St. Croix River: Changing Climate, Changing Times

St. Croix River at St. Croix State Park
St. Croix River at St. Croix State Park, MN

How would you describe the St. Croix Basin if you were speaking to a visitor from another part of the country? Would you talk about the charming and vibrant small towns along the lower stretch of the river, where restaurants are plentiful and arts and culture abound? Or would you talk about the cabin culture in the northwoods around Hayward, WI, where the summer days are endless and everyone has a boat? Perhaps you would speak of the fertile farm land in Western Wisconsin or the dense woods in Minnesota’s St. Croix and Nemadji State Forests?

Within the 7760 square miles of Minnesota and Wisconsin that comprise the St. Croix Basin, you can find a National Park, National Forest, and National Refuge, portions of two National Scenic Trails, three National Historic Landmarks, 12 State Parks, eight State Trails, six State Historic Sites, 10 State Forests, 65 State Natural Areas, more than 150 properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the St. Croix Scenic Byway, and resources associated with four Ojibwe bands that have tribal lands within the watershed. Though the landscape and communities within the basin are diverse, the St. Croix River brings them all together.

St. Croix River at the Log House Landing, Scandia
St. Croix River at the Log House Landing, Scandia, MN

The 2015 St. Croix Summit, scheduled for Wednesday, April 29 at the Water Street Inn in Stillwater, will be an opportunity for citizens, scientists, policy makers and local implementers from throughout the basin to engage in a full day of learning and collaboration. This year’s Summit will be a re-invention of the St. Croix Basin Conference that has been held annually for 15 years, thanks to an enhanced partnership between the St. Croix Basin Team, an intergovernmental partnership, and the St. Croix River Association, a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting, restoring and celebrating the St. Croix River. Though the conference will still retain an emphasis on protecting the river and improving water quality, this year’s speakers will also discuss some of the many other factors that impact humans and ecosystems in the St. Croix River Basin. In addition, the St. Croix River Association will hold its Annual Gathering in the evening, allowing people who wish to attend both events.

Titled Changing Climate, Changing Times; Reaching New Audiences, the St. Croix Summit will feature a keynote presentation by Mark Seeley, climatologist with the University of Minnesota, along with several shorter presentations about the ways that climate change may impact water resources, forests, and city stormwater and flood planning in the St. Croix Basin.

St. Croix River in Stillwater
St. Croix River in Stillwater, MN

Presenters will also offer suggestions for how public entities and nonprofit organizations working to protect and improve the river can better engage the public. Afternoon keynote Ryan T. O’Connor, Ramsey County Policy and Planning, will talk about the changing demographics in the upper Midwest and strategies for ensuring that our outdoor parks and spaces are as vital to our communities tomorrow as they are today. There will also be examples from around the Basin of the unique ways that people connect with the river, including kayaking with the Lac Courte Oreilles Boys and Girls Club, an initiative of the National Park Service; New Light Under the Surface: Underwater Photography and The Healing Power of a River; and the St. Croix River Valley Art Bench Trail, an ongoing community art project that engages local groups in designing, locating and creating art installations in public spaces.

In the evening, Wisconsin author Bill Berry will talk about his book “Banning DDT: How Citizen Activists in Wisconsin Led the Way”, an inspiring story about average citizens who joined with scientists to wage one of the first and most important battles to the modern environmental era.

St. Croix River, just north of the confluence with the Mississippi River in Prescott, WI
St. Croix River, just north of the confluence with the Mississippi River in Prescott, WI

A sign that this year’s St. Croix Summit is evolving from a professional research conference into an event with broader appeal are the arts elements that will be woven in throughout the day. In the morning and early afternoon, local artist Susan Armington will introduce the importance of art in connecting across differences and the role of words in bringing a community together to envision a future for the St. Croix. At the end of the afternoon, a team of local improv actors will wrap up the day with a hilarious and thought-provoking original improv sketch. The goal is to create an event that will appeal to all attendees, whether citizen, scientist, policy maker or implementer.

To learn more or register for the 2015 St. Croix Summit, go to: Daytime presentations will take place at the Water Street Inn in Stillwater. The St. Croix River Association Annual Gathering and evening presentation will be held at the Loft @ J Studio, also in Stillwater.