*This article was written in partnership with the Clean Water Minnesota campaign of Metro Watershed Partners: www.cleanwatermn.org.
Along a stretch of East 50th Street in Minneapolis, the Adirondack chairs, pink flamingos and screened porches wait patiently for spring. Beneath a blanket of snow, dormant pollinator gardens prepare to emerge for their first full growing season – soon will come the Monarch Mile.
Arun Hejmadi lives near Lake Nokomis and helped to turn the Monarch Mile from dream to reality. “I grew up in India where water is a precious commodity,” he explains. “Eighty percent of the water comes during the monsoon. I also lived in Colorado Springs for 25 years, where we were always on the edge of a drought.” Living in those arid places helped him to understand that water is literally life.
When he moved to Minnesota, Arun was excited to learn that Minnesota was not only the “Land of 10,000 Lakes” but also headwaters to five rivers, a dramatic contrast to his previous surroundings. However, he was also dismayed by poor water quality in many urban lakes. “Some of the lakes were so grubby. I wouldn’t eat a fish out of them.”
Arun decided to take action. He enrolled in the Master Water Stewards training program at a local watershed district, then volunteered to help create the Monarch Mile – a series of pollinator gardens along East 50th Street from Lake Nokomis to Minnehaha Falls. The native plants used in the gardens are deep-rooted and drought-tolerant; as a result, they help to reduce erosion and irrigation needs, in addition to nurturing pollinators. Ultimately, fifteen homeowners, a local business and a church signed up and the Monarch Mile took flight.
In Washington County, local partners have added nearly 20 acres of new pollinator plantings in the past two years, with 25 additional acres coming this year. During the fall of 2016, students and volunteers at St. Croix Prep planted ten acres of prairie on their school grounds in Bayport. Last year, Washington Conservation District and the Pollinator Friendly Alliance helped to inter-seed flowering natives into six acres of existing grassland at Oak Park Correctional Facility. The Conservation District also worked with private landowners in Afton and Marine on St. Croix to convert a combined five acres of pasture, turf and row crops to native prairie.
The monarch miles will spread into Woodbury later this year, with a big project planned at Lake and Middleton Schools and a new pollinator corridor coming to Woodland Hills Park. South Washington Watershed District is working with District 833 to convert 15 acres of non-active use turf areas to prairie, plant 200 trees, and install outdoor classrooms at Lake and Middleton Schools. The “Campus Greening” project will cut down on the school’s outdoor water use, in addition to creating habitat for birds and pollinators. As part of the project, non-profit Tree Trust will bring their Our Town Trees traveling exhibit to the schools and will also lead students in tree-planting. The exhibit will be on display at Middleton Elementary from May 14-18, with students planting trees on May 22. Lake Middle School kids will plant their trees on May 24.
City of Woodbury is also creating a 10-acre pollinator corridor in Woodland Hills Park, along the trail from Lake to Bailey Roads. To help create the corridor, non-profit Great River Greening is seeking 100 volunteers for a planting event on Wed., May 30, 10am-2pm. All ages are welcome, and breakfast, snack and lunch will be provided. To register, contact May Yang at firstname.lastname@example.org or 651-272-3993, or go to GreatRiverGreening.org.
The monarch miles are spreading now, out of the city, across the suburbs, and into the rolling countryside. Let’s hope the snow melts soon enough to let the flowers through.