Good Golfing, Happy Trout

How much sediment travels down tiny Brown’s Creek each year? A lot, according to the owners of Wolf Marine on the St. Croix River who reportedly have to excavate dirt built up at the creek’s outlet each year just to keep the marina navigable. From its headwaters in a soggy section of May Township, just south of Goggins Lake, Brown’s Creek flows southeast through Grant towards Stillwater, where it runs along the northern border of town until emptying into the St. Croix River just north of Highway 96. Along the way, the stream picks up sediment (dirt and sand), from farm fields, eroding stream banks, roadways, neighborhoods and other surrounding landscapes.

No one likes a dirty stream, but excess sediment is especially bad news for fish living in Brown’s Creek. It’s one of the few designated trout streams in the Twin Cities area that supports a fishable brown trout population. Compared to other fish species, trout need colder and cleaner water to survive and they also need a variety of stream habitats, including deep pools with overhead cover. Lately, the trout in Brown’s Creek have been feeling pretty stressed out, which is why the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency designated the stream as impaired. This impairment classification is the equivalent of a big fat frowny face on one’s report card and there are now several projects underway to help nurse the stream back to health.

One such project is a landscaping renovation underway at Stillwater Country Club. The country club worked with Brown’s Creek Watershed District (BCWD) last year to build a series of raingardens along a pathway leading from the clubhouse down a steep hill to the green. Staff and members were so pleased with the results, that they contacted the watershed district later in the fall to learn what more could be done to control stormwater runoff on other parts of the course. In the coming year, Stillwater Country Club will work with BCWD to plant several more raingardens throughout the property, readjust existing drainage pipes and install native plantings and erosion control fabric in two particularly flood-prone areas.

These changes will keep an astounding 46.3 tons of sediment a year from washing off of the golf course and into Brown’s Creek. That’s 7% of all the sediment washing into the creek along its entire route, or the equivalent of four and a half dump trucks full of dirt! In addition, the golfers stand to benefit from the raingardens and other landscaping features that will help to dry up perennially wet spots on the course, making game days more pleasurable for all.

The Stillwater Country Club retrofit is just the kind of “big bang” project that the Board of Water and Soil Resources looks for when allocating grants from the Minnesota Clean Water Fund, which was created by a voter-approved constitutional amendment in 2009. One of 55 projects approved statewide, the golf course will receive $62,000 to help offset their expenses. They have secured additional financial and technical assistance from BCWD, the Middle St. Croix Watershed Management Organization, and the Washington Conservation District and will work with local contractors to design and install the stream-friendly landscaping features.

Throughout the project, Stillwater Country Club has been an eager and willing player. “They contacted us,” says BCWD administrator Karen Kill. “It was refreshing for once to have someone come to us wanting to do the right thing instead of us always going to them.” Kill noted also that Dr. Paul Spilseth, a member on the country club’s natural environment committee, was instrumental in pushing the project forward and developing a vision for the course that everyone could agree on.

How much sediment travels down tiny Brown’s Creek each year? There’s less dirt now than last year, and there will be even less a year from now. That’s good news for the Brown’s Creek Watershed District, good news for Wolf Marine and good news for the fish in the creek. Good golfing means happy trout.