Introducing the new Clean Water Geocaching Trail

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Posted by Angie Hong | Posted in Keeping water clean, Outdoor Adventures | Posted on 21-07-2014

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From Jenn Radtke

Have you ever pretended to be a pirate, placed a patch over your eye and held a map in your hands with a big X on it? The X, of course, marks the spot of buried treasure! Well, this summer you don’t have to pretend anymore! The East Metro Water Resource Education Program is sponsoring its first ever Clean Water Geocaching Trail. Geocaching is a real-world outdoor treasure hunt using GPS-enabled devices. Simply enter in the GPS coordinates and then attempt to find a hidden geocache, or a container of some sort, that is hidden at that location. The patch is, of course, optional.

Our Clean Water Geocaching Trail takes you to some of the most beautiful parts of the East Metro Area of the Twin Cities where you will find one of the most precious treasures of all – clean water. From raingardens to cleaner lakes, stabilized ravines and fish barriers, you can grab your swim suit, fishing pole or hiking shoes along with a GPS device or smartphone for an outdoor adventure along the way.

How to Play:

Visit each of the 9 clean water sites around the East Metro Area of the Twin Cities and find the secret letter to reveal a message. The first 10 people to complete the trail can stop in at the Washington Conservation Center for a prize – a nature book of your choice! Plus there are other cool prizes to find along the way! Simply enter the coordinates into a personal GPS device or download the FREE OpenCaching App on your iPhone or Android smart phone.

This is what you’ll be looking for.

There are 5 large geocaches to find, and they are contained within a plain white Nalgene bottle with an “Official Geocache” sticker. When you find it there will be a description of the clean water project (with the secret letter), a log book to sign, and a small treasure that you may take. The remaining 4 locations are mirco-caches with log books; at these locations, you will have to find the secret letter from interpretive signage at the location.

Successful geocaching adventures take a little planning to keep things safe and fun. Make sure you have the things on this list while out and about:

  1. GPS Device or smartphone
  2. A parent or friend
  3. Hiking shoes
  4. Sunscreen & bug spray
  5. Flashlight w/ extra batteries
  6. Pen & notebook
  7. Camera
  8. Plenty of water
  9. Snacks
  10. Appropriate clothing

Geocaching is an activity done “at your own risk.” The East Metro Water Resource Education Program is not liable for accident or injury.

For questions, directions, and hints visit www.mnwcd.org/geocache or contact Jenn Radtke at the East Metro Water Resource Education Program: 651-330-8220 x.44 or jradtke@mnwcd.org. 

Find Inspiration at the FamilyMeans St. Croix Valley Garden Tour – July 12-13

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Posted by Angie Hong | Posted in Yards and Landscaping | Posted on 07-07-2014

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Marilee Tangen can’t remember why she decided to reinvent her yard, but thinks that she was probably influenced by living in the Seattle area before moving to Minnesota. “I think I was aware of the Blue Thumb website and maybe read something about [grants for conservation projects] in the local paper,” she says. Somehow, though, the Lake Elmo homeowner got in touch with a natural resource specialist from the Washington Conservation District, who connected her with cost-share funding through the Brown’s Creek Watershed District as well as a landscape designer at St. Croix Valley Landscaping. Now the Tangen’s property stands out in the neighborhood. They’ve taken out more than half the lawn in the backyard and replaced it with native prairie landscaping leading down to the edge of a small lake, and added hillside gardens and a raingarden as well.

Ellen Johnson, also of Lake Elmo, tells a similar story. When she built a new prairie-style home a few years back, she and her sister envisioned a landscape with minimal lawn that would reflect the character of the house. She also wanted the home to be as environmentally friendly as possible, so she worked with the Washington Conservation District and the Valley Branch Watershed District to create a plan for their site that would ensure that all of the rainwater that falls on their rooftop, driveway and yard soaks into the ground instead of running off into the street. After attending a Blue Thumb – Planting for Clean Water workshop in 2009, Johnson received a cost-share grant from the Valley Branch Watershed District to establish a native planting in their backyard and also worked with All Weather Services, and later St. Croix Valley Landscaping, to build several raingardens that capture and infiltrate rainwater.

