Master Gardeners are helping to protect and restore many bodies of waters by assisting with the planting of shoreland buffers and rain gardens.

A shoreland buffer is a simple and direct method of protecting a lake by preserving or restoring a buffer of native vegetation along the shoreline. These buffers slow down and infiltrate the runoff that otherwise might be going straight into the lake.

A rain garden is a shallow depression on the landscape where planted native plants will promote the infiltration of runoff coming from other areas of the landscape. Contrary to shoreland buffers along lakeshores, rain gardens can be planted at properties all throughout the county.

• Rain Gardens near Little Buffalo Creek in Brainerd
In the fall of 2014 a total of 17 rain gardens were installed on private properties.  These rain gardens will reduce the pollution of Little Buffalo Creek and the Mississippi River by filtering polluted runoff. Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) funded the project with $130,000 from the Clean Water Legacy Amendment. Is anticipated that these rain gardens will divert at least 15,000 gallons of stormwater for each, one-inch of rain.

Crow Wing County Extension and Master Gardeners were asked by SWCD to collaborate with the Buffalo Creek Stormwater Reduction Mentoring Project, a 2-year project partnering landowners with Master Gardener, who will provide guidance during the first two growing seasons. Master Gardeners provide information to landowners about native plants, recommended planting practices, and proper maintenance of rain gardens.

• Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) Rapid Response Community Preparedness Project
In 2012 and 2013, a group of area residents, including several Master Gardeners, assisted with the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) Rapid Response Community Preparedness Project.  The project, a collaboration between UMN Department of Forest Resources, UMN Extension and MN Department of Agriculture, was designed to help communities in greater Minnesota prepare for the arrival of the emerald ash borer, which affects the health of ash trees (genus Fraxinus) throughout Minnesota. 

The emerald ash borer is an invasive Asian beetle that attacks ash trees native to North America.  In Minnesota, the adult beetle flies during the months of May through August and feeds on leaves of the ash.  While this does little harm to the trees, it is the larvae of the emerald ash borer that is most damaging.  The larvae eventually kill the ash by eating the tree’s thin layer of living tissue called the cambium.  It is important to remember that emerald ash borer only affects native ash trees that are in the genus Fraxinus or true ash.  In Minnesota the list of susceptible trees includes Black Ash (Fraxinus nigra), White Ash (Fraxinus americana), Green Ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica) and Blue Ash (Fraxinus quadrangulata).

This state project included cooperative efforts in fourteen “model” communities in Greater Minnesota. These communities represent fourteen different population categories and five eco-regions (southeast, southwest, northwest, north central and northeast).  With the assistance of volunteers, inventories of private and public tree populations were completed, and a cost/benefit analysis of reforestation techniques was generated for each of the communities listed.  At the conclusion of the project, a model of impact projections was developed based on these analyses.  Those fourteen communities are:  Bemidji, Brainerd, Crookston, Ely, Hendricks, Hibbing, Hutchinson, Mankato, Mora, Morris, Rochester, Royalton, Saint Cloud and Starbuck.   In Brainerd, a total of 2,352 urban trees on 42 city blocks were surveyed during the two-year project. 

Crow Wing County Backyard Compost Program
Master Gardeners assisted with the sale of more than 500 reduced-cost, home compost bins in 2011 and 2012. That will keep a lot of solid waste out of the county landfill. Distributing compost bins is just one aspect of the “Crow Wing County Backyard Composting Program,” an effort funded by a 2-year MPCA waste reduction grant. Master Gardeners are assisting with the conduction the program in collaboration with University of Minnesota Extension – Crow Wing County, Northland Arboretum, and Crow Wing Soil and Water Conservation District. Education on home composting was delivered through a series of workshops and information booths. 

