VLAWMO is pleased to announce the winners of its annual award program, which consists of the Watershed Steward Award and the Watershed Partner Award. Each award is an effort to celebrate success stories and partnerships in water education, management, and planning. Award nominations were provided anonymously and were voted on by the VLAWMO Technical Commission (TEC) on November 9th, 2022.
Megan Sigmon-Olsen, VLAWMO Cost-share program participant
Photo: Jim Lindner, VLAWMO Board of Directors Chair (left) and Megan Sigmon-Olsen (right) pictured at the Rotary Nature Preserve at Birch Lake
Megan began her watershed journey in 2017 when she planted a pocket prairie garden, which she learned about from the website mypocketprairie.com. This provided a way to transform her yard to be more beneficial to insects, animals, and soil.
Her love for native plants moved her to do more in 2019 with the creation of a downspout raingarden and a wetland buffer. Megan’s home rests on the edge of Rice Lake in White Bear Township, which is one of the wetlands that Lambert Creek travels through as it goes from Goose Lake and Whitaker Pond to East Vadnais Lake.
In 2021 she added a larger curb-cut raingarden with the support of VLAWMO’s cost-share program. Unlike the downspout raingarden, the curb-cut raingarden takes water from the street and infiltrates it into the ground. This reduces the amount of water, debris, and sediment that go into the stormdrain, recharges groundwater, and creates a more balanced watershed by adding valuable upstream storage. In addition to watershed benefits, the native plants used in each project combine together to create four regions of pollinator habitat.
Megan and her family have hosted their neighborhood’s “Night to Unite.” This provided opportunities for neighbors to see Megan’s raingardens and wetland buffer up close and chat about their benefits to pollinators and the watershed. It’s estimated that Megan has spent about 50 hours planning, planting, and maintaining the curb-cut raingarden since 2021, and has interacted with over 100 people for conversations and education about the raingarden.
VLAWMO is proud to recognize Megan’s efforts that benefit groundwater, Lambert Creek, and her downstream neighbors.
Quote from VLAWMO Technical Commission nomination:
“Megan and her family have created a very professional demonstration for water solutions that are needed in the watershed. Her passion is inviting as she welcomes folks to learn and talk about these new concepts in yard care. She takes good care of each project and has blended them in nicely with the existing landscape.”
Principal Sara Svir on behalf of Vadnais Heights Elementary
Photo: Jim Lindner, VLAWMO Board of Directors Chair (left), Sara Svir (center), and Phil Belfiori, VLAWMO Administrator (right) pictured at Vadnais Heights Elementary
Sara and the Vadnais Heights Elementary staff have been promoting and utilizing the “Bear’s Backyard” for over a decade. Embracing the unique features of Vadnais Heights Elementary, the Bear’s Backyard includes a forest and wetland trail on the school grounds, in addition to a raingarden. The raingarden was installed in 2013 with support from VLAWMO’s Community Blue grant program.
Sara has helped to integrate the raingarden into the mission of the Bear’s Backyard, allowing students to interact with the natural space and blend it into the school’s curriculum for math, science, and even artistic activities. 4th and 5th grade have specialized in the raingarden the most by educating students on plants, pollinators, erosion, soil, and water connections, in addition to all the personal life lessons that come with taking care of a garden.
On several occasions Sara and staff have utilized the Community Blue grant program to purchase new plants for the raingarden, allowing students the opportunity to plant the plants and develop connections to their schoolyard and its connection to East Vadnais Lake. Sara and the staff have also been champions for raingarden maintenance, helping to keep it active by coordinating partnerships between parent volunteers, volunteers from Christ the Servant Lutheran Church across the street, and the school district grounds staff. It’s estimated that staff have collectively dedicated 10-15 hours/year to the Bear’s Backyard from 2013-2022.
VLAWMO is tremendously thankful for Sara and all of the staff’s effort and is proud to acknowledge that the Vadnais Heights Elementary raingarden is one of the longest running and most successful raingardens in the VLAWMO watershed.
Quote from VLAWMO Technical Commission nomination:
“The staff efforts have helped hundreds of students be familiar with raingardens and their benefits for downstream lakes. The raingarden has become a familiar experience for students as they grow and graduate from the school. The raingarden is near the school playground and basketball court, creating a unique blend of play space and green infrastructure.”
Thank you to this year’s award winners and all the other leadership efforts that were nominated this year! Nominations include Molly Churchich of Ramsey County and Stefan Bruvelis, VLAWMO volunteer. VLAWMO is grateful for this team effort and we’re excited to continue building and collaborating in 2023.
For more award stories, visit the Watershed Awards page.
Have you seen watershed leadership in action? Nomination forms and award criteria are available at the website above and are accepted year-round.