It takes a neighborhood to save a lake

Croixwood neighborhood tour – Boettcher house

On August 15, the rains held off and folks living in Stillwater’s Croixwood neighborhood stepped out to tour three new clean water planting projects right in their collective backyard.  Built in the 1970’s, Croixwood is a typical suburban neighborhood with winding streets and shaded yards nestled along the east side of Long Lake. Though the lake isn’t visible from the street, there are several public access points leading to city owned shoreline property, and it is possible to completely circumnavigate the lake using a combination of neighborhood roads along the south, east and north and a path through two newer developments on the lake’s west side. When it rains, stormwater runoff from virtually all of the streets in Croixwood ends up eventually in Long Lake, carrying with it an unhealthy mixture of phosphorus, sediment and other pollutants. The Brown’s Creek Watershed District (BCWD) has completed several large-scale pollution prevention projects in the community to help clean up Long Lake, but because the land in Croixwood is already developed,  the district is now asking for help from local residents to further restore the lake.

Co-hosted by homeowners Kathy Klonecki and Margaret and Robert Boettcher, along with the BCWD, the August 15 neighborhood tour showcased two different styles of residential raingardens and a massive shoreline planting project on Stillwater park property. The watershed district hopes that after seeing examples of attractive clean water planting projects and learning about available grants and design assistance, more people living in Croixwood will be inspired to build lake-friendly gardens of their own.

Margaret and Robert Boettcher began their front yard transformation two years ago when they worked with the BCWD to build three raingardens that capture and infiltrate stormwater runoff from their rooftop and street. Planted with a mix of plants native to Minnesota, as well as common garden flowers and shrubs, the raingardens connect seamlessly with other plantings the Boettchers already had in their yard. Part of what makes their project unique, however, is a low spot in the curb that directs stormwater from the street into one of their raingardens.  Known as “curb-cut raingardens,” these types of gardens are the most effective and cost-efficient strategy for reducing stormwater runoff in neighborhoods like Croixwood that were built before stormwater management practices became commonplace.  BCWD provided the Boettchers with a cost-share grant to cover the cost of plants and other materials for their gardens, the Washington Conservation District provided a free design for the project, and the City of Stillwater completed the curb work.

A few blocks east of the Boettchers, Kathy Klonecki embarked on a similar project at her home earlier this summer. Rooftop runoff from the downspouts on the sides and front of her house now empties into concave gardens that hold the water long enough for it to soak into the ground and evaporate. Though the Klonecki raingardens are only a few months old, flowers were already blooming during the Croixwood neighborhood tour and bees and butterflies had found their way to her yard, proving that if you plant natives, pollinators will come. Like the Boettchers, Kathy Klonecki also received grant funding and design assistance from the BCWD and WCD because her project will help to clean up Long Lake.

Along the edge of Long Lake, BCWD has taken a different approach towards improving water. A few years back, the watershed district worked with several private landowners to restore and stabilize portions of the shoreline by planting native flowers, grasses and sedges in place of turf and weeds. Last summer, the watershed district followed up with a similar project on park land owned by the City of Stillwater, planting 31,000 plants, 12 pounds of native grass seed, and 12 pounds of native flower seed across 3.5 acres of land. Prior to last year’s planting, BCWD had spent two years removing the primary invasive species in the area to create a more hospitable environment for the new plants to grow. Eventually, the watershed district hopes to create a buffer of deep-rooted, native vegetation at least 25 feet wide along the entire length of Long Lake to reduce shoreline erosion, create habitat for turtles, frogs and birds, and help capture pollutants before they reach the water.

A study conducted by BCWD in 2011 identified 71 homes out of 500 in the Croixwood neighborhood where residential raingardens like those built by Kathy Klonecki and Margaret and Robert Boettcher would most help to keep polluted runoff out of Long Lake. The watershed district is prepared to offer funding and design assistance to help homeowners make projects happen at any of these locations. District board and staff know that it takes a neighborhood to save a lake, but they are also open-minded. Said District Administrator, Karen Kill, “We’re looking at tree trenches as well [to infiltrate stormwater from the neighborhood]. Some people might not want the maintenance of a raingarden, but they would be willing to plant a tree.”

If you live in the Croixwood neighborhood and are interested in helping to restore Long Lake, contact Karen Kill at 651-275-1136 x.26 or to learn more about what you can do.