On July 12 and 13, both the Tangen’s and the Johnson’s will showcase the fruits of their labors during the 22nd Annual FamilyMeans St. Croix Valley Garden Tour. This year’s tour will include eight fabulous gardens in the Stillwater and Lake Elmo area, giving people a chance to ogle gardens of all different sizes and styles. Some of the gardens feature landscaping with Minnesota native plants, but there are also shade gardens, veggie gardens, and even a garden with a model train. Typically 800-900 people participate in the tour, and many make it an annual tradition, traveling from Redwing, Austin and other Minnesota cities to enjoy a weekend in the St. Croix Valley with beautiful scenery and inspiring gardens.

The St. Croix Valley Garden Tour is a fundraiser for FamilyMeans, a local non-profit that offers financial and bankruptcy services and education; family counseling and mental health services; collaborative divorce services; caregiver support services; youth enrichment programs; and an employee assistance program.  Tickets cost $15 in advance or $20 on the day of the tour and can be purchased on-line at www.familymeans.org or in person at the FamilyMeans office on 1875 Northwestern Ave. in Stillwater.

For more information about native plantings and raingardens, as well as cost-share grants for conservation projects, visit www.BlueThumb.org or www.mnwcd.org.

A plea for sane lawn watering

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Posted by Angie Hong | Posted in Water Conservation, Yards and Landscaping | Posted on 02-07-2014

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Remember back in grade school when the kid in front of you at the drinking fountain would slurp away for what seemed like an eternity until finally someone screamed, “Save some for the whales!?”

What about me??

Well, I’m betting that kid grew up, bought a house with a big lawn, and programmed his automatic sprinklers to go off every other day, regardless of whether it is raining or not. He’s probably sitting in his living room right now, watching the rain slide down the window panes as the sprinklers rhythmically pulse outside, and thinking, “Ain’t no one going to tell me to turn off the water now.” I mean, there has to be a logical explanation for people who water their lawns in the rain, right?

Isn’t the grass wet enough already?

Last month, the City of Woodbury reported that they pumped 9.3 million gallons of water to residents and businesses on Saturday, June 14, a day in which we received two inches of rain. That is more than twice as much water as Woodbury pumps on a typical winter day, indicating that irrigation, not indoor water use, was to blame.

The problem doesn’t just happen in Woodbury, however. Drive around any city in the area, and you can see sprinklers going in the rain or folks watering already water-logged lawns. I doubt people are doing this on purpose, but as in-ground automatic sprinklers become more common, the problem will continue to grow.

Since most people have their sprinklers set to go off early in the morning, going outside to manually turn them off on rainy days isn’t always a popular option. Rain sensors can be installed on sprinkler systems so that they automatically turn off whenever it is raining. There are a variety of models available for as little as $25-35. In fact, the City of Woodbury requires all new watering systems (except for single-family residential properties) to be equipped with rain sensors.

Soil moisture sensors are more expensive ($100-150) but the best technology for ensuring that lawns only get watered when they need it. Program the irrigation controller with your lawn’s moisture requirements and a sensor will allow the irrigation system to turn on when the soil is dry, but not when it is already wet.

No need to water the golf course today folks.

In addition to installing rain sensors or soil moisture sensors, residents and businesses can reduce the amount of water they use by following lawn watering guidelines established by the University of Minnesota Extension and other turf maintenance experts. In general, lawns in Minnesota need no more than one inch of water per week. In rainy times, such as these, this usually means you won’t need to irrigate at all. When there is no rain, dividing the watering up will help to ensure that the water can all soak into the ground instead of running off. Shoot for ½ inch of water, two times per week, during the spring and fall and ¼ inch, every other day, during the hottest summer months. A typical pop-up spray head takes 20 minutes to apply ½ inch of water, while a typical rotor-type sprayer will take 40 minutes. On compacted soils, aerate once per year around Labor Day (20-40 holes per square foot) to help break up compaction over time so that the grass’s roots can grow deeper and water is better able to soak into the soil.

