Willow Brook Outdoor Adventures Hatchery

Michele Hanson
by Michele Hanson | Apr 03, 2013
| 1 Comment

Summary:

Situated below the tall bluffs southeast of downtown St Paul, surrounded by parks and open space near the Mississippi River, the 80-acre campus of the Minnesota DNR’s central region headquarters is positioned to be a natural oasis in the heart of the big city. With an active eagle nest, turkey, deer, waterfowl, a tamarack bog, restored prairie, seeps and springs, it’s a place where urban residents can experience a touch of wildness and connect with nature.

The area also is rich in community history. It was the site of Willow Brook, the state’s first fish hatchery, from whence fish were shipped around the state for stocking. In the first decades of the 20th century, the hatchery was a weekend destination for thousands of St Paulites, many of whom took a streetcar to Mounds Park, then descended hillside trails to stroll among the ponds, canals and attractively landscaped grounds of the hatchery complex.

This project aims to re-establish the site as a destination, where urban children and families will learn about nature and have a chance to develop outdoor skills related to fishing, camping, archery, etc. A place where, not fish, but outdoors adventures and an abiding appreciation for our natural world are hatched.

Over the past two years, DNR has started working with St Paul Parks and Recreation, the National Park Service and others on programming that has drawn hundreds of people who enjoyed seeing live native animals, shooting a bow and arrow, scaling a climbing wall, catching trout, bicycling. We have reached out to other stakeholders and the community to begin laying a foundation of support and partnership.

The Willow Brook Outdoor Adventure Hatchery will build on that momentum to create a permanent center for nature-based education and skills building, a green Eastside hub that will link the nearby Vento Nature Sanctuary, Indian Mounds, Battle Cr and Pigseye Parks, creating an anchor at the southeast end of St Paul’s Great River Passage.

About You

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About You

First Name

Michele

Last Name

Hanson

City

St Paul

County

RAmsey

Country

United States, MN

Website (if you have one)

Names of others who helped contribute to my idea

Keith Parker, Harland Hiemstra

How did you hear about the Forever Saint Paul Challenge?

Mulitple media

About Your Organization (if applicable)

Organization Name (if applicable)

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources-Central Region

Organization Phone

651-259-5800

Organization Address

1200 Warner Road

City

St Paul

Organization Country

United States, MN

Your idea

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Title of your idea

Willow Brook Outdoor Adventures Hatchery

Give us the highlights of your idea for making Saint Paul great (2,000 characters maximum or approx. 250 words)

Situated below the tall bluffs southeast of downtown St Paul, surrounded by parks and open space near the Mississippi River, the 80-acre campus of the Minnesota DNR’s central region headquarters is positioned to be a natural oasis in the heart of the big city. With an active eagle nest, turkey, deer, waterfowl, a tamarack bog, restored prairie, seeps and springs, it’s a place where urban residents can experience a touch of wildness and connect with nature.
The area also is rich in community history. It was the site of Willow Brook, the state’s first fish hatchery, from whence fish were shipped around the state for stocking. In the first decades of the 20th century, the hatchery was a weekend destination for thousands of St Paulites, many of whom took a streetcar to Mounds Park, then descended hillside trails to stroll among the ponds, canals and attractively landscaped grounds of the hatchery complex.
This project aims to re-establish the site as a destination, where urban children and families will learn about nature and have a chance to develop outdoor skills related to fishing, camping, archery, etc. A place where, not fish, but outdoors adventures and an abiding appreciation for our natural world are hatched.
Over the past two years, DNR has started working with St Paul Parks and Recreation, the National Park Service and others on programming that has drawn hundreds of people who enjoyed seeing live native animals, shooting a bow and arrow, scaling a climbing wall, catching trout, bicycling. We have reached out to other stakeholders and the community to begin laying a foundation of support and partnership.
The Willow Brook Outdoor Adventure Hatchery will build on that momentum to create a permanent center for nature-based education and skills building, a green Eastside hub that will link the nearby Vento Nature Sanctuary, Indian Mounds, Battle Cr and Pigseye Parks, creating an anchor at the southeast end of St Paul’s Great River Passage.

Website address (if applicable)

Innovation

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What makes your idea different or unexpected? (4000 characters maximum or approx. 500 words)

When people think about big cities, great cities, they tend to focus on majestic buildings, cultural amenities, retail opportunities, etc. Those all are important components of urban greatness, but this project stands out because it builds on something more fundamental, something that’s an important part of St. Paul’s history and a vital part of its future: its natural heritage and the strong connection people feel to nature and the great outdoors.

Founded on the Mississippi River, St. Paul’s natural resources and scenic beauty were part of what drew settlers here, its woods, streams and lakes, its wetlands and wide open spaces. There may no longer be trout streams on the east side, but the city has done an admirable job of preserving its natural and scenic features, earning recent national recognition for its park system.
Those features were preserved because they were valued by people who enjoyed getting outdoors to hunt, fish, canoe, camp and hike in the woods.

