Last Friday, I gratefully accepted the Watershed Steward Award from Wild Rivers Conservancy of the St. Croix and Namekagon at the “Open Water” event in Lake Elmo, Minnesota. Thank you to fellow awardee Dan Willius for nominating St. Croix 360, and to many other people and organizations. Congratulations to Dan, Peter Gove, and the late Bill Clapp for their Nelson-Mondale Legacy Award. And congratulations to River Grove and Luck Elementary Schools for their award-winning work to teach kids about the river.
I only had a moment to say thank you at the event, and singled out my wife, Kate Seitz, for helping make St. Croix 360 possible. For a bit more of my thoughts about the river, St. Croix 360, and the award, I’ve included below an interview conducted by Nealy Corcoran of the Country Messenger. A slightly different version was used in her article about the award, also including comments from Deb Ryun of Wild Rivers Conservancy. It is republished here with permission.
After the interview, there are remarks prepared by Peter Gove, one of three recipients of the Nelson-Mondale Legacy Award. Peter has been a long-time supporter of St. Croix 360, in addition to his many accomplishments as an environmental advocate.
Thank you to everyone who makes St. Croix 360 possible, it is truly a community effort and I can’t do it alone.
Country Messenger interview:
Country Messenger: How does it feel to be honored with this award?
Greg Seitz: I’m really honored because so many accomplished people and organizations have won it in the past, and because there are so many worthy efforts underway to protect the river. I love doing what I do, and recognition from people I respect is really meaningful.
CM: Can you briefly describe your partnership with Wild Rivers Conservancy?
GS: Wild Rivers Conservancy is an important partner today and was instrumental in the first several years of St. Croix 360. They financially supported me until 2019, at which point St. Croix 360 became totally independent and funded solely by readers. I still rely on Wild Rivers Conservancy in many other ways. I think our missions are very complementary, as they do so much of the advocacy and stewardship that I seek to inform and inspire. I also have important relationships with ArtReach St. Croix, the North Woods and Waters of the St. Croix Heritage Area, the St. Croix Watershed Research Station, and many others.
CM: What inspired/inspires you to write stories that focus on environmental stewardship and cultural connectivity?
GS: Basically, I fell in love with the St. Croix River at a young age, and I came to believe deeply in knowing and understanding my home territory. That made me very curious about the river, and the more I learned about it, the more I wanted to know. I also have been passionate about writing since I was a child, and I think my best work comes from writing about what I know best. Lastly, many people love learning about the river and care about protecting it, but staying up to date on all the complex issues today can be difficult. That’s an area where I can help, and that’s what I’ve tried to do.
CM: Given your lifelong connection to the river and your professional experience, what are some of the biggest environmental threats to the St. Croix Watershed?
GS: Unfortunately, it’s a long list and getting longer. If factory farms are allowed to operate along tributaries, the incredible amounts of manure they would spread on surrounding farm fields could end up polluting the St. Croix River. Climate change and invasive species could really alter the sensitive and special ecosystem, threatening wildlife and clean water. We’ve seen the use of the river increase in recent years, with too little public land for everyone who wants to enjoy it, and that can significantly affect everything from the sense of solitude to the wildlife. It also seems like there are always new residential and commercial developments being proposed that could detract from its Wild and Scenic values. These are all manageable challenges if everyone works together and keeps the good of the river front and center.
CM: In your opinion, what makes the St. Croix Watershed special and unique?
GS: It’s not any one thing, but the combination of all the special things. Nowhere else has the unique characteristics that the St. Croix does. It’s the combination of things like rare dragonflies, mussels, fish, and birds, the geologic features, the thousands of years of human history, the beauty, wildness, and solitude, and the contemporary culture. These pieces also intersect in many ways and combine to create something I’ll probably spend my whole life trying to put into words — and I don’t expect to ever succeed.
CM: Overall, is there anything you would like to (add or) share about your experience, the Riverway, and the people and organizations working to protect it?
GS: I’m so grateful to be among the many people and organizations dedicated to the river. I truly couldn’t do what I do without everyone else — identifying threats, studying solutions, and doing the hard work of advocacy and conservation. St. Croix 360 readers provide stories and tips, read and share articles, and provide the financial contributions that make it all possible.
There is much more I want to do with St. Croix 360. I regularly run out of time to adequately cover all the important issues and stories. St. Croix 360 has grown slowly but steadily over the years, and I hope to keep increasing and improving the coverage for a long time.
Peter Gove remarks:
Thank you, Deb Ryun and NPS Riverway Supt. Craig Hansen.
I am in great company receiving this award with Dan Willius and the late Bill Clapp. Dan was our leader to create the watershed-wide St. Croix River Association now more than 15 years ago. Bill’s incredible career speaks for itself. I think of him when I hike or drive by the Standing Cedars Community Land Conservancy parcels he led the effort to protect.
I look around this room and see so many people that have made a big difference for this river and watershed the last 50 years. And I think of several that are no longer with us. I remember when Tia Nelson and Walter Mondale received the Legacy award named in their honor in May 2019 at the WRC celebration in Shafer. Mary and I drove him to that event, and we cherish that time with him.
I often think of Mr. Mondale’s admonition that it is the cumulative ‘nicks and cuts’ along the Riverway that can forever change this river landscape. Examples I see around the watershed today include:
- too many variances including so-called ‘hardship’ variances.
- easement holders ignoring rules on tree removal.
- indifference by local officials protecting scenic values and views.
- DNR inattention to migrating invasive carp.
- Disregard by CAFO proponents on how ground and surface waters interact.
- Personal financial gain for developers of riverfront campground and apartment projects.
… just to reference a few of the threats the Wild Rivers Conservancy, Park Service and citizens are fighting today along the Namekagon and St. Croix Rivers.
53 years this weekend, a man from Clear Lake, WI — 40 miles from here –who had grown up in the St. Croix watershed, was the founder of Earth Day. Governor and Senator Gaylord Nelson’s desire to preserve the St. Croix River was a principal motivation for the 1968 Wild and Scenic Rivers Act he and Senator Mondale authored that passed Congress 18 months before that first Earth Day in 1970.
As Dennis Anderson reminded us in his Star Tribune column today, titled “Guns and Greens must come together:” “Only by working together can conservationists, hunters and anglers counter the manifold threats to land, water, air, fish and wildlife.” In Minnesota, that ‘guns and greens’ collaboration led to the 2008 Clean Water Land Legacy program and this legislative session hopefully help will extend the Environmental Trust Fund. Perhaps such collaboration is possible in Wisconsin, despite the legacy of the past gubernatorial administration, to restore the Knowles-Nelson program to support non-profit led conservation projects.
Let’s remember what Congress concluded 55 years ago this coming October: “that certain selected rivers of the Nation …possess outstandingly remarkable scenic, recreational, geologic, fish and wildlife, historic, cultural or other similar values, shall be preserved in free-flowing condition, and …protected for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations.”
Important words these days particularly for local government officials in Hudson, Lakeland, Osceola, St. Croix Falls and Washburn County; for DNR regional managers; and those commercial interests seeking river access and/or views for a few, contrary to the 1968 and 1972 congressional mandates for public ‘benefit and enjoyment’ of a wild and scenic river experience.
My appreciation to Deb Ryun and the WRC board for this award. And thanks in advance to all of you here tonight — including our two granddaughters — for what you will continue to do in the years and decades ahead to protect the St. Croix River and watershed, support the Wild Rivers Conservancy and the National Park — that Walter Mondale called, “the finest of federal agencies.”