kids can participate in raising food and creating compost.

Sadly, Jill has since passed away, but the garden remains an everyday reminder of her vision of stewardship. Thank you to the staff and students who have worked to keep this garden growing!

Chris Siewert and Julie Rodberg
1568 7th Street East, St. Paul

Chris and Julie’s home has a difficult lot; an extremely steep slope on a very busy street. Attempting to mow that front yard should have qualified for hazard pay! Things got even tougher when they were hit with the double whammy of a water main and sewer line break. When repairs were complete, they were left with a huge bare hill. Instead of re-seeding with turf grass, Chris decided to start planting.

After all of their hard work they are now blessed with a wonderful urban oasis. Nearly the entire site is planted with flowering perennials - though Chris and Julie left a small 6’ x 10’ turf patch for the dogs. Chris estimates that he spends nearly as much time weeding as he did mowing, but the results of that labor are far more rewarding. Their yard has “a great variety of flowers for a great variety of critters”. They see lots of bees, butterflies and birds; goldfinches particularly love the coneflower seeds. With the array of flowers, they have blooms through all the seasons.

The LEAP Team was exceptionally impressed by this gorgeous and joyful yard. Congratulations, Chris and Julie, for creating such an exuberant garden in a very challenging site!

Cross Lutheran Church
Accepted by Pastor Bob Preuss, Sylvia Graham, Rose Macioch, Sharon Olson
and Diana Border

1945 Prosperity Road, Maplewood

If you regularly travel along Frost Avenue, you may have noticed the showy boulevard rain garden at Cross Lutheran Church. Located across the street from Wakefield Lake, this attractive garden captures a huge volume of rainwater runoff from the church’s sloping parking lots. 

The rain garden was planted by volunteers in 2010 and is diligently maintained by a dedicated group of volunteers who spend an average of ten hours a week during the growing season keeping the garden in tip-top shape. As with any garden, there are weeds to manage. In addition, the rain garden catch basins intercept sand and require regular cleaning. The August cleanout removed thirty pounds of sand!

Cross Lutheran’s boulevard rain garden is a wonderful example of stewardship. It is helping keep pollutants out of Wakefield Lake, providing a banquet for bees, saving the church money on their stormwater fees and is also such a nice-looking project that the church received a card from a driver who said the garden ‘made her day’. LEAP Team members echo that sentiment.

David and Linda Werner
395 Preserve Court, Little Canada  

David and Linda Werner built their home on a large lot adjoining a Little Canada wetland preserve, complete with woodlands and a small pond. Their goal for the property was to ‘find a balance between manicured landscape and an environmentally safe, healthy and peaceful natural setting’. The first roadblock they encountered on this journey was the realization that much of their nearly one-acre natural area was overrun with invasive buckthorn and Canada thistle. 

As the property is on a preserve, they wanted to ensure that buckthorn and thistle control were permissible. With the support of concerned agencies and entities, David armed himself for battle. Using both manual and chemical control methods recommended by the U of M Extension Service, David has worked over a period of eight years to remove massive amounts of nearly solid buckthorn, spent ‘hundreds and hundreds’ of hours on the project; enduring blisters, cuts, sore muscles and even broken glasses!

Although a project like this is likely never ‘done’, David and Linda estimate that 90% of the original buckthorn is gone. Canada thistle is diminished and wetland plants such as joepye and ironweed bloom along the pond edge. Kudos for your dedication and accomplishments!

Paul Gardner
890 Dawn Avenue, Shoreview 

Paul and Michelle Gardner’s Shoreview home proved troublesome during wet weather; they had problems with water on site. In fact, water coming into the basement overwhelmed their sump pump. Their insurance company recommended a second sump pump, but they opted to try a rain garden instead.

Paul worked closely with the designer and contractor to create an attractive two-tiered design. Roof downspouts are directed into the upper garden, which flows into lower one. The lower garden includes a curb cut to also take street runoff. The design had to be modified to accommodate pre-existing utilities but still captures more than rainwater from their own roof.

Michelle worked with the Ramsey Conservation District staff on plant selection. Both gardens feature native species such as arrowhead, marsh marigold, blue flag iris and prairie smoke.

The rain garden has been very successful in addressing water issues. The sump used to run every ten minutes during a rainfall; this year it only ran twice in one big storm! This change has allowed the Gardeners to plan rainfall-worry-free summer vacations. We appreciate your thoughtful solution to a tricky problem!

St. Odilia Church Prayer Garden
Roger and Marlys Toogood accepting
3495 Victoria Avenue N, Shoreview

St Odilia Catholic Church in Shoreview constructed a cemetery “Prayer Garden” on their grounds – a final resting place for parishioners. In the course of this undertaking, the church installed three beautiful rain gardens on the sloping site. Each garden has a different aesthetic, although they have many plant species in common. 

The gardens handle “tons” of water during rainfall. The north rain garden receives runoff from the elementary school roofs and playground, as well as the hill itself. Roger Toogood, the volunteer raingarden coordinator, went out with his umbrella during a 4” rainfall and saw that the garden handled all that runoff! Impressed with this performance, St. Odilia is planning to direct more runoff towards the basins as development of the prayer garden continues.

The three gardens are very well maintained by three teams of volunteers under Roger’s supervision. Although most of the plants in the garden are perennials, some colorful annuals are used on the borders of the gardens - particularly flowers that were meaningful to people laid to rest nearby.

Congratulations, St. Odlia, on adopting such an attractive and practical landscape to enhance your peaceful memorial garden!

City of White Bear Lake Rain Gardens
Connie Taillon accepting
Van Dyke Street and Richard Avenue 

These gardens, constructed in 2009 and 2012, first came to the attention of the LEAP Team in 2015 when one of the gardens was nominated for an award. The homeowners contacted City staff to complete the application form. When the Team visited the site that year, we noticed many other award-worthy rain gardens in the area. We decided to “table” the application and look at the entire project the following year. And so we did!

So many people deserve acknowledgement for this project! The City of White Bear Lake took on a major challenge, reaching out to homeowners offering the option of installing rain gardens and providing very good design. But perhaps more important to the success of the project are the homeowners - volunteering to have them installed and spending a considerable amount of time maintaining attractive and functional basins. 

Only fourteen of the thirty gardens installed are in the Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District, but the LEAP Team members appreciate the efforts of everyone working to protect our precious lakes, streams and rivers! Congratulations and a heart-felt thank you to everyone involved!


The evening’s festivities were a brief acknowledgement of ongoing efforts that have impacts over many seasons. The LEAP team members, RWMWD staff and critters large and small join our feathered friends in thanking these good stewards for helping to provide healthy habitat and clean water for us all!


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