Being smart about lawn watering helps to protect our groundwater drinking supplies for future years and means a cheaper water bill and healthier grass as well. So, save some water for the whales, hey?

Thanks!

Safe passage for turtles near Big Marine Lake

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Posted by Angie Hong | Posted in Wildlife | Posted on 23-06-2014

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A snapping turtle crosses the road in Washington County.

The year after my husband and I bought our first home, the city built a new road between our neighborhood and a small lake just north of us. Within a couple of weeks, the road had become a popular short-cut for drivers looking to avoid busy Hwy 42. One day, early in the summer, I spotted an enormous snapping turtle slowly making her way across the new road toward a scrubby grass area opposite the lake. She was so big that I couldn’t pick her up even after I went home to grab thick gloves; it eventually took three of us, heaving and hauling to get her out of the road and up over the curb so that cars could pass. I think about that turtle often, when I see other turtles crossing roads, and how bewildering it must be for them to head off to lay their eggs in the spring in the same place where they have always laid them, only to find a giant swath of asphalt suddenly in their paths, or a house and lawn, where a gravelly field once stood.        

Scientists estimate that painted turtles can live as long as 40 years in the wild, while Blanding’s and snapping turtles can live more than 70. Female turtles often travel relatively far distances to find suitable habitat to lay their eggs (up to half a mile for snapping turtles and as far as one mile for Blanding’s) and after the young hatch out of their eggs, they complete the reverse journey from upland nesting sites back to the water. Most turtles will return to the same nesting locations year after year, but as the metro area continues to grow, there are more and more obstacles in their paths. Many are hit and killed by cars along the way and species numbers are declining as a result.

A newly installed turtle crossing south of Big Marine Park will help to protect threatened Blanding’s turtles.

This year, Washington Conservation District (WCD) and Washington County are working together on a project to improve habitat for turtles, as well as other reptiles and amphibians, in Big Marine Park Reserve. The part of the project getting the most attention is a special tunnel, just installed under Hwy 4, to provide turtles with a safe passage in the spring when they move from their wintering homes beneath the ice near Big Marine Lake to their nesting areas in the wetlands south of the highway. The tunnel is part of a $50,000 research project funded by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the University of Minnesota, the Herpetological Society and Carnelian-Marine-St. Croix Watershed District. 

County Parks and WCD staff expect many kinds of turtles to use the new road crossing at Hwy 4, but local biologists are especially interested in protecting Blanding’s turtles because of their threatened species status.  Blanding’s turtles rely on a mixture of intact wetlands, lakes, grasslands and sandy, rocky open areas for breeding and nesting.  Northern Washington County, including Big Marine Park Reserve, contains this special mix of habitat types and, therefore, is one of the few places in the state where Blanding’s turtles still roam. Other reptiles of conservation concern in the park include snapping turtles and the eastern fox snake.

If you are interested in helping to protect turtles, here are some suggestions:

  • If you live in a rural area, minimize road ditch mowing until late summer as turtle species often nest on roadsides and may be traveling through the road ditch.
  • If you live on a water body, leave fallen logs in place to create basking locations for turtles. Also, consider completing a shoreline restoration project to improve habitat. Visit www.BlueThumb.org/shorelines for more info.
  • If you see a turtle crossing the road, carefully help it across in the same direction it is traveling, but only if it is safe to do so. You can also download an app to your phone to help track locations where turtles are frequently crossing roads in the metro area. Data collected will be used to generate maps that can be used by conservation agencies and highway departments in the Twin Cities area to prioritize and develop safer crossing areas. Go to www.herpmapper.org/content/pdf/mn-turtle-and-roads-announcement.pdf for more info.

