St. Peter Herald Volunteers at Seven Mile Creek preserve banks of creek

Jun 16, 2018

Houston and Hayley Matanowski waded through knee- to hip-high grasses, identifying, cutting and removing thistles and woody plants.

The couple were two of about 40 volunteers who cleaned up the banks of Seven Mile Creek on Saturday morning. They volunteered through the Seven Mile Creek Watershed Partnership, a coalition of some 25 groups representing agriculture, conservation, community, business and government groups.

The couple drove down from Forest Lake for the event at Seven Mile Creek Park and to camp at Minneopa State Park, Mankato.

Houston, a forestry student at the University of Minnesota, routinely volunteers for restoration projects, both through partnership nonprofit Great River Greening and the state Department of Natural Resources. He enjoys working with the nonprofit, because their events draw a good number of volunteers, which means a lot of work can get accomplished.

“More volunteers is very helpful,” he said.

He and Hayley were prepared for poor weather on Saturday morning, wearing rain jackets.

“They’ve had to shift gears a little bit and maybe they’re flying by the seat of their pants a bit,” he said.

The 40 volunteers and staff were huddled in a shelter at the park, waiting out thunder and lightning. But that time wasn’t wasted. The volunteers made seed bombs, native plant seeds wrapped in clay and potting soil. These bombs are more successful than simply sowing seeds on flat ground.

The volunteers will use them at home or the partnership will save them for a future metro project.

“They’ll stay good for a while with some moisture in a cool place,” said Susan Carlin, program director. She works for the Nicollet County Soil and Water Conservation District and the nonprofit Great River Greening on Seven Mile Creek watershed programming.

The plan for months had been to cut willow stakes from along the banks of the Minnesota River and plant them the banks of the creek.

But with recent heavy rains, the mouth of the creek is flooded.

Instead, the teams of volunteers cut out weeds and woody plants from the banks of the creek.

“Grasses are beneficial for holding soils in place,” she said. “Small trees aren’t bad, too, but they will shade out the grasses and you’ll end up with bare dirt.”

Bare dirt ends up washing into creeks and rivers, muddying the waters.

Carlin was impressed with the turnout. Registration predicted 25 people, but 40 turned up.

“That shows these hardy outstate Minnesotans are willing to work in all conditions,” she said.

The partnership has a farm tour coming on July 13 which will involve local farm visits for those who don’t have connections to agricultural production. It’s a product of a partnership with Gustavus Adolphus College. And Carlin is planning another volunteer event for the fall on the bluff part of the county park.

Kennedy Keller, Mankato, came to Saturday’s event as field experience for a parks, recreation and leisure class at Minnesota State University, Mankato.

“It seemed like a good activity,” she said.