The St. Croix Master Watershed Stewards were kept busy from 10 a.m. on into the early afternoon last Saturday, as crowds of Interstate State Park visitors stepped up to display tables to learn how the river is impacted by activities within its watershed.
Master Watershed Stewards is a public-private partnership extending the reach of park rangers and scientists and spread basic information about watershed wellness. The future stewards are nearing the end of their cycle which has also entailed working with the arts to spread the eco-friendly lessons.
Master Watershed Steward Sarah Shock was helping youngsters make water-color artwork on a canvas about the size of a playing card-- selected from color photos of the smallest of riverway creatures. The bug’s outline was filled in with watery-ink colors using special drawing utensils, making an end product that was sure to be treasured by parents. Meanwhile, Tony Minichsoffer, Lindstrom, manned the three-D interactive display along with Sarah’s son, Brett. Minichsoffer is a “master naturalist” and was thrilled to be accepted into the watershed steward discipline too.
The mini-watershed display depicts an area of land with toy houses, vehicles, animals and even a water treatment plant that has lagoons that “overflow.” There are bridges and roadways, a farm field and mining area, with indentations for streams and a lake on the display model.
The kids who stopped by learned about products like road salt, sludge, litter and sediment and saw how they travel through a watershed and their impacts on water quality.
The display was a magnet to the park’s youngest visitors who wanted to introduce the pollutants (soy sauce, etc) into the landscape or wanted to hold the squirter bottle to “make it rain.”
Minichsoffer would ask how they imagined the run-off could be halted so as to not damage the riverway environment. He offered small pieces of astro-turf the kids could position on the display to divert the run-off.
Minichsoffer, and Shock, who grew up in St. Croix Falls but resides near White Bear Lake looked they were having fun-- but they are actually learning community organizing and leadership aimed at watershed health and preserving the ecology of the riverway.
The U.S. EPA Office of Environmental Education initiated Master Watershed Stewards in fall of 2015, as an adult learning program inspired by the master gardeners/master naturalists efforts elsewhere. The EPA only awarded three grants to support Master Watershed Stewards programs under non-profit organization oversight. The St. Croix Valley Foundation won the funding for the local effort.
This is almost the last of three cycles for St. Croix stewards. Patty Mueller, program manager, said they’ll be recruiting for 2018 soon. A total of approximately 36 stewards will have completed the program.
The St. Croix Watershed, Minichsoffer explained, is shaped like the continent of Africa and within this area healthy watershed habits need to become second nature to protect the riverway. He said that having grown up in the Osceola area and having lived in Chisago County his adult life, the St. Croix is his stomping grounds. This is a way to express his love for the river.
“Whatever people do out in the watershed affects the river eventually,” he told the park visitors who lingered at the display.
This public interaction component is the capstone of the learning cycle, and this fall the program will “graduate” a slate of stewards-in-training. Watch for details later.