There were funny stories and serious stories, tales about childhood days spent island-hopping, and passionate pleas for the future. “During tonight’s workshop,” I said, “you’ll be learning a lot about standards, policies, rules and processes. It’s easy to get bogged down in the details. So, we’ve created centerpieces at the tables with St. Croix River stories to help remind you about why we all work so hard to protect the St. Croix.”
The stories were collected by artist Susan Armington at various events in the St. Croix Valley and represent a cross-section of people who live, work, and play in communities near the river. Susan first connected with the St. Croix as an Artist in Residence for the St. Croix Watershed Research Station in 2013. She has a talent for helping people to express themselves through stories and her art makes frequent use of text in various languages as a material for constructing two and three-dimensional images. When I met with her three weeks ago, she passed me an over-flowing folder full of hand-written notes, saying, “I want these stories to be used for good, to protect the St. Croix River.”
Most people who live near the St. Croix understand that the river is an incredible scenic, recreational, and economic amenity. For city council members, county commissioners, and planning commission members, however, it is not always obvious what types of policies and ordinances will best help to protect the river and other water resources. That’s why the East Metro Water Resource Education Program has partnered with Minnesota and Wisconsin DNRs, Minnesota Extension, St. Croix River Association, and National Park Service for the past seven years to hold an annual workshop on the St. Croix River for local elected and appointed officials. At this year’s workshop, held on Sept. 14 aboard the Grand Duchess, 80 local leaders gathered to learn about riverway regulations and stormwater policies and how they can help to protect the scenic values of the river, prevent runoff pollution from degrading the water, and protect habitat for birds, wildlife, and pollinators. The group represented cities and counties in both Minnesota and Wisconsin. For some, learning about stormwater policies and erosion control ordinances was new territory; others have been at every workshop since 2009 and can now talk about phosphorus, infiltration and visual screening like old pros.
Despite the somewhat technical nature of the workshop, the presenters tried to bring things back to the common values that we all share. We love the river. We want clean water. We want vibrant communities. The St. Croix stories sprinkled throughout the room were a visual reminder of those special moments that we’ve all experienced on the water – the quiet times spent communing with nature, as well as the silly moments we’ve shared with friends and family. “The St. Croix River has changed dramatically over the years,” I said. “What do you think it will look like 40 years from now?”