Stopping the Nitrogen Super-Highway

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Posted by Angie Hong | Posted in Keeping water clean | Posted on 19-06-2014

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Boarding the Magnolia Blossom at Watergate Marina

Down the creaky metal walkway we bounced before climbing aboard the stylishly retro Magnolia Blossom docked at Watergate Marina on the Mississippi River. Each year, the Metro WaterShed Partners, a coalition of more than 60 public, private and non-profit entities in the Twin Cities, sponsors a “floating workshop” to help members connect with one another and learn more about issues impacting the water resources we work so hard to protect. During this year’s tour, WaterShed Partners chose to travel upstream on the Minnesota River to provide a backdrop for discussion about nitrogen in our water and agricultural policy in Minnesota.

Last year, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) released a study of nitrogen conditions, trends, sources and reduction strategies for streams and rivers in Minnesota, based on monitoring results from 50,000 water samples collected at more than 700 sites. During our boat tour, Dave Wall, lead author and coordinator of the nitrogen study, shared some of the key findings.

Nitrogen is an organic, naturally occurring nutrient that is also added heavily to croplands to help plants grow bigger and faster. The amount of nitrogen flowing downstream in the Mississippi River has doubled since 1976 and nitrogen levels are increasing in about half of the other rivers and streams in Minnesota as well.  The implications for our groundwater drinking supplies, aquatic stream life, and the Gulf of Mexico are alarming. Excess nitrogen in the Gulf of Mexico where the Mississippi River ends results in a hypoxic zone, better known as the “dead zone,” where fish, shellfish, shrimp, crabs and other marine animals aren’t able to live due to lack of oxygen. In 2013, the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science found that the dead zone covered at least 5,800 square miles of sea floor, or about the size of the State of Connecticut. Meanwhile, here in Minnesota, Wall and other researchers are concerned that nitrogen may be affecting aquatic life in our streams and rivers as well. Nitrogen concentrations in the Minnesota River are 7 – 8 mg/L, and research has shown that nitrogen can become toxic to aquatic life at concentrations of 4 – 14 mg/L. In southern Minnesota, many drinking wells have also been contaminated with nitrates, making the water unsafe for infants and pregnant women to drink.

Dave Wall talks about nutrient sources and reduction strategies.

The majority of nitrogen in our rivers comes from groundwater beneath agricultural fields and tile drainage, which is installed in agricultural fields to help them dry out more quickly in the spring. The MPCA study found that 3 billion pounds per year of nitrogen enter the water supply from fertilizer and the soil itself, while an additional 1 billion come from manure and leguminous, nitrogen-fixing crops. Minnesota is responsible for 6% of the nitrogen reaching the Gulf of Mexico and our state, along with others in the Mississippi River Basin, has set a goal of reducing nitrogen by 45% in order to shrink the Gulf’s dead zone.

The top three strategies for reducing nitrogen in Minnesota all focus on changes in farming practices. Wall and other researchers have estimated that optimizing fertilizer management on farms across Minnesota could reduce nitrogen in our water by 13%. This includes testing soil to determine how much fertilizer is needed, as well as applying fertilizer at the right time so that plants are best able to absorb the nutrients. Installing practices to help remove nitrogen from tile drainage will cut nitrogen by 5%, and utilizing cover crops and other vegetation to help take up nitrogen during the winter will take away another 12%. Even if these practices are implemented statewide, however, we will still be only two-thirds of the way towards our goal of reducing nitrogen flowing to the Gulf of Mexico by 45%. What then? Says Wall, “That’s when research and development comes into play. We need folks at the University of Minnesota and other institutions to continue researching new cover crops and new ways of farming.” Otherwise, the nitrogen super-highway will keep on flowing.

For more information, read the MPCA Nitrogen Study.

Beware the Grecian Foxglove

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Posted by Angie Hong | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 12-06-2014

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Over the course of several internships and summer jobs while studying zoology in college, I acquired a dubious claim-to-fame. I have been bitten, scratched, clawed or defecated on by more North American animals that anyone I know. I’ve been munched on by a prairie dog, a groundhog, a pig, a kestrel, both a fox and a fox snake, a baby bear and even a sea lion. I’ve been scratched by baby raccoons and baby lynx, angora rabbits and painted turtles. To this day, I still can’t look at an opossum without cringing and thinking about poop. Never-the-less, it is purely coincidental that I spend more time now working with native plants than wildlife (or maybe not).

