Sherburne tour focuses on keeping wetlands clean

by Joel Stottrup
Special to the Star News

Two dozen or so persons, including some Sherburne County commissioners, conservation services staff members and others, toured projects involving conservation at seven stops in Sherburne County last Friday.

The group rode aboard an Elk River charter bus for the tour put on by the Sherburne Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) and the Natural Resources Conservation Service, both based in Elk River.

Three of the stops were Baldwin Township’s Young Park, the west side public access at Little Elk Lake, and the residence of Al Warzecha, along the Rum River north of Sherburne County Road 2.

The Young Park and Little Elk Lake sites each had a bio-retention basin that Sherburne SWCD Interim District Director Bill Bronder said is like a rain garden. Both collect water draining off higher ground into the basin, where natural vegetation has been planted to collect and filter the water. The purpose is to keep water that runs off hard surfaces like adjacent roads and parking lots from going directly into water areas. At Little Elk Lake it is the lake, of course, and at Young Park, it is the park’s natural wetland.

Vegetation planted at the Little Elk Lake bio-retention basin were butterfly weed, lobelia, joe-pye weed, meadowsweet, big bluestem and oxeye surfline.

Among the plants placed at the Young Park basin were butterfly weed, purple coneflower, blue vervain, aster and golden Alexander.

Heavy rain washed out the first plants installed in the basin at Young Park, so more plants were put in during replanting and they were more water tolerant.

The river bank stabilization site at the Warzecha residence was started last fall and completed this summer, and consists of several what are called stream barbs along the river bank. Besides cedar tree parts, anchored at the base of the shoreline along a curve in the Rum River next to the Warzecha residence, a bio blanket to help check erosion was laid along the slope and various plants planted to root. A 6-inch rain came along during this past spring, however, and so the blanket had to be replaced and reseeding done, Warzecha said. Piles of rocks were also placed in three places along the river bank to check the erosion which had been occurring prior to the project. Winter wheat, spring rye and bluegrass are among the plants that were seeded.

“It absolutely works,” Warzecha declared to the tour group, noting how the water had moved about 13 vertical feet to climb atop a lower portion on his lawn before receding later in the year. It made him nervous, he added, when he watched how much of his shoreline property was being eroded prior to the project. Also planted along the river bank were red osier dogwood and dwarf honeysuckle.

The other stops on the tour were:

•The vegetable/flower farm of Blia Xiong and Now Vang that makes use of a high tunnel, a framework that is at least 6 feet high and covered with greenhouse-grade polyethylene that is at least 6 mil thick, to extend the growing season and improve plant, soil and water quality.

•A rain garden at the Rossow residence.

•Shoreline stabilization at Lake Fremont in Livonia Township.

•A rain garden at Union Church in Elk River.

Government grants from conservation agencies helped in the funding of the projects.