It begins with an idea and grows into a movement. “We have a small front yard that we’d like to see be more bee and environmentally friendly,” writes a homeowner in Stillwater. “Our house backs up to the Tamarack Nature Preserve in Woodbury. We would love to landscape the back yard with appropriate native pants that would support the wildlife and extend the natural beauty of this particular bog-like environment,” says a hopeful gardener in Woodbury. “I live in Forest Lake and I’m interested in planting a raingarden or native planting and removing buckthorn.”
For years, the Washington Conservation District (WCD) has offered free site visits to landowners in Washington County to provide advice for conservation projects and help people connect with grants, design assistance, and technical support to turn their eco dreams into reality. This month, the WCD wraps up 2022 with 310 site visits on the books. That’s 310 seeds of change that are planted and waiting to grow.
Every person who requests a site visit starts with a slightly different motivation. Some people want to create habitat for birds and pollinators, while others aim to reduce runoff pollution, build resiliency against drought, or create beauty in their yards. As part of a larger, community-wide initiative, these individual conservation projects also help to restore polluted lakes and streams and reconnect habitat corridors that have been lost to farming and development.
Since 2009, Washington County landowners have completed 5334 conservation projects ranging in scale from tiny front-yard pollinator gardens to large-scale conversions of cropland to native prairie. Together, these projects keep 2 million pounds of sediment and 10,800 pounds of phosphorus (enough to grow 5 million pounds of algae!) out of our lakes and rivers every single year.
Long-term water monitoring trends for lakes and streams show that these conservation projects are making an impact. Half of the lakes in Washington County are getting cleaner, and seven were removed from the state’s impaired waters list in 2022 – East Boot (May Twp), Echo (Mahtomedi), Hay and Jellums (Scandia), Lily and South Twin (Stillwater), and Plaisted (Hugo). Statewide, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency de-listed a total of 53 lakes and streams this year due to improved water quality.
Nationally, the Homegrown National Park movement takes the idea of locally-led conservation one step further. Inspired by Doug Tallamy, a writer, conservationist, and professor of entomology at University of Delaware, the initiative recognizes the power of small, individual actions to produce large-scale, measureable change. In just one year, Americans have added 22,866 native plantings, totaling 56,966 acres, to the Homegrown National Park map. For perspective, that is more acreage than Fort Snelling, Afton, William O’Brien, Interstate (both Minnesota and Wisconsin), Wild River, St. Croix, Banning, and Moose Lake State Parks combined.
In the long-term, Homegrown National Park has set a goal to create 20 million acres of native habitat on private lands in order to regenerate biodiversity and protect critical ecosystem services such as oxygen production, flood control, pollination, and carbon storage.
If you’d like to join the movement, sign-up now for a site visit with the Washington Conservation District in the spring (www.mnwcd.org). If you’ve already completed a native planting project on your own, head to homegrownnationalpark.org and add yourself to the map.