WILDLIFE REFUGE. Carol Van Heel, left, of the Friends of the Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge, and Sally Zodrow, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, fielded questions at the Refuge display at the Mississippi (St. Cloud) Watershed open house in Monticello last week. (Photo by David Hannula.)

Small crowd, much info at Watershed event

Contributing Writer
David Hannula
While the number of attendees may have been down compared to past events, the third Mississippi (St. Cloud) Watershed open house held at the Monticello Community Center last Thursday afternoon featured a wealth of information for area residents interested in the health of lakes and streams.
Sherburne Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) Water Resources Specialist Tiffany Determan was undeterred, saying that, while last week’s program was the third and planned final event scheduled in partnership with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), the other agencies involved have expressed interest in continuing the program into the future to provide information to local residents.
Among the attendees were Sherburne County commissioners Felix Schmiesing and John Riebel, Haven Township Chairman Jeff Schlingmann and long-time area water quality activists Terry Vander Eyk and George Kydd. Schlingmann was particularly interested in water quality issues and regulation information in part because Haven Township was recently informed that its new Multiple Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) license application has been approved by the MPCA.  The new MS4 regulations will place a much higher degree of water management responsibility on the township in the future.
Riebel and Vander Eyk are both members of the Sherburne County Local Water management Plan committee, and Kydd has been active in water quality issues in Palmer Township for many years, including his time as a township supervisor.   
The Program
Attendees were greeted at the door by SWCD Dist. Mgr. Francine Larson and District Aide Frances Gerde, who directed them to the various sites around the meeting room that contained maps of the watershed and details of on-going MPCA monitoring projects.  Determan was on hand to answer questions involving the current MPCA large river monitoring strategy begun in 2013, which includes study points to examine fish contaminants, invasive water chemistry changes and marine biology.
The Mississippi (St. Cloud) watershed and the adjoining Sauk Rapids Watershed have been two of the most heavily examined in recent years, according to the MPCA maps displayed, with the on-going 10-year plan set to determine the health of aquatic life, aquatic recreation potential and aquatic consumption uses for large rivers (the Red and Mississippi in Minnesota).
The Mississippi River – St. Cloud Watershed area extends north of Gilman in Benton County, west to Rockville in Stearns County, most of Sherburne County south-east to Albertville and south-west to Watkins in Wright County.
The displays also contained maps and photos of area lakes, including the Briggs Lake Chain in Palmer Township.  Lake management issues were addressed in a large number of publications and handouts available at the event, including a 16-page book titled “A Citizen’s Guide to Lake Protection” published by the Freshwater Foundation in cooperation with the MPCA, which included specific techniques residents can apply to lake restoration and maintenance programs. Other MPCA presentations dealt with bacterial pollution in state waters, the causes of blue-green algae,  how to spot it and the dangers of exposure to humans and animals, effects and reduction of turbidity in lakes, and the effects of pharmaceutical wastes entering the water table through improper disposal of medications.
Mary Monte of the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) was on hand to answer questions on a variety of water-related issues and other conservation matters, including the “streamlined” Farm Bill passed by the Minnesota Legislature in February.  The bill contains revamped provisions such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, Agricultural Conservation Easement Program and the Regional Conservation Partnership Program.
Residents can go on-line for more information at www.nrcs.usda.gov/GetStarted, or visit the NRCS office in Elk River.
Monte also had information on backyard conservation programs, including crating wildlife habitat for pollinator species, wild flower plantings and methods of attracting butterflies, bats and bees to residential backyards.
Carol Van Heel, treasurer of the Friends of the Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Sally Zodrow were on hand with a host of knowledge on all aspects of the Refuge operations, including maps of the area, guides to native flowers and prairie vegetation, grazing in the Refuge, the process of prescribed burns in the area each spring.
Upcoming events in the Refuge include a Celebration of Nature Sat., May 10 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., with live animals, Friends plant sale and nature crafts for kids.  Butterfly and wildflower tours are scheduled throughout the summer, as well as a number of other events.  
More information is available at the Friends of Sherburne NWR website, www.exploresherburne.organd the Refuge website, www.fws.gov/midwest/sherburne.


BIG LAKE BULL RIDER Mike Wolbeck poses for a picture with his daughter, Paisley, and fiancee, Amanda Langerud.

Lily Noble helps the 4x200 relay team to first place

LIFE IN OLD TIME BIG LAKE was a very different proposition then it is today, middle school students from April Bischoff and Ann Segner’s classes discovered when they had some guest speakers come to class Wednesday. Sharing their history were long-time residents Darlene Lanz and Dee and Norm Leslie. That’s me on the right. (Photo by April Bischoff).

BIG LAKE Finance Director Deb Wegeleben was serving as an interim but was awarded the position permanently because she did the job so well.