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Healing waters: Land trust gains grants

Apple River water quality will get a boost as local organizations develop plan to reduce phosphorus and erosion along the waterway.

"The river is really a connection physically on the landscape. It can also be a way to connect people together."

That was Cheryl Clemens of Harmony Environmental talking about the Apple River, which is the focus of two River Protection Grants, received by the Star Prairie Land Preservation Trust this past summer.

The funds will help the trust conduct educational efforts to help river property owners "see how they fit in with the natural community of the river and with their neighbors," she said.

In 2011, the St. Croix River Association secured a River Planning Grant from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources in an effort to address algae blooms in Lake St. Croix immediately downstream from where the Apple River joins the St. Croix River.

The Apple had been identified as a "high loader" of nutrients, and more specifically phosphorous, to the St. Croix. In March of 2011, the association convened a consortium of diverse organizations all with a stake in the Apple River; in a collaborative planning project whose goal was "the long-term protection and improvement of the Lower Apple River through partnership-based management."

The project would emphasize three areas of concern: habitat protection, water quality and recreational impacts on the river. Clemens was hired to facilitate a series of four partner meetings designed to create goals, objectives and action strategies culminating in the Lower Apple River Action Plan which was introduced to the public at an open house held in September of 2011 at Somerset High School.

The plan had four goals:

• Understand the sources of algae blooms in the St. Croix River near the outlet of the Apple River.

• Reduce watershed loading of phosphorus to the Lower Apple River by 26 percent.

• Improve in-stream and shoreline habitat for fish and other wildlife in and along the Lower Apple River.

• Preserve, enhance and provide opportunities to appreciate the natural scenic beauty along the Lower Apple River.

The original planning grant secured by the St. Croix River Association only paid for the planning process, so implementation of the action plan relied on partner organizations signing a commitment pledge, which identified the specific strategies in which the partners planned to participate. According to the plan, "Locating the financial and human resources to complete initial priorities would be a critical next step."

The Star Prairie Land Preservation Trust (SPLPT) was one of the partner organizations that contributed to the development of the Lower Apple River Action Plan and signed a pledge. In the spring of 2012, Clemens approached the SPLPT board and pitched them two grant proposals.

River Protection grants directly fund river improvement projects but also fund organizations that work on rivers. Clemens saw this as an opportunity to accomplish both the pledge the trust had committed to as well as strengthen the capacity of the trust to fulfill its own mission, "To preserve environmentally sensitive land and to promote rural character while protecting water quality and wildlife habitat for future generations."

The board commissioned Harmony Environmental to develop two River Protection grant proposals in May of 2012. Both proposals were successful securing -- $10,000 each for the trust to work with between now and Dec. 31, 2014.

For the purposes of these grants the trust identified the portion of the Apple River in St. Croix County running from the Village of Star Prairie to just west of Somerset.

"It's a beautiful river," Clemens said. "You don't find a whole lot of development immediately adjacent to the river in much of this stretch and it's mostly privately owned. That makes these owners critical to maintaining the quality of the river."

Overall the grants provide for hands-on tasks, including developing a habitat inventory and a four-part lecture series focusing on river protection. The grants also enable the trust to act on its own strategic plan by creating an outreach plan designed to educate shoreline property owners and encourage protection of the river shoreline with conservation easements, a service central to the trust's mission.

So far the trust has conducted several river surveys with the help of volunteers from Star Prairie Fish & Game aimed mostly at recording invasive species and evidence of erosion indicating possible nutrient loading into the river. The St. Croix County Department of Land and Water Conservation will compile the data gathered from the surveys into a habitat inventory.

Ultimately that information can be used to educate property owners up and down the river about erosion control and infiltration practices. The information can also set the stage for funding of restoration projects.

If enough momentum can be created among owners and other concerned citizens and organizations, county ordinances due for review and approval by 2014, can be strengthened through their input during the review process.

As a non-profit, Star Prairie Land Preservation Trust holds conservation easements and land titles. Conservation easements are deed restrictions that voluntarily limit land development.

According to Clemens, one of the grants will be used to develop a Lower Apple River Land Protection Strategy. This will start with, "a survey of property owners to assess interest and develop conservation priorities along the river...An outreach plan will then be developed to encourage protection of the river shoreline with conservation easements."

That plan will include a SPLPT presentation designed to introduce trust and its work to individuals and other community groups, as well as updates to the SPLPT website and brochure reinforcing the same information and services.

In the end, it all comes back to the future of the river. The trust takes its responsibility to manage its properties on behalf of future generation very seriously.

"In perpetuity means in perpetuity," Clemens said. "That's a big responsibility and we need to make sure we have systems in place to carry out that responsibility."

The complete Lower Apple River Action Plan is available at: For more information about the Star Prairie Land Preservation Trust, go to: