Ruth Alliband used to walk past and look at the raingardens in her neighborhood every day. Some were getting weedy, and a few had inlets clogged with sediment. “I never thought about getting involved to care for the gardens until Louise Watson of Sustainable Stillwater asked me,” she says. Now, Alliband is working to inventory raingardens around town and lending a helping hand to neighbors that might not have the knowledge or ability to take care of the gardens in front of their homes.
“The raingardens in town are a gift for the area that nurture the birds and pollinators and help to keep our river and lakes clean,” Alliband told fellow volunteers at a recent gathering organized by Watson.
Sustainable Stillwater is a volunteer-led community organization, founded in 2016 that works to create healthy and connected community, support local economic vitality, and promote resource and environmental stewardship. Louise Watson, a retired watershed planner, helped to found Sustainable Stillwater and currently leads its Natural Resources team. Operating under seven core values – adaptability, positivity, inclusivity, engagement, passion, collaboration, and knowledge – the organization has built a strong volunteer base, develops new programs for the Stillwater area, and works to support sustainability efforts led by the city and other local government.
Under the leadership of Watson, Sustainable Stillwater’s Natural Resources team has helped to recruit 45 raingarden adopters through the Adopt-a-Raingarden program (www.mnwcd.org/adoptaraingarden) and 218 storm drain adopters through the Adopt-a-Drain program (www.Adopt-a-Drain.org). They have also engaged volunteers to stencil storm drains, weed and clean-out a native shoreline buffer at Lily Lake, and install cigarette disposal canisters in downtown Stillwater.
In addition to the Natural Resources Team, Sustainable Stillwater also has four additional groups that are working to engage local businesses, improve sustainability at a city level, and promote biking and active transportation.
One major project of Sustainable Stillwater has been to create a Green Business Directory to recognize businesses, schools, nonprofit organizations, and government in Washington County that are implementing water conservation and sustainability practices. Currently, there are 59 recognized businesses in the directory, covering a range of services, from retail sales to banking, farming, health care, and more (www.greenstillwater.org).
Another team is helping the City of Stillwater to take part in Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s GreenStep Cities program (greenstep.pca.state.mn.us). The program encourages cities to implement sustainability actions within several different categories, including buildings and lighting, land use, transportation, environmental management, and resilient economic and community development. “Most recently, we’re working with the city to develop a climate action plan,” says Roger Tomten, who serves as Board Chair for Sustainable Stillwater.
This year, Washington Conservation District has recognized Sustainable Stillwater as its Community Conservationist for 2021. “Sustainable Stillwater is truly acting as a community catalyst and providing important support to amplify the work of our organization,” says Jay Riggs, District Manager for the Washington Conservation District. The annual award honors an individual, business, municipality, or organization for their concern, cooperation, and/or implementation of conservation practices in a community environment and is given in partnership with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Minnesota Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts.
To learn more about Sustainable Stillwater: www.sustainablestillwatermn.org.