Grecian foxglove growing in a field.

Until recently, there were few plants to fear in Minnesota other than poison ivy and stinging nettle. Now, however, non-native species like wild parsnip (Pastinaca sativa) and Grecian foxglove (Digitalis lanata) have begun to invade our state, and the damage they can cause is much more serious than burning skin or an itchy rash. If you get the juice from a wild parsnip on your skin, it can react with sunlight and can cause large blisters and boils. Still more frightening, Grecian foxglove is toxic to humans, farm animals and wildlife, even after the living plant parts have dried up in the fall. People can die from eating even small amounts of the plant and you can also get digitalis poisoning from handling the plant with bare hands, resulting in nausea, vomiting, severe headache, dilated pupils, problems with eyesight, and convulsions.

Close up of flowers on Grecian foxglove.

Because of these dangers, Grecian foxglove is a prohibited noxious weed on Minnesota’s “eradicate list,” which means that property owners who find it in their yards or on their land are required by law to destroy the plant and its roots. Grecian foxglove has been found in Minnesota in Dakota, Wabasha and Washington Counties. In Washington County, there are known infestations in several locations along St. Croix Trail, especially in and around Afton State Park and near the intersection of Hwy 96 and Hwy 95 just north of Stillwater. The plant prefers sunny areas such as yards and grasslands; it forms a basal rosette the first year and sends up a flowering stalk, two to five feet tall, in subsequent years with pretty, pinkish-white tubular-shaped flowers.

In 2013, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, together with the University of Minnesota Extension and Conservation Corps Minnesota, received funding to begin a statewide project on public and private lands for outreach, survey and control of Grecian foxglove. Part of the project provides funding to assist private property owners who are dealing with extensive infestations of Grecian foxglove. If you suspect you may have Grecian foxglove on your land: 1) Note the exact location and, if possible, take digital photos of the leaves, vines, and fruit that can be emailed for identification; 2) Contact the Minnesota Department of Agriculture at arrest.the.pest@state.mn.us or 888-545-6684.

This summer, the Washington Conservation District will also be hosting two workshops to provide local residents with information about identifying and controlling Grecian foxglove. The first workshop is scheduled for Wednesday, June 18, 7-8pm at Stillwater Township Hall. The second is on Thursday, June 19, 7-8pm at Afton City Hall. For more info & to RSVP contact Wendy Griffin at wendy.griffin@mnwcd.org or 651-275-1136 x.24.

Native Plants Keep Bees Buzzing

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Posted by Angie Hong | Posted in Wildlife, Yards and Landscaping | Posted on 03-06-2014

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Bumblebees on cup plant, a Minnesota native.

Across the nation, an epidemic is underway. Beekeepers are losing 30-50% of their hives each year as the colonies collapse due to disease, lack of habitat, and pesticide applications. Last year bee keepers in Iowa lost 70% of their colonies; at Blake School in Minneapolis, a student initiative to raise and learn about bees came to a screeching halt last September when 60,000 bees died overnight due to a pesticide application near the school. Since 1945, honeybee populations in the U.S. have declined from 4.5 million to only 2 million today and many scientists and beekeepers fear that honeybees might be on the brink of disappearing altogether. Without bees to pollinate our almonds, strawberries and apples, many of our favorite foods will disappear from grocery stores. The cost of pollinating by hand will make melons, cranberries and pumpkins into delicacies more expensive than truffle oil.

Neonicotinoids, a class of persistent, systemic insecticides used to pretreat crops and garden store plants, are partly to blame for rampant bee deaths. When applied to plants before they start growing, the entire plant will express the pesticide when it is full grown, killing pest insects and pollinating insects alike. According to Lex Horan of Pesticide Action Network North America, 94% of all corn seeds sold in the U.S. are pretreated with neonicotinoids and many of the largest garden center retailers are pretreating their flowers (and sometimes even native plants) as well.

