Playing in the mud

Have you ever been so muddy that when you walk mud oozes from the soles of your shoes and rivulets of brown sludge slide down your face and into your eyes? Mud and I became fast friends at an early age. Flipping through our family photo albums I see myself at age two, propped up against the wheel of our car, hands, face and mouth full of mud and a smile of complete joy on my face. Most people get over their fixation with mud sometime after grade school, but not all of us. There are the people who become farmers, archaeologists, naturalists and construction workers. There are also the crazy folks, like myself, that will pay money to get muddy.

Friends pose after completing the 2011 Warrior Dash in Afton, MN. (Left to right - Autumn and Nathan Hubbell, Gary Hong, Katie and Carmen Pata, Krista and Chris Jensen)

A new breed of athletic races is popping up around the nation. Called mud runs, these off-road races have numerous obstacles along the way specially designed to be ridiculous, challenging and dirty. The signature finish line approach is a mud pit topped with barbed wire that requires all runners to army crawl through the slop to the end. I participated in the Illinois Warrior Dash last year, enjoying obstacles such as the junkyard, tower of hay, and pit of muddy despair. When the Warrior Dash came to Afton, Minnesota this year, I was relegated to photographer along with all the other pregnant women and watched as my friends leapt, crawled and cannon balled into the mud pit at the end.

As much fun as it is to roll around in the dirt, there are times when mud is an unwelcome visitor. On construction sites, building contractors struggle to keep mud at bay and to prevent soil and dirty water from leaving their sites. Eroding soil and sediment-laden water can wreak havoc on local lakes and streams. The dirt clouds the water, buries fish eggs and spawning sites, and clogs the gills of fish and aquatic animals. Because the bare soil on construction sites can be such a threat to our water resources, there are a host of local, state and federal regulations designed to keep these sites as clean and contained as possible.

Participants on site at Ravine Parkway in Cottage Grove during the recent MECA erosion control seminar

This past week, the East Metro Water Resource Education Program partnered with the Minnesota Erosion Control Association and the University of Minnesota Erosion and Sediment Control Program to host a field seminar for local builders, contractors, inspectors and municipal staff. During the seminar, participants visited two active construction sites and learned about the newest technology in erosion and sediment control. The first stop was Ravine Parkway in Cottage Grove, where a road is being built to connect the Washington County South Service Center with the soon-to-be built City Hall and Civic Center. The project is challenging both because of its size and because it requires a bridge to be built over a ravine that ultimately drains to Cottage Grove Ravine Regional Park. During construction, the city contractor SEH is using a number of techniques including mulch berms and temporary sediment basins to prevent soil from running into the Ravine Park when it rains. There are also plans to build a porous pavement patio and raingardens at the City Hall to prevent stormwater runoff from the new building. Dozens of raingardens are already in place at the county’s South Service Center, and they have eliminated all stormwater runoff from the building and parking lot.

A sign alerts visitors to erosion control measures in place at the McDonalds reconstruction in Woodbury

Up the road at a McDonalds under reconstruction in Woodbury, seminar participants spoke with a representative from Greiner Construction who has been working overtime to prevent polluted runoff. With only one acre of land and a mixture of clay and silt soils, there are very few places to soak rainwater into the soil. Currently, the company is using a combination of silt fence and sediment logs around the perimeter of the site to trap as much soil as possible when it rains. This month, however, they are installing a Triton underground stormwater tank that will capture much of the water running off the McDonalds building and parking lot so that it can soak into the ground underneath the parking lot. They are taking this approach both to be good stewards of the land and because it helps them to meet stormwater management requirements in the City of Woodbury and the Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District.

For those of us who continue to love playing in the mud well into our adulthood, opportunities abound still abound, just not on local construction sites. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society has organized a 10k Mud Run to be held at the Trollhaugen Ski and Snowboard Resort in Dresser, Wis. On Saturday, Sept. 10 ( Meanwhile, the folks in the erosion control industry will keep creating and selling erosion control mats, sediment logs, hydromulch, turf reinforcement mats, tackifiers and many other items with equally mysterious names to help keep the dirt on the construction sites and out of our water.