The Spirit of the St. Croix Valley

There’s something about living in the St. Croix Valley that you might not notice if you only visit for a day. It’s more than the allure of the Wild and Scenic St. Croix River, although that’s certainly a draw for thousands of local tourists each year. It’s more than the natural beauty of the rolling hills, wooded lanes and countless lakes that dot the landscape. It’s more than the unique character of communities like Stillwater, Lake Elmo, Afton and Marine, which still have Main Streets in downtown and shops for local artists. All of these features make the St. Croix Valley special, but the true spirit of the region comes from the people who live here and contribute their time and energy year after year to make the valley a better place for everyone.

Chuck and Joan Taylor, who have lived on Lake Jane on the western edge of Lake Elmo since 1966, epitomize the spirit of the St. Croix. For more than 35 years, Chuck has been a Citizen Lake Monitor for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, helping the agency to keep tabs on water quality in several local lakes. He has also donated countless hours of his time recording the water levels in area lakes and attending monthly meetings of the Valley Branch Watershed District (VBWD). According to Lincoln Fetcher, the VBWD vice-president, Chuck’s efforts are invaluable to the district. “Chuck has been providing year-round detailed data since 1979,” says Fetcher. “He is truly inspirational and a man about the environment.”

If you were to follow Chuck on a day of water monitoring, you would quickly realize just how much “spirit” is required for the task. To measure water clarity on Lake Jane, he paddles a canoe out onto the lake and then uses a device called a secchi disk – a round white disk mounted to the end of a long rope – that is lowered into the water. Because the lake is quite clean, he can usually see the disk 15 feet below the surface. If he were monitoring a eutrophic lake where excess nutrients have made the water murky, the disk might disappear only three feet down. Measuring lake levels on Jane and other nearby lakes brings its own challenges, especially when the weather turns bad. “Last winter, I had to drill through a lot of ice to get down to the water,” he said. “Sunfish Lake has a 30-foot embankment, so getting down to the lake can also be a chore.”

Thirty-five years of volunteer efforts are nothing to sneeze at, but the Taylor’s St. Croix spirit doesn’t stop there. When they learned that a buffer of native plants along their shoreline property could help to prevent erosion and keep pollution out of Lake Jane, they worked with VBWD and the Washington Conservation District to draw up a plan and start planting. Seven years later, the deep-rooted native plants along the Taylor’s shoreline have matured and are now holding the land in place, as well as providing food and habitat for turtles, frogs, waterfowl, and other lakeshore wildlife. “We love it because the buffer not only does what it is suppose to do, but also reduced beach maintenance. All you really need is about 12 feet of access to swim,” said Chuck.

Whether it’s the beautiful natural surroundings or the sense of community the valley engenders, there’s just something about living in this part of the country that inspires Chuck Taylor and others like him to become everyday heroes. There’s a spirit in the St. Croix Valley and if you stay here long enough, it’ll catch you too.