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Pilot program begins to impact St. Croix River watershed

Pictured are (from left) Scott Peterson, Patty Mueller, Robin Murray, Karen Marchese, Margaret Smith, Linda Stolte, Jill Jordahl and Phil Peterson Sr., who are all involved in the St. Croix Master Watershed Stewards program. (Photo by Tom Lindfors)

Back in March, the New Richmond News reported on the creation of a new innovative two-year pilot program called the St. Croix Master Watershed Stewards (SCMWS) project funded by a matching grant from the EPA Office of Education. The amount to be used to hire and pay for staff to develop and institute a comprehensive watershed stewardship curriculum including capstone service-learning projects was $260,000.

The goal of the project was to certify an army of 36 master watershed stewards dedicated to dramatically increasing the environmental stewardship ethic and activities in the St. Croix River watershed.

The program graduated its first cohort of Minnesota stewards earlier this year and a second of Wisconsin stewards in mid-October.

The News caught up with six of the Wisconsin stewards at the presentation of their capstone projects at YMCA Camp St. Croix on an overcast October afternoon.

Stewards complete 70 hours of experiential learning culminating in a capstone project of their choice. In addition to the expeditionary learning, stewards were required to complete 12 hours of distance learning online. Each steward is required to collaborate with a host site on a co-designed capstone project. The SCMWS will provide a matching grant of up to $1,500 for use in completing each capstone project.

Here are just three of the many capstone projects being undertaken by the newly-minted army of stewards of the St. Croix River Watershed.

Phil Peterson Sr.

— Steward Phil Peterson Sr. plans to author a book, “Mystery River,” designed to encourage third, fourth and fifth grade readers to, “Discover the real values of water and recognize vulnerabilities of water. Students will also learn that they can invent solutions in their own minds and decide what to do and what not to do about certain things they encounter.”

Peterson hopes his book will come across more as an adventure than a textbook even though the goal is to get it into the hands of as many elementary teachers and students as possible with the help of partners like the St. Croix Falls Public Library. Peterson’s project also calls for collaboration with a team of UWRF staff and students to turn the book into a play incorporating elementary students as actors. The book should be completed by January and Peterson plans to debut the play next fall at the Festival Theater in St. Croix Falls.

Linda Stolte

— Steward Linda Stolte will be designing an interactive project modeled after the Mississippi River National Park’s “Big River Journey” program. Her scaled down version of the program will employ Camp St. Croix’s two pontoon boats as floating laboratories to take fifth and sixth grade students, teachers and parents on a two-hour exploration of the St. Croix River watershed. Students will utilize personal bins filled with tools, including binoculars, Seki disc, turbidity tubes, books to help identify invasive species, and a working enviroscape model of the St. Croix River watershed. Students will test water samples and record their results, identify birds and aquatic species in an effort to create citizen scientists armed with knowledge they can take home and use to continue exploring their own lakes and rivers. Stolte will be writing the curriculum and training the initial cohort of Camp St. Croix staff. The pilot program is scheduled to take place during four weeks in May 2017 and continue during four weeks in September. The project has the potential to reach 2,500 students next year.

Margaret Smith

— Steward Margaret Smith’s capstone project tackles the poisoning of waterfowl, in particular trumpeter swans, loons and eagles, from ingestion of lead in the form of fishing sinkers. Smith reports that an estimated 1.6 - 2.4 million waterfowl die from lead poisoning waterflow each year in Wisconsin. Smith plans to raise awareness of the problem and suggest solutions through a campaign aimed at children and their parents initiated at Crex Meadows State Wildlife Area, home of the historic trumpeter swan recovery program. A display incorporating custom graphics will describe the effects of lead poisoning, suggest alternatives to lead sinkers and where to find them and direct folks to an online pledge. The pledge will be used as a way to connect and empower concerned citizens emotionally and intellectually to the issue. Smith intends to build out the campaign offering coupons to help fishermen purchase non-lead sinkers, an exchange program involving lead tackle for non-lead tackle, bumper stickers, and social media to promote photos of big fish caught using non-lead tackle and signage at boat launches encouraging the use of non-lead tackle.

Training begins in December

A final bistate cohort of nine stewards each from Minnesota and Wisconsin begin their training together this December, bringing the total number of stewards trained during the pilot program to 36.

Training in watershed ecology, civic organizing, leadership and learning how to incorporate the arts to create successful projects are the trademark lessons each steward learns during his or her stewardship experience.

Project literature points out, “Adopters of this pilot project embraced the opportunity to increase the capacity in the St. Croix River watershed for completing work, developing new programs, and supporting existing programs that are understaffed. With well-trained Master Watershed Stewards available in the region to provide leadership and assistance, the St. Croix River and all the sub-watersheds will be better understood and protected for future generations.”

For more information, call Patty Mueller, project manager, at 651-895-4351 or by email to