Local steward aims to educate lakeshore property owners

Community Editor

Forest Lake resident and lakeshore property owner Jack MacKenzie wasn’t always aware of how his lawn affected the health of the lake he lived on. His career as a full-time landscape manager often left him little time to properly maintain his own piece of land.

Retirement and a journey toward becoming a master watershed steward, however, completely changed the way he approached personal turf management. Now MacKenzie aims to inform others and save our local lakes, one education session at a time.

The St. Croix Master Watershed Stewards Certificate Program is a two-year pilot project, one of just three in the nation funded in the fall of 2015 by the EPA Office of Environmental Education. The adult learning program is similar to those used to train master gardeners or master naturalists. In the spring and early summer of 2016, a unique curriculum was offered that combined the topics of watershed ecology, leadership, community organizing, and using the arts as a tool for designing and implementing successful projects.

“The need for this program is based on recognition that a watershed response is critical for the health of the lower St. Croix River, which was declared by the EPA as an impaired water body due to phosphorus content,” MacKenzie said. “Professionals from agencies throughout the watershed are in need of highly skilled stewards to work side by side with professional staff for watershed health. Nearly all of the waters draining into the St. Croix basin cross a large percentage of private property.”

The St. Croix Master Watershed Stewards pilot project acknowledges the need for a high level of understanding and action that goes beyond basic volunteerism. This project will lay the groundwork for mobilizing a cadre of resident stewards well-versed in hydrology, storm water and waste water issues and solutions, the psychology of decision-making, leadership development, community organizing, and opportunities and strategies for using the arts to fully engage the public.

Several individuals from the Comfort Lake Forest Lake Watershed have completed the program and are working on their capstone projects; MacKenzie is one.

“I am pursuing adult education of proper turf management practices to limit injury to our fragile watershed,” he said. “I will be offering free educational programing to adults interested in managing an aesthetically pleasing turfed property while respecting the watershed.”

MacKenzie knows his turf, as he has been in the landscape management industry for over 41 years working on golf courses and also association administration. When called upon, MacKenzie teaches with Fortin Consulting the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s class called “Summer Turfgrass Maintenance Training,” a program designed to instruct municipal and commercial lawn care personnel on best management practices to reduce environmental pollution.

MacKenzie’s state participation is active as he serves or has served on or participated with several water-related committees with the Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources including the Pesticide Review Committee, Negative Impact Thresholds Committee, and the NE Groundwater Management Committee. Locally, advocacy includes action upon the Comfort Lake/Forest Lake Watershed Community Advocacy Committee, and MacKenzie is also a member of the Forest Lake Parks, Trails and Lakes Commission.

Introductory classes for “Turf Care Truths and Tips, Management for a Healthy Watershed” will be offered for free 6-7:30 p.m. May 3 and 9 at the Comfort Lake Forest Lake Watershed District office, 44 Lake St. S., with a half hour of questions and answers to follow. There will also be advanced turf level two classes May 23 and 24 with the same time frame at the same location. The advanced sessions will include information on how to conduct a soil test, interpret a soil test, read a bag of fertilizer, calibrate a spreader, and apply fertilizer with minimum environmental impact.
“At the end of the program participants will receive a free cooler filled with materials from the MN DNR, MN DA, MPCA, UMN and the (Comfort Lake Forest Lake Watershed District) to help maintain a nice yard and, more importantly, improve the health of the watershed,” MacKenzie said.