An equally big problem for bees and other pollinators, however, is the disappearance of native plants and natural habitat from our landscapes. There are 250 native bee species in Minnesota and 140 species of butterflies. Pollinators have co-evolved with native plants over thousands of years and rely on these plants for both food and shelter. Loss of habitat is impacting our native bees and butterflies as much as honeybees. Last year’s overwintering population of monarch butterflies was the smallest ever, and other Minnesota butterflies and bees are vanishing as well.

One way people can help is by incorporating native plants into their yards and gardens. Monarch butterflies, for example, lay their eggs on milkweed plants, so planting common milkweed, marsh milkweed or butterfly weed will attract them to your yard and will provide a vital food source for the monarch caterpillars. Honeybees are attracted to purple, white and yellow flowers like asters and black-eyed susans. A new book by Heather Holm, Pollinators of Native Plants, is an excellent resource with colorful photos cataloging dozens of Minnesota native plants and the pollinating insects they attract.

Native plants provide other benefits as well. Deep-rooted prairie plants, shrubs and trees hold soil in place and help rainwater to soak into the ground. Extensive root systems limit lakeshore erosion from waves and runoff and also prevent streambanks and riverbanks from slumping. Many native plants are well suited for raingardens and can also help to break up compacted soil. Preserving native shrubs in wooded areas helps to keep buckthorn from invading as well.

Blue Thumb – Planting for Clean Water is a partnership of more than 60 public entities, landscaping companies, and native plant growers working together to promote the use of native plants for wildlife and water quality. Search www.BlueThumb.org to find native plant retailers in your area, as well as landscape designers and installers that are experienced in working with native plants. The website also has a handy “plant selector tool” that will generate a list of native plants best suited for your yard or planting project. In addition, the Landscape Revival – Native Plant Expo and Market is an opportunity to learn about native plants and pollinators, as well as purchase plants from twelve local growers. The Landscape Revival will be held Saturday, June 7 from 9am-3pm at the Rainbow Foods Community Pavilion, 1201 Larpenteur Ave. in Roseville.

In Search of Spring

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Posted by Angie Hong | Posted in Outdoor Adventures | Posted on 15-05-2014

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In search of spring this Mother’s Day weekend, we headed north on Hwy 95 to William O’Brien State Park. I had hoped to canoe on the St. Croix River this Memorial Day weekend, but after seeing the river swollen, brown, and flowing fast, I decided I would have to wait until later in the summer. Further back from the river along the trail, we found delicate spring wildflowers scattered throughout the woods like charms from a broken bracelet.

Marsh marigold

William O’Brien, which was designated as a Minnesota State Park in 1947, protects a number of unique natural habitats, including floodplain forest and groundwater seepage swamps. When the St. Croix runs high after the spring snow melt and heavy rains, the river floods up over its banks, scouring the surface of the floodplain and depositing silt and sediment when it subsides. Tall trees with shallow but far-reaching roots like cottonwood, silver maple, box elder and black willow are specially adapted for the frequent flooding. Further inland from the river, groundwater seeps keep the soil moist year-round. In the spring, an abundance of water burbles to the surface, creating temporary streams and wetlands. Marsh marigolds are blooming right now, cheery yellow flowers with deep green leaves, and clumps of skunk cabbage dot the woods as well. The water in the springs is clear and cold.

Hepatica

On higher ground, woodland wildflowers are also blooming. While hiking, we saw round-lobed hepatica, bloodroot and wood violets. Some of the woodland flowers are ephemeral, meaning they only appear in the early spring when trees and shrubs are still bare and sunlight is able to reach the forest floor. Within a period of less than two months, they emerge, bloom, are pollinated by insects, set seed and then return to a state of dormancy, hidden underground for the rest of the year. Bloodroot, named for its distinctive red sap, flowers for only a day or two before dying. Other woodland plants, like violets, remain green throughout the growing season, though they only bloom in the spring. Some, like hepatica and false rue anemone have colorful sepals instead of petals, which helps to explain their delicate appearance.

