Explore the Brown’s Creek Watershed with a virtual tour and scavenger hunt

After the Brown’s Creek State Trail opened in 2015, it quickly became one of the most popular destinations in the east metro area. The 5.9-mile trail connects Gateway State Trail to downtown Stillwater and runs through the heart of the Brown’s Creek Watershed District. This fall, the watershed district is offering a virtual tour and scavenger hunt to highlight some of the historical features, natural wonders, and stream-improvement projects along the route.

The St. Paul and Pacific Railroad, originally created in 1862, was one of the first major rail lines in Minnesota. After a series of land transfers and bankruptcies, a track was built to connect St. Paul and Stillwater in 1871, and eventually became part of James J. Hill’s Great Northern Railway. More recently, the Minnesota Zephyr operated a heritage railroad out of downtown Stillwater until 2008. Today, the Brown’s Creek and Gateway State Trails follow the same route as the original rail line. With the addition of the new St. Croix loop trail, opened this summer, it is now possible to bike all the way from Minneapolis-St. Paul to Wisconsin, entirely on trails.

The Brown’s Creek Trail intersects with the Gateway Trail in rural Washington County, 6-miles outside of Stillwater. From here, it is approximately 13-miles to downtown St. Paul via the Gateway Trail and/or Bruce Vento Regional Trail.

The highlight of the Brown’s Creek Trail is the two miles that pass through a deep, wooded gorge on the north side of Stillwater, with views of Brown’s Creek down below. The creek is a designated trout stream and the watershed district has been working for more than 20 years to minimize flooding in the surrounding watershed and protect trout and native fish. During conversion of the trail from a rail line into a paved multi-use trail, Brown’s Creek Watershed District worked with the Minnesota DNR and adjacent landowners to create a small flood-plain area along the trail and install underground treatment devices to clean and cool stormwater runoff from roads and parking lots before it enters the creek.

Brown’s Creek Watershed District is a special-purpose, local unit of government established in 1997 to manage 30 square miles of land, including portions of Grant, Hugo, Lake Elmo, May Twp., Oak Park Heights, Stillwater and Stillwater Township. In addition to completing dozens of flood-prevention and water-improvement projects over the years, BCWD implements rules to guide new development and provides cost-share grants to help private landowners install raingardens, streamside buffers, and water-friendly landscaping. Other watershed district goals include improving the recreational value of water resources in the district, and studying the ways that climate change impacts lakes, streams and stormwater infrastructure.

From the trail, you can see streamside buffer plantings within the Oak Glen Golf Course, designed to cool the water for trout.

Though most locals are quite familiar with the Brown’s Creek trail by now, the new virtual tour and scavenger hunt encourages trail users to slow down and learn a bit more about some of the unique features in the watershed. There are 11 hidden letter clues along the trail – one at each site featured on the virtual tour. Together, these letters spell a mystery word or phrase. Participants can search for the letters anytime between Sept 19 and Oct. 11 and enter their answers online at www.BCWD.org.

Gasthaus is a popular destination along the trail and offers outdoor seating, as well as bike parking. Scavenger hunt participants have the opportunity to win one of two $50 gift certificates to the restaurant.

The first 25 people to find all 11 letters to complete the mystery word or phrase will get a Dairy Queen gift card ($3 value). Everyone who correctly completes the challenge will be entered into a drawing to win one of two $50 gift certificates to Gasthaus Bavarian Hunter.

The virtual tour includes photos and videos from locations along the trail, as well as hints on where to look for the hidden letters. To access the tour and begin searching for clues, head to www.BCWD.org.

Join me for a 5-min preview of sights along the Brown’s Creek Trail.