Preserving a piece of paradise in the St. Croix Valley

Before living in New York and Tokyo, Paul Goodwin was a boy from Hudson, Wisconsin, who grew up playing in the woods. “My dad loved the St. Croix River,” says Goodwin, “and after we had kids, we decided to come back here so that the boys could grow up being out in nature.”

In 2019, his family bought a 55-acre parcel of land in Stillwater Township along Silver Creek, up-river from Fairy Falls. “We wanted to give our kids a place to explore, cross-country ski, and be off their screens,” he says. “We planned to build a house of our own but also wanted to protect the rest of the land as natural habitat instead of subdividing it for development.”

Often, former agricultural properties like the one purchased by the Goodwins are divided into smaller parcels of land for housing developments.

As it turned out, the Goodwin’s new property was actually located within the Silver Creek – Twin Lakes corridor, which is an area identified as one of Washington County’s top ten priority locations for natural resource conservation. The corridor supports a wide array of wildlife species and is identified as critical habitat for red-headed woodpeckers, eastern hognose snakes, five-lined skinks, and Bell’s vireos. Other rare species documented on similar habitats near the property include the butternut tree, peregrine falcon, Goldie’s fern, and trumpeter swan. Silver Creek meanders through a small, shallow flowage formed by an old beaver dam on the property and, from there, continues on to Fairy Falls and the St. Croix River.

Asters in bloom on the Goodwin property. The area is known to provide habitat for several species of at-risk birds and reptiles.

After talking with staff from Washington County and the Minnesota Land Trust, Paul Goodwin learned that they could carve out a three-acre envelop for their home, garage and surrounding areas and place the rest of the land in a permanent conservation easement. A conservation easement is a set of restrictions a landowner voluntarily places on his or her property that is filed with the county and applies to all future landowners.  “It is great to know that the land is permanently protected and that we can pass it on to our kids some day without it being subdivided or developed,” says Goodwin. 

In addition to protecting the land from development, the Goodwins are also restoring 14-acres of fallow farm fields to prairie and oak savanna. Working with Tara Kelly from the Washington Conservation District, they developed a habitat management plan that includes strategies such as thinning scrub trees to make room for oaks, seeding to establish native prairie species, conducting periodic burns, and controlling invasive species such as Japanese raspberry. “We’ve been inspired by the habitat restoration work happening at Lake Elmo Park Reserve and it has really helped to have the expertise and support from the county, conservation district, and MN Land Trust,” explains Goodwin.

The habitat management plan provide management guidelines for different areas on the property, including areas to be restored to prairie and oak savanna.

In addition to creating habitat, the prairie restoration project will reduce erosion and keep 19 pounds of phosphorus out of Silver Creek and the St. Croix River every year. For this reason, the Carnelian-Marine-St. Croix Watershed District and Washington Conservation District (via special funding from St. Croix River Association) have provided cost-share funding. Meanwhile, funds from the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council: Metro Big Rivers – Phase 8 grant and Washington County’s Land and Water Legacy Program have been used to establish the conservation easement.

“It will take us three or four years to see the result of the prairie restoration,” says Goodwin, “But I know it will be worth it. Hopefully this will not just protect Silver Creek and the St. Croix River, but will also create something beautiful for the neighborhood and surrounding community.”

Silver Creek, downstream from the Goodwin property as it flows toward Fairy Falls.

Learn more about habitat restoration in Washington County:

Learn more about Washington County’s Land and Water Legacy Program.

Learn more about conservation easements in Minnesota: