Comfort Lake – Forest Lake Watershed District recognizes local Watershed Champions

Jack MacKenzie is a former golf course superintendent with a passion for eco-friendly lawn care and community volunteerism. Craig Mattson operates a cattle farm in southern Chisago County, which employs managed rotational grazing and specially designed fencing to protect wetlands on his property. Though the two might not have much in common, they both care deeply about the health of their local lakes and streams and have both worked hard to protect these waterways from pollution. On Tuesday, April 30, the Comfort Lake – Forest Lake Watershed District (CLFLWD) recognized MacKenzie, Mattson and four other local heroes as recipients of the district’s 2019 Watershed Champion Awards.

The CLFLWD is a special-purpose, local unit of government that covers 49 square miles of northern Washington and southern Chisago County. The watershed district contains 20 lakes, including Forest, Comfort, Bone, Moody and Keewatin, and drains to the Sunrise River. This year, as CLFLWD celebrates its 20th anniversary, it debuted a new Watershed Champion Award to honor people who have helped the district to protect and improve local water resources. This year’s winners included: Jerry Grundtner, Jack MacKenzie, Craig Mattson, Zack Otte, and the 4th grade educators at Lakes International Language Academy.

Sunset over Forest Lake
Forest Lake is the largest lake in Washington County and lies within the Comfort Lake – Forest Lake Watershed.

Jerry Grundtner is president of the Forest Lake Lake Association and has served on the CLFLWD citizen advisory committee for many years. Grundtner has worked tirelessly to protect the health of Forest Lake and is particularly worried about the impact of aquatic invasive species (AIS). Four years ago, when the Minnesota legislature began allocating funding for AIS prevention efforts to counties around the state, Grundtner encouraged the staff at CLFLWD to develop a plan for managing invasive flowering rush on Forest Lake. He helped to engage residents who live on the lake – more than 1000 homes – and attended numerous meetings with city, county and watershed partners. Through targeted treatment efforts, the watershed district has since removed much of the flowering rush, creating space for boats to travel and room for native plants to take hold.

Jack MacKenzie became a St. Croix Watershed Steward in 2017 through a program that trains citizens in water science, policy, and watershed management. Since then, he has dedicated many hours of volunteer time on behalf of the CLFLWD. He serves on the district’s citizen advisory committee, has taught numerous lawn care workshops, organizes an annual storm drain stenciling event, and has educated and inspired local students to protect water in their community.

CLFLWD board president Jon Spence (left) presented Jack MacKenzie (right) with an award for his volunteer efforts.

Craig Mattson operates a farm in southern Chisago County, just north of Moody Lake. Two years ago, he worked in partnership with the CLFLWD and Chisago Soil and Water Conservation District to restore wetlands on his property, install fencing, and develop a rotational grazing plan to reduce the amount of phosphorus flowing downstream to Moody Lake. Mattson’s partnership has been crucial to restoring water quality in Moody Lake, and has helped the watershed district to reduce phosphorus in the lake by 376 pounds per year (70% of the reduction needed). In addition, the wetland enhancements have improved habitat for waterfowl and wildlife in the area.

Chisago County farmer Craig Mattson worked with the CLFLWD on a large wetland restoration and has implemented rotational grazing on his land.

As a construction manager, Zack Otte has done an exemplary job of maintaining erosion and sediment control measures at the site he oversees. New development projects can send large amounts of soil and debris downstream into nearby lakes and rivers if they aren’t managed properly, so CLFLWD rules require builders to install practices such as silt fence and check dams to ensure that this doesn’t happen. Otte has gone out of his way to make sure the erosion and sediment control practices on his site are functioning properly and has worked with the district to quickly correct problems as they arise.

A final Watershed Champion award was given to the 4th grade teachers at Lakes International Language Academy in Forest Lake, who have worked with the watershed district to teach students about local water issues and complete stewardship projects in the community. Last fall, teachers Cesca Massana, Roberto Izquierdo, and Yangyang Liu attended a full-day Project WET training to learn new ways to engage students in watershed education; they have also invited staff from the CLFLWD to lead activities in the classroom. In addition to recognizing the teachers, CLFLWD presented the 4th grade students with a “2019 Junior Watershed Champion Award” and a pizza party to celebrate.

Jon Spence (right) with teachers and principal from LILA.

This year, the Comfort Lake – Forest Lake Watershed District will update its 10-year watershed management plan. Attend a kick-off event at Forest Lake Arts in the Park on June 11, or share your input through a short online survey at  Learn more about the planning process at