You may have noticed that there’s a new parking lot at the Brown’s Creek Park in Stillwater. It’s not often that I get excited about a square of pavement where people park their cars, but this parking lot is a little bit special. You see, the Brown’s Creek Watershed District just worked with the City of Stillwater to install a state of the art system, known as a “rock crib”, that will clean and cool runoff water from the parking lot and Neal Ave. and help trout in the stream to flourish. The project is the latest in a series of efforts designed to bring this local treasure back to good health.
Troubles for Brown’s Creek began in 2002, when it was added to the federal list of impaired waters due to the fact that trout and the aquatic insects they eat could no longer survive in the stream. The problem is that trout need cold water, below 65°F, all year round. During the summer, however, rainwater running off of hot pavement flows into Brown’s Creek, heating up the creek. As a result, the trout can’t reproduce or their eggs die. Sometimes, the water gets so warm that even the adult trout go belly-up.
Two years ago, city and watershed district staff talked about long-term plans for Neal Ave. and Brown’s Creek Park and realized that there was an opportunity to upgrade the existing gravel parking lot in a way that would also benefit the stream. The new project includes a below-ground device to capture sediment from Neal Ave. runoff and an above ground swale to filter the parking lot runoff. After this initial pre-treatment, the water goes into a rock crib, which is a rock-filled trench buried several feet below ground where the soil stays cool year-round. The rock crib cools the water by more than 10°F, so that by the time it reaches Brown’s Creek it is clean and cold enough for the trout and other creatures to thrive. The Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources provided a $204,350 grant to help reduce the overall project cost.
For Brown’s Creek Watershed District, nursing its namesake waterway back to good health is a top priority. In recent years, the district has completed stream improvement projects at the Stillwater Country Club, Oak Glen Golf Course, Countryside Auto, and along the Brown’s Creek Trail. In addition, they worked with homeowners living near Brown’s Creek Park to install nine new raingardens last year. Two weeks ago, Washington County commissioners voted to buy 13 acres of land in Grant near the headwaters of Brown’s Creek using Land and Water Legacy funds, with the watershed district paying half of the $254,400 cost. Doing so will protect the land from development.
Already, people around Stillwater are beginning to feel hopeful about a brighter future for Brown’s Creek. When the Brown’s Creek Trail opened in 2014, it made it easier to see the most scenic stretches of the stream, through the gorge and near the old stone arch bridge. In September, around 200 people turned out for a nature event at Brown’s Creek Park hosted by the watershed district and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources where kids examined tiny critters living in the creek and future anglers learned how to tie a fly and cast a line. Next summer, Brown’s Creek will be feeling the chill and that’s a very good thing.