Over the past few decades, though, the American public’s connection to nature and their participation in outdoor recreation have declined. Minnesota has fared better than most states, but, with an increasingly urban and diverse population, it hasn’t escaped the trend. Some researchers have pointed to this decline as a contributing factor in childhood obesity, learning disorders and other problems. Author Richard Louv has gone so far as to coin the phrase “nature deficit disorder.”

This project addresses those issues by creating a welcoming place where a diverse metropolitan public will forge a connection with nature right in the heart of the city as a complement to all its other urban amenities.

Minnesota has some great environmental learning centers, but they’re located hours from the metro region where most of the state’s people live, and where the need is greatest for structured interactions with nature that lay the groundwork for a lifelong affinity with the outdoors. The Willow Brook Outdoor Adventure Hatchery will foster an appreciation for and awareness of our natural environment among urban audiences by getting people actively engaged in fun outdoor activities.

The Twin Cities is well supplied with stadiums for spectator sports, but this new adventure center on the East Side will put St. Paul ahead of other communities in terms of a venue aimed at creating lifelong participants in active outdoors recreation, habits that will contribute to the public’s physical and mental health now and in the future. It will provide accessible opportunities for an increasingly diverse metro population to gain the experience and skills needed to feel comfortable recreating in the outdoors. There’s ample documentation that when people enjoy fishing, hunting, camping, etc., they also support the actions and policies essential to natural resource stewardship. Thus, while the project is community-based, it will have regional and statewide conservation impacts.

This project uniquely relies upon a coalition of hands-on stakeholders for its development and implementation, rather than any single entity. While it’s site-based, it involves a network of other nearby facilities, and will draw upon other local institutions such as schools and rec centers, thereby expanding and strengthening the overall sense of place and community connectedness. It meshes perfectly with one of the city’s major master plans, the Great River Passage, and it will help to jump-start implementation of that plan with tangible outcomes that would be highly visible within the next few years, creating buzz and momentum that will reverberate throughout the rest of the corridor.

Impact

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This Entry is about (Issues)

How will your idea make a difference in Saint Paul? (4000 characters maximum or approx. 500 words)

The Willow Brook Outdoor Adventure Hatchery will provide numerous benefits to the eastside community, the city of St. Paul, the greater metro region and the entire state.

It will engage young people in healthy and constructive activities that can strengthen families.

It will draw people to an under-utilized area and create a sense of place and community pride.

It will provide ongoing programs and services that will benefit eastside residents, while also drawing people from around St. Paul and the metro region.

It will make St. Paul healthier by encouraging people to get actively involved in the outdoors.

It will provide opportunities and places for people to interact.

It will build community by creating and maintaining broad partnerships.

It will leverage resources through its collaborative and coordinated approach.

By getting more young people outdoors enjoying nature, it will create new generations of natural resource stewards who will benefit not only St. Paul and the greater Twin Cities, but the entire state.

It will jumpstart the city’s Great River passage master plan by producing visible outcomes that can inspire and energize activities elsewhere along the river corridor.

Sustainability

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Why do you think people will recognize or remember your idea after it comes to life? How might it inspire others to do something similar in their community? (4000 characters maximum or approx. 500 words)

The Willow Brook Outdoor Adventure Hatchery will be a lasting presence on the East Side and throughout St. Paul because of the ongoing services it provides to the community, because of its partnership with other organizations and the community itself, and because it will help to focus attention on local natural areas and increase people’s use of them.

People will remember the experiences they have as part of the programming. A note we received from a participant in some recreational programming we provided recently sums it up better than any verbiage we could offer:

“My son Luc caught his first fish today and formed a joyous memory that will be with him for his lifetime. What an incredible gift you have given him! A volunteer named Jay helped catch that fish; Jay will always have an honorable mention in our family story. Simulated ducks to shoot, arrows to send flying, snakes to pet, fish to watch, things to find and learn… Today was filled with adventures …and we would like to thank you for all of the wonderful experiences. Thank you very much. It was a marvelous day.”

Additonal Questions

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For your idea, what does success look like? (4000 characters, approx. 500 words)

Imagine it’s sometime in May, the year, 2018. A sunny spring Monday morning at the Willow Brook Outdoor Adventures Hatchery. A van pulls into the parking lot and half a dozen kids from a nearby pre-school daycare center tumble out. They’re here to enjoy the nature play area, with logs to climb on, puddles to splash in, the occasional frog to chase. A variety of waterfowl float on a nearby pond, and a naturalist spends a few minutes pointing out the distinctive green head of the mallard, the long black neck and white chin patch of the Canada goose. Some of the children, who are regular visitors, can tell on sight the names of a variety of birds – crow, eagle, robin, chickadee, bluejay, red-winged blackbird; some know the birds by the sounds they make as well.

A little later, a big yellow school bus discharges two classrooms of 3rd graders from a nearby school. One group heads off to the outdoor classroom to learn about aquatic biology, then they practice casting before trying to catch fish from the trout pond. The other group goes to the archery range, where instructors guide them through the basics of shooting a bow and arrow. After about an hour, the two groups switch places. The experiences have been designed to meet curriculum requirements for science, math, English and phy ed. The teachers accompanying the groups return to the classroom with much to discuss, and a bunch of kids who are no longer quite so antsy.

Later that week, on Wednesday evening, 20 adults with kids in tow arrive for a weekly class on camping basics offered cooperatively through St. Paul Community Ed, the DNR, the Conservation Corps and outdoor retailer REI. It meets for an hour every week, and it covers pretty much everything a person needs to know to have an enjoyable camping experience: how to pitch a tent and what kind of sleeping materials to bring, how to start a fire and cook over it, safety, etc. The six week class culminates in an overnight campout at the Hatchery – not exactly wilderness, but for someone unaccustomed to the outdoors, an excellent stepping stone to further adventures. Families that complete the class and campout receive a certificate good for a weekend’s camping at one of several state parks to encourage them to build on their new skills.

Saturday morning, families from around the city begin showing up around 10 a.m. for a number of structured activities. Some drive their own cars; some arrive by public transit. There’s fishing at the trout pond, led by a crew of volunteer anglers. A DNR naturalist leads an Intro to Geocaching group that traverses both city and state land to find caches that are tied into interesting natural features. A National Park Service ranger leads bicyclists on an interpretive ride up to Indian Mounds Park. Every so often a bell rings out as another child reaches the top of the climbing wall run by St. Paul Parks staff. Inside one of the buildings, a group of 12-year-olds completes a firearms safety course, then gets some target practice at the indoor airgun range.

Success for the Willow Brook Outdoor Adventure Hatchery looks busy, as people come and go throughout the week, some for structured activities, others for their own pursuits. Success for the Hatchery looks racially and culturally diverse, just like the city of St. Paul itself. Succes is a family affair; it wears the smile of a child who just caught her first fish, of the parent whose son hit a bullseye on the archery range. It’s the result of multiple interests and agencies working together at the community level. Success starts at the Hatchery but it happens elsewhere, as when a family that’s learned about the outdoors here, goes off for a weekend at Wm. O’Brien State Park, or heads to a local lake to catch fish, or rents a canoe somewhere for an afternoon paddle. Success is healthy lifelong habits, it’s getting outdoors regularly. It’s respect and appreciation for nature, where everything starts.

What are the top three things that would likely need to happen in the first year to get your idea started? (4000 characters, approx. 500 words)

The first year of this project will entail four general areas of activity:

- Development of an outdoor classroom with shorefishing opportunities at the Trout Pond;
- Signage providing a preliminary interpretive framework for the site’s history and what’s coming, including a designated viewing area for the on-site eagle’s nest, and a geocaching trail that highlights interesting natural and historical features of the area;
- A comprehensive natural and cultural/historical resource inventory and management plan for the site;
- Visioning and development of physical and programming plans for the outdoor adventure center and grounds;
- Ongoing community outreach.

Preliminary plans already have been drawn up for the outdoor classroom/ amphitheater and shorefishing area. The estimated cost is $150,000 – 200,000. This phase is nearly “shovel ready.”

To help generate community interest and use, some preliminary interpretive work should be done. It would be neither a great task nor too costly to develop and install some temporary signage highlighting the area’s interesting historical and natural features. We’ve also had some interest from a partner organization in laying out a geocaching route that might incorporate interpretive elements.

While we have worked with Friends of the Mississippi River and our own biologists on a preliminary natural resource assessment, more detailed work needs to be done to properly manage the site’s unique natural and historical features. We also have worked with St. Paul on removal of buckthorn and other invasive species about 50 acres, with all of the woody debris chipped and sent to District Energy as biofuel to produce steam heat and electricity for downtown St. Paul.

Further work also needs to be done to develop more detailed plans related to infrastructure and programming needs. And, while we have done a good deal of preliminary outreach to build support, the collaborative community-based nature of this project calls for more.

Which organizations, groups, and/or people might be involved in implementing your idea? Why do you think they would be a good fit? (4000 characters, approx. 500 words)

Partnerships are the heart and soul of the Willow Brook Outdoor Adventures Hatchery. Partnerships with other outdoors agencies such as St. Paul Parks & Recreation, Ramsey County Parks, the National Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service, who will work together to provide an engaging menu of recreational and educational programming coordinated by the DNR.

Partnerships with Eastside communities, the District 1 Community Council, businesses, local officials and adjacent landowners, who will participate in the Hatchery’s visioning and development, as well as regularly enjoying its amenities.

It’s a network of people and groups working for healthy kids and healthy families: Battle Creek Elementary and other St. Paul schools, the Conservation Corps of Minnesota, Urban Roots MN (formerly Community Design Center of Minnesota), recreation centers, scouting groups, after-school programs and communities of faith.

It’s a scenic corridor connecting the Vento Nature Sanctuary, Indian Mounds Park, Battle Creek Park, Pigseye Park and DNR’s regional campus with the larger eastside St. Paul community.

While the DNR will be primarily responsible for implementing this project, its success will rely on ongoing cooperation and coordination with a variety of other interests, organizations and community groups. We already have reached out to and gained the enthusiastic support of many. As the project moves forward, we will continue our outreach efforts to identify others with whom to collaborate.