Boy Scouts and Water Stewards help to create outdoor classrooms in Woodbury

On a sunny September day, a cheerful group of Boy Scouts from Woodbury’s Troop 5 showed up at the campus of Lake and Middleton Schools in Woodbury, armed with face masks, gloves, and wheel-barrows. Over the next several hours, the boys worked to spread mulch around two new outdoor classrooms and prep the area for planting later that week.

Boy Scouts from Woodbury’s Troop 5 prepare to spread mulch at Middleton Elementary School.

Volunteers Joan Nichols and Susan Goebel were out on campus that week as well, helping to lay out native plants and flowers for the outdoor learning spaces. It was a project they’d first begun in 2018, when they were taking classes to become Master Water Stewards.

Students at Lake and Middleton Schools helped to plant 200 trees in 2017. This year, Joan Nichols (right) and fellow Master Water Steward Susan Goebel were back on campus to help students to plant native flowers and grasses around two new outdoor classrooms.

“Typically, we’d get done with sometime like this in a few days with a large group of volunteers,” says Tony Randazzo, a Watershed Restoration Specialist for South Washington Watershed District (SWWD). This year, however, the planting effort was stretched out over a much longer period of time to keep group sizes small and ensure that volunteers and students remained safe. “Having help from the Boy Scouts was amazing. All told, there were about 14 yards of mulch moved and spread, 800 plants put in the ground, and lots of good time spent in the breezy outdoor air.”

South Washington Watershed District created its Campus Greening program two years ago to encourage schools and other large campuses to think holistically about how they can meet stormwater management requirements when expanding buildings and parking areas. At the Lake and Middleton campus, South Washington County Schools (District 844) worked with SWWD to convert 15 acres of turf to prairie, plant 200 trees, and create the two new outdoor classrooms. Prior to the Campus Greening program, the school district would have most likely met permit requirements by installing a stormwater retention pond. 

Two years ago, the school district replaced unused turf areas on campus with native plants that don’t require irrigation and provide habitat for birds and pollinators. This fall, boy scouts helped to complete the Campus Greening project.

South Washington County Schools has whole-heartedly embraced the Campus Greening program and is already working on retrofit projects at five other schools in the district. At Valley Crossing in Woodbury, the school district is converting 3.7 acres of turf to oak savanna and revitalizing 7.15 acres of existing prairie on site. Crestview Elementary in Cottage Grove is restoring 10 acres of degraded woodlands on campus and converting several areas of unused turf to prairie. Nuevas Fronteras in St. Paul Park has converted turf areas to prairie as well. Meanwhile, Randazzo is drawing up designs to begin similar campus greening projects at Cottage Grove Elementary and Grey Cloud Elementary next year.

South Washington Watershed District created the Campus Greening program with water protection in mind. Green campuses use less groundwater for irrigation and capture more rainwater on-site. However, clean water isn’t the only benefit. The native trees and plants included in green campus projects create habitat for birds and pollinators and provide unique, hands-on learning opportunities for students. Even the process of designing and planting these spaces becomes a learning experience for students and volunteers.

According to Denise Lockhart, a parent volunteer with Troop 5, “The Scouts were very excited for the opportunity to provide service to their community and the school. Many of our other opportunities were cancelled this summer due to COVID.” The Boy Scouts program emphasizes fun, outdoor activities, peer group leadership opportunities, and personal exploration of hobbies, careers and special interests. “I hope the kids learned something about stormwater and ecology,” said Randazzo at the end of the week-long planting effort. “And enjoyed getting their hands just a little bit dirty.”