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 8th, 2023.
Carol Nelson, White Bear Lake Rotary Club
Photo: Jim Lindner, VLAWMO Board of Directors Chair (left), Carol Nelson (center), and Phil Belfiori, VLAWMO administrator (right) pictured at the Rotary Nature Preserve at Birch Lake
In 2021, the City of White Bear Lake initiated a habitat restoration effort at the Birch Lake Rotary Nature Preserve on White Bear Parkway. This project has been supported in part by VLAWMO’s Landscape grant program and by the Rotary Club of White Bear Lake. The club has held multiple planting events to kick off the native prairie area near the Preserve’s entrance.
In 2022, Rotarian Carol Nelson and the club completed a grant with the Greater White Bear Lake Community Foundation to support the community engagement portion of the project. Part of this grant included an effort to use the restoration and the Preserve as a learning opportunity for local elementary students. In late 2022, Carol sprang to work connecting with the nearby Birch Lake Elementary, assembling planning meetings, and asking key questions on what teachers needed in their curriculum. These meetings shaped the lessons and vocabulary connecting the restoration, the wetland, native plants and wildlife, and water resources to the science curriculum.
In May of 2023, a multi-day program was kicked-off with in-classroom visits that culminated in a field day at the Preserve. Carol served as a liaison for the Rotary between Birch Lake Elementary, VLAWMO, and the City of White Bear Lake. Transitioning from planning the program to participating in it, Carol led groups of students on nature hikes, served as the “Drippy” water drop mascot greeting students, and recruited additional Rotary volunteers. Other components of the field day included a macroinvertebrates “water bugs” outdoor lab as well as a hands-on planting exercise. The program was well-received and opened up new avenues for teachers to bring classes to the Preserve.
Following the field days, Carol’s investment continued into the summer of 2023. She helped the prairie restoration get established by maintaining a consistent watering schedule during the drought and working with a team of Rotary members to conduct weeding. But perhaps the most serendipitous result was the return of elementary students with their families outside of school. Carol was able to witness students sharing the excitement of the field day with their families, delighting in the park habitat, and feeling connected to a place. Without her substantial dedication of planning and being present in the process, these precious moments may not have been possible.
Quote from VLAWMO Technical Commission nomination:
“Carol has been a true anchor in the Birch Lake Rotary Nature Preserve restoration effort. From attending planning meetings to field days and even hopping into the big blue water drop costume, her efforts have developed and deepened the community’s connection to the Preserve. It’s been inspiring to witness the confluence of Rotary volunteers, Birch Lake Elementary students and staff, City of WBL, and VLAWMO partnerships thanks to Carol’s networking.”
Kristie Elfering, North Oaks Homeowners’ Association and Elfering & Associates
Photo: Jim Lindner, VLAWMO Board of Directors Chair (left), Kristie Elfering (center), and Phil Belfiori, VLAWMO Administrator (right) pictured at the Charley/Pleasant Lake channel.
Kristie Elfering has been a valuable partner who has sparked greater collaboration between VLAWMO and the North Oaks community. As the contracted engineer for the North Oaks Home Owners’ Association (NOHOA), Kristie integrated water resources into her busy work schedule for a variety of efforts, including leading the application of multiple VLAWMO grants to help fund stormwater and water quality improvement projects in North Oaks. She’s played an active role in facilitating projects such as Pleasant Lake shoreline restorations and supporting staff with Wetland Conservation Act (WCA) and erosion control efforts.
In 2023, Kristie oversaw the construction of a large raingarden at the North Oaks neighborhood entrance off of Highway 96. NOHOA was completing a street improvement project and Kristie saw an opportunity to connect the dots between VLAWMO’s grant program and NOHOA’s environmental and stewardship goals. In August of 2022, Kristie co-lead a webinar with NOHOA and VLAWMO staff to introduce the project to the community, which generated project interest and support. The existing entrance area was experiencing erosion on the roadside and side slopes between the road and adjacent wetlands due to the high volume and speed of stormwater that flowed through the area during rain events. The raingarden now provides valuable storage and filtration for Sucker Lake, which is the waterbody that the area drains to. Water from Sucker Lake then makes it to East Vadnais Lake, which is the final reservoir for the Saint Paul Regional Water Services (SPRWS). VLAWMO is excited to have a stormwater feature in such a key area both for its high visibility and its important surface water connection.
Kristie’s water resources initiatives noted in the award nomination were:
Quote from Technical Commission nomination:
“Kristie’s work is in high demand at the City of North Oaks, and it’s inspiring to see how she connects the dots between disciplines from engineering to operations to water resources.”
Thank you to this year’s award winners and all the other leadership efforts that were nominated this year! VLAWMO is grateful for this team effort and we’re excited to continue building and collaborating in 2024.
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. Next year's nominations are due November 1st, 2024.