anniversary-headGreat River Greening began twenty years ago with a massive volunteer planting project on the Saint Paul river front. We have since grown to be Minnesota’s leading environmental nonprofit that mobilizes communities and volunteers to restore land and water throughout the state. We build partnerships with landowners, communities and businesses, and engage thousands of individuals each year through our volunteer events and youth education programs.

Together, we have restored 12,000 acres at 300 sites,
planted more than 100,000 trees and shrubs, and mobilized 34,000 volunteers.

Twenty years in the field has shown us that communities are eager to get their hands dirty and work towards a common vision for a healthier environment. The outpouring of support from volunteers, partners and donors has allowed Great River Greening to grow in geography, scale, and complexity. And we are poised to expand our reach.

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The first ten years

Great River Greening’s community roots date back to 1995, with a five-year volunteer effort funded by the Saint Paul Foundation, titled “Greening the Great River Park.” The goal was to restore ecological function to the Mississppi river valley near the city’s downtown area, create attractive green space on the river, and involve citizens in planting efforts. By 1999, the need for expanded restoration efforts in the Twin Cities had become clear and Great River Greening was established as a nonprofit with a mission to help communities restore, manage, and learn about their natural environment through volunteer involvement. As a non-advocacy group, we were unique from the start. For the first several years, Great River Greening worked in the Twin Cities metropolitan area, raising awareness of the three big rivers flowing through the cities, forging a variety of partnerships in conservation and creating and implementing some of the first restoration management plans for the blufflands. The metro area continues to be a focus, where we have restored more than 6,000 acres that span from the metro urban core to its rural perimeter, including portions of 16 counties. We also collaborate with other natural resource experts to utilize some of these sites as scientific laboratories.

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2006 to present

By 2006, Great River Greening’s expertise in community engagement had matured to a level that afforded changing the mission from a service-based focus to one of leading and inspiring community-based restoration of natural areas and open spaces. Our attention then broadened to include rural Minnesota We also expanded our community engagement to include a youth program for at-risk kids, bringing them to outdoor classrooms to do hands-on restoration work, learn state-of-art techniques and about jobs in the environmental field having – to date, 1000 teens have joined us in these classrooms. In east-central Minnesota, Great River Greening assembled the Anoka Sandplain Partnership, which harnesses the expertise of 20 conservation stakeholders to elevate natural resource protection and restoration in the region. To date over 4,200 acres of critical wildlife habitat has been restored on 11 sites in the Anoka Sandplain, which includes 3,000 acres in Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge, one of the country’s largest oak savanna restorations sites, and home to red-headed woodpeckers, wild turkeys, bluebirds, sandhill cranes, and a host of others. In Central Minnesota, we opened an office in St. Peter, in partnership with the Nicollet County Soil & Water Conservation District, to revive the Seven Mile Creek Watershed Partnership, now a broad coalition of 20+ member organizations representing conservation, agriculture, community, and recreation interests, working together to address water quality concerns in the watershed. On the Rum River, we worked with landowners to restore 1400 feet of riverbank and began wild rice restoration, a novel component of wetland restoration.

Our expansion within the Twin Cities and beyond has only been possible because or our supporters and volunteers. We now celebrate 34,000 volunteers who have helped restore hundreds of natural areas.