In the ponds the frogs are calling. Like spring wildflowers, many of them have also adapted to make use of meadows and woodlands that are only wet in the spring. Approximately half of all frogs and one-third of all salamander species in North America rely on ephemeral wetlands where they can lay their eggs there, safe from hungry fish. Insects like dragonflies and damselflies also lay their eggs in seasonal ponds for the same reason. Further up the food chain, migratory birds and waterfowl follow the St. Croix River corridor on their journey north, stopping over in wetlands along the way.

Spring has finally arrived in Minnesota. Before long, summer will follow fast on its heels in a sweaty jumble of camping and bonfires, county fairs and grubby bare feet. For now, there is the fleeting joy of hiking without mosquitoes and finding flowers in the woods.

Caring for your horse and your land

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Posted by Angie Hong | Posted in Keeping water clean | Posted on 12-05-2014

Horses in a pasture in Grant, Minnesota

Horses are like children; they need lots of care and attention, they poop a lot, and they never clean up after themselves. Also, like children, they don’t come with an owner’s manual.

On May 14, 6-9pm, the Washington Conservation District will hold its third annual horse workshop, in partnership with Hagberg’s Country Feed LLC and the East Metro Water Resource Education Program, to help connect local horse owners with information about caring for their horses and their land. The free workshop, to be held at the Washington County Fairgrounds in Lake Elmo, will address topics including equine dentistry, nutrition, first aid and mud management.

Mud can cause problems for horses as well as nearby lakes and streams. Mud increases a horse’s chance of colic, abscesses, scratches, rain scald, and thrush. It can damage horses’ hoof structure and create slick, unsafe footing. Mud and manure are also breeding grounds for insects. Muddy runoff water from pastures smothers fish and frog eggs in lakes and streams and also carries nutrients that contribute to algae blooms during the summer. After a long winter and rainy spring, mud might seem like an inevitable problem around pastures and barns, but there are actually many practical ways to keep the mud at bay. Horses for Clean Water (www.horsesforcleanwater.com) offers these six recommendations:

  1. Clean up manure every one to three days to prevent re-infestation after deworming and help dry out the soil.
  2. Create a winter paddock or sacrifice area on dry, well-drained soil instead of giving your horses free reign of the entire pasture year-round. This will prevent the horses from compacting the soil in pastures during the winter and trampling young vegetation in the spring. Sacrifice areas should be at least 20’ by 20’ (100’ if you want to give your horse room to trot) and by a buffer of native plants to help filter mud and nutrients out of the runoff.
  3. Use footing materials such as gravel or wood chips in sacrifice areas and other high traffic areas. A geotextile fabric under the footing material will improve drainage.
  4. Install gutters and downspouts on buildings to divert runoff water away from sacrifice areas and into pastures or other vegetated areas.
  5. Plant trees to help absorb rainwater. (If you plant trees in places where the horses can reach them, you will need to fence them off until the trees grow bigger.)
  6. Fence horses out of streams and wetlands to prevent them from trampling shoreline vegetation and sending muddy water downstream.

The Washington Conservation District (WCD) can help county residents, both with and without horses, to address runoff and erosion issues on their land. The WCD offers free on-site visits, can help to connect landowners with funding assistance available through local watershed districts and federal agencies, and is able to help design projects such as streambank buffers and runoff diversions.

Speakers for the WCD Horse Workshop on May 14 will include Dr. Sara Wefel, DVM, University of Minnesota Equine Center; Kelly Ann Graber B.Sc., P.A.S., Progressive Nutrition; Adam King, Senior Water Resource Technician, Washington Conservation District; and Dr. Martha Pott, DVM, Magnusson Veterinary Service, LLC. In addition to the presentations, a light supper will be provided. To register for the workshop, contact Wendy Griffin at 651-275-1136 x.24 or wendy.griffin@mnwcd.org.

