When I moved from California to Wisconsin in seventh grade, my new classmates couldn’t understand why anyone would leave the Golden State for the land of cheese and freezing winters. I had a hard time explaining that California is a big place, some parts beautiful, others not, and that eternal sunshine is not all it’s cracked up to be. When summer arrives in the upper Midwest, it is like flying downhill on a roller-coaster after enduring hours of anticipation while the train slowly clicks up the track. The flowers bloom, the lakes roar to life, the smell of barbeque grills and campfires permeates every corner of the state and wherever you look, people are outside running, walking, biking, swimming, lounging in the grass and sucking in every last ray of the sun before it disappears. Summer in California, on the other hand, is more like riding on a carousel. Another cloudless day passes by, no different than the previous two hundred cloudless days, and as the thermometer reaches 100°, folks head inside and turn on the television and their air conditioning.
WaterFest, scheduled for June 2, 11am-4pm at the Lake Phalen Pavilion in St. Paul, is a celebration of everything that makes summer great in Minnesota. The annual event was created by the Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District in 2000 as a celebration of water, the environment, and community. Not surprisingly, the activities planned provide a multitude of opportunities for children and adults to recreate near, on, and even in the lake. In addition to providing canoes and kayaks for checkout, there will be stand up paddleboard and sailing lessons, as well as solar pontoon boat and Voyageur canoe rides. Land-lubbers can even borrow bikes to circle the lake from a paved trail. If floating on the water in six different types of vessel isn’t enough, the watershed district encourages folks to bring a bathing suit and dive right in from the nearby swimming beach.
Besides for helping people to enjoy Lake Phalen, one of the watershed’s gems, a primary goal of WaterFest is to teach people about aquatic life and what they can do to protect the turtles, frogs, and fish that call Lake Phalen home. The Asian Outdoor Heritage Group will offer fishing lessons for kids from 12:15-3pm, with Joe’s Sporting Goods providing prizes for the for the biggest, smallest and most carp caught. There will also be insects and reptiles on display and an opportunity for kids to examine aquatic plants and animals from the lake under a microscope. The festival kicks off with a parade at 11am, featuring students, clowns and mascots, followed by a dedication ceremony for the Stone Arch Bridge Restoration at 11:30am, lakeside yoga at 1pm and Tricia and the Toonies Game and Puppet Show at 2pm. Throughout the day, kids can complete the Raindrop Mystery Tour to find clues, decode a message and win a prize.
While WaterFest might be a one-day event, the Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District is hard at work protecting Lake Phalen and the other lakes and streams within their boundaries all year long. A local unit of government that covers approximately 56 square miles of land in western Ramsey County and eastern Washington County, the watershed district is charged with preventing flooding within its boundaries and completing projects that prevent water pollution to lakes, wetlands, streams and the Mississippi River. The watershed district has spent years nursing Lake Phalen back to health by restoring the shoreline with native flowers, grasses and shrubs that create habitat and reduce erosion, and has also worked with homeowners throughout the area to install raingardens and rain barrels to reduce polluted runoff to the lake. Staff and board members from the district hope that WaterFest will provide people with an opportunity to learn about all the good work underway, in addition to enjoying the fruits of their labor – a cleaner lake.
WaterFest runs 11am-4pm, on Saturday, June 2 at Lake Phalen. The event is free. Learn more at www.rwmwd.org.