Rain Garden and Serpent Lake Shoreland Restoration Project in Crosby
In the summer of 2009, the City of Crosby, in cooperation with Crow Wing SWCD, the Serpent Lake Association, MN DNR and several Master Gardeners installed two rain gardens and a shoreline buffer to treat stormwater runoff from city streets and to protect Serpent Lake from increased sediment and nutrients. There were two rain gardens created, each approximately 1940 sq. ft. in size that will treat the stormwater runoff from the streets adjacent to City Hall. Pavement along the lakeshore was removed to provide a native plant buffer that will also filter any runoff that would run off houses and streets. The total shoreline restored is approximately 9,000 sq. ft. and runs along the lakeshore behind City Hall down to the Beach. Approximately 5,000 plugs of native plants and some seed were used to plant the rain gardens and shoreline buffer zone.

Shoreland Buffer at Elks Camp on Pelican Lake
Pelican Lake Property Owners Association (PLPOA) and the Minnesota Elks partnered to restore the border shoreline of the Minnesota Elks Camp – 150 feet on each side – to a depth of 30 feet. The restoration will compliment the existing natural landscape of the camp and serve as a very important demonstration site on the lake.

Pelican Lake is a premier vacation lake in the Brainerd Lakes area.  The sugar sand beaches are a wonderful asset to the lake as well as a recreational attraction. Unfortunately, many of the lake residents till or otherwise maintain a sandy shoreline up to manicured lawn. The lake association has actively promoted shoreline restoration with limited success to the homeowners on the lake. The Elks Camp site will provide a very visible example of a quality shoreline restoration project and demonstrate how native plants can create a nice buffer around a sandy beach area.

Rain Gardens by Judicial Center in Brainerd
The University of Minnesota Extension in collaboration with Crow Wing County, Crow Wing Soil and Water Conservation District, the Initiative Foundation and area Master Gardeners, installed three rain gardens near the newly constructed Crow Wing County Judicial Center in Brainerd. While the initial discussions and preparations for this project started back in 2006, the rain gardens were planted May of 2007.

The three rain gardens, which combined take up more than 2,000 square feet, were planted with about 1,500 native grasses, perennials, shrubs and trees.

UPDATE:  Due to the inability to maintain these rain gardens, Crow Wing County removed these three rain gardens and replaced them with turfgrass in the fall of 2015.

Rain Garden at the Northland Arboretum in Brainerd

A demonstration rain garden was installed in conjunction with a Rain Garden Workshop in June of 2007 at the Northland Arboretum, Brainerd. Students from a local work readiness program, Master Gardeners and citizens worked with staff and volunteers from the Northland Arboretum and University of Minnesota Extension (Regional Center and Crow Wing County), in planning, design and implementation of the rain garden.

The rain garden was constructed west of the arboretum office and classroom building. The eastern edge of the rain garden allows for stormwater drainage from the parking lot for this building. A natural hillside boarders the western side of the rain garden and a berm was added to the south. 

Rain Garden at Fairview Office Park in Baxter 
What might be the biggest rain garden in central Minnesota was planted in Baxter in May of 2008. The 8,500 sq. ft. rain garden was designed by Westwood Professional Services, Inc. to handle the stormwater runoff from a 4.5 acre, low impact development site – Fairview Office Park.

The rain garden was the practical portion of a “Rain Garden Workshop” presented by Eleanor Burkett, University of Minnesota Extension Educator, and sponsored by the Northland Arboretum in Brainerd. In addition to workshop participants, Crow Wing County Master Gardeners, as well as site developers also assisted with this hands-on portion of the project.

Crow Wing County Yard Waste Compost Site in Brainerd 
Establishing a county compost site was the initiative of two Master Gardeners. In the summer of 2007, a long process started…. meetings with county officials, presenting the concept to county commissioners, finding a suitable location and securing funds for the project.

The grand opening of our County-wide compost facility was held on October 14th, 2008. The compost site was made possible by a grant from Crow Wing County and with the cooperation of CWC Master Gardeners and the Cities of Brainerd and Baxter. The site is for only grass clippings and leaves. This will be a quality service for our communities, and is just one way we are improving our environment.