Kristina Smitten and her family moved to Marine on St. Croix in 2010, lured by the small town charm and sense of community in the area, as well as easy access to the St. Croix River, William O’Brien State Park, and a vast network of biking, hiking, and skiing trails. “At the time, our family was young and, to be honest, we wanted a place where we could raise our kids as free-range children,” Smitten explains.
The Smitten family found that and more in Jackson Meadows, a unique conservation-style development that backs up to William O’Brien State Park. Unlike in typical rural residential areas where each home sits on a five-acre parcel of land, Jackson Meadows clusters homes and roads within a 145-acre area and preserves the remaining 190 acres of land as natural habitat through permanent conservation easements. Cluster developments help to minimize habitat fragmentation and also create a traditional “neighborhood feel” where children can easily ride their bikes next door to play with friends and community residents can use communal spaces for recreation and socializing.
According to developer Harold Teasdale, “A lot of families with kids love living in Jackson Meadow because it’s so safe and easy for the kids to play outdoors.” In fact, Teasdale himself lives in the neighborhood and remains active in the community.
In addition to utilizing a cluster-style conservation design, Jackson Meadows has also incorporated numerous other strategies to protect habitat and water resources on site. A communal constructed wetland removes up to 95% of pollutants from wastewater before it is infiltrated into the ground, and there are narrower roads, shorter driveways, and mowed trails to reduce stormwater runoff from impervious surfaces. Additionally, community residents have worked in partnership with the City of Marine, Washington Conservation District, Minnesota Land Trust, Carnelian-Marine-St. Croix Watershed District, St. Croix Watershed Research Station, and landscape restoration specialists to steward the protected open-space areas. These include a public trail system, as well as a 53-acre parcel known as “The Hollow” that has steep topography, remnant upland prairie, and numerous endangered and threatened species.
Over the past decade, Smitten has acted as a connector and motivator within her community and has led stewardship efforts not only on the protected natural areas within Jackson Meadows, but also on adjacent properties that are owned by the City of Marine. In 2017, Jackson Meadows worked with Critical Connections, an ecological restoration firm based in Stillwater, to develop a habitat restoration plan that outlines priority locations for restoration work and recommended management strategies. Using this plan, Smitten was able to successfully secure a $56,000 Conservation Partners Legacy Program grant from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in 2020. She has also helped to organize volunteer events, including collecting native seed, removing woody invasive species, and burning the prairie to maintain species diversity.
“So many people have done so much for the community over the years,” says Smitten. “I feel fortunate that we have many people with an interest and knowledge working together to steward the land here.”
This fall, the Washington Conservation District selected Kristina Smitten and Jackson Meadow as its Community Conservationist of 2022. The annual award is co-sponsored by Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Minnesota Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts to honor individuals, businesses, municipalities, and organizations that exemplify conservation stewardship in a community environment.
Smitten notes that the trails and open space at Jackson Meadows are a public resource for everyone to use and enjoy. “We encourage people to visit and use the trail system here, even if they don’t live in the neighborhood,” she says. The city mows the trails for hiking in the summer and the Jackson Meadow neighborhood association grooms them for cross-country skiing in the winter. There are public parking spots to access the trail system and even occasional events, such as the William O’Brien annual ski race.
“Maintaining the land here is a group effort,” Smitten emphasizes. “This is a public trail system and it is here for everyone to enjoy.”