Happening in the St. Croix River Valley

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Posted by Angie Hong | Posted in Outdoor Adventures | Posted on 30-04-2014

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Summer Tuesdays on the St. Croix in Stillwater – one of many local community festivals

As an environmental educator, I spend a lot of time talking about the St. Croix River in scientific terms – Is the river meeting water quality standards? Are fish and mussel populations healthy? How can we keep excess phosphorus out of the river? Ask me why I love living in the St. Croix Valley, however, and I’ll tell you about so much more.

Within the 7760 square miles of the St. Croix Basin, you can find a National Park, a National Forest, a National Refuge, portions of two National Scenic Trails, three National Historic Landmarks, 12 State Parks, eight State Trails, six State Historic Sites, 10 State Forests, 65 State Natural Areas, more than 150 properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the St. Croix Scenic Byway, and resources associated with four Ojibwe bands that have tribal lands within the watershed. Annually, more than 200,000 visitors spend $8.7 million in communities along the St. Croix River.

Two years ago, the Heritage Initiative was created to explore the concept of a National Heritage Area in the St. Croix River Valley. Last fall, the Northwest Regional Planning Commission (NWRPC) was selected to serve as the coordinating entity for the project and is currently working on a draft proposal, which will be released sometime in the next few weeks. The Heritage Area proposal will focus on four key features that define the St. Croix River Basin: 1) The history of the fur trade and lumber industry in the area; 2) The shared history of the upper Midwest; 3) The waters, woods, and prairie connecting the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River; and 4) The constantly evolving relationships between people and the natural world in the river basin.

At a smaller scale, the Great Rivers Confluence Project, St. Croix Splash, Phipps Center for the Arts, the St. Croix Scenic Coalition, and the St. Croix River Association have all developed imaginative approaches to connect people with the St. Croix River and its resources. The Great Rivers Confluence project, www.greatriversconfluence.org, is an initiative to help connect people with outdoor recreation, culture and history, dining and lodging in Afton, Hastings, Prescott and River Falls near the confluence of the St. Croix and Mississippi Rivers. A unique feature of the website is the Confluence Concierge, which offers suggested itineraries for visitors such as the “Cork to Fork Afternoon,” and “Progressive Patio Dining.”

In a similar vein, a new on-line events calendar known as St. Croix Splash (www.stcroixsplash.org) offers residents and visitors the opportunity to “jump into arts and culture” with local events for kids, theatre, dance, music, literary, visual arts, history and heritage, and nature and recreation. One example of a program that blends nature, art and culture is the Tropical Wings Bird Migration Celebration on Friday, May 2, 6:30-9pm at Phipps Center for the Arts in Hudson. Activities will include “The Birds that Connect Us,” a program by Craig Thompson of the Wisconsin DNR, a poetry reading by Laurie Allmann, and a song performed by students at River Crest Elementary School.

The Phipps Center has also spearheaded an ongoing community art project that has engaged local community groups throughout the lower St. Croix Valley in designing, locating, and creating artful benches in outdoor public spaces. This spring, with support from the Kresge Foundation, The Phipps will unveil an Art Bench Trail featuring installations in Hudson, Bayport, St. Croix Falls, Prescott, Somerset, Marine on St. Croix and Denmark Twp and on May 3, 8-11am, there will be events happening at each location to celebrate the Tropical Wings project. Learn more at www.artbenchtrail.org.

The St. Croix River Association is also offering river lovers the chance to spend a full week on the water this summer during their annual St. Croix Paddle. June 14-20, during which people in canoes and kayaks will travel 93 miles of the river from Riverside Landing to the Fred C. Andersen Scout Camp in Houlton, WI. Learn more or register at http://scrapaddle.org.

Arts, culture, history, outdoor recreation, small town charm, scenic vistas, and opportunities for solitude in nature – all of these can be found in the St. Croix Valley, but central to it all is a healthy St. Croix River.