The Heroes of River Bend Nature Center Part 1: Early Heroes

 

“Share a Dream”

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Orwin Rustad sharing his knowledge with students on a hike

 

It now has been almost a year since I started working at River Bend Nature Center and over the last year I have learned a lot of the facts about the history of River Bend Nature Center. Information like when it was founded, when its first building was built, and the names of the people who helped make this Nature Center a reality. It wasn’t until my last blogpost about quiet places at River Bend Nature Center seeing just how many plaques by trees and benches we have honoring people, which made me realize just how many people helped create this place we all love so very much. I began to wonder more about the people who worked to make this place a reality. What were they like? What dreams did they first have for this place when it was still old farm land? What things had we forgotten with time that the people who had come before us had done to make River Bend Nature Center?

Before white settlers the land was natural prairies and forests, and the Wahpekutey band of the Dakota lived here in Faribault with some possibly have been living where Rustad Road is today. Then after Alexander Faribault created a town here and the Dakota were moved to a reservation as a result of the Treaty of Mendota in 1851 the land was divided up to farmers and one farmer sold his land to the state and the Faribault Regional Center was created. The residents of the state hospital farmed this land from the late 1800’s to the late 1960’s this farm land provided food for all their residents as well as some of the other state institutions in the surrounding area. Through the 1970s until it was founded in 1978-79 and in 1980 when the opening and dedication of River Bend Nature Center and the Trailside Center building happened is when the story and the dream of the land becoming an Environmental Learning or Nature Center really began and is still being written.

If you are interested in learning more about all the steps that happened between 1970 and 1980 to make River Bend Nature Center than I highly recommend you check out chapter thirty of Orwin Rustad’s book “A Journal of Natural Events in Southeastern Minnesota” the chapter is titled River Bend Nature Center Early History . This chapter is written by Kay Janky who was one of the early people along with Orwin Rustad and so many others who worked to make River Bend Nature Center possible. From this chapter I actually found the title of one of their earliest publications a brochure called “Share a Dream” that was created to help build support for creating a nature center in Faribault. I decided to use it for the title of this blog in part because after reading a lot of the bios and history of these early River Bend leaders you could see how they all shared a dream for this place and worked together to make it possible. Share a Dream seemed appropriate for both the past and now the present because as River Bend Nature moves to celebrate our 40th Anniversary year from 2018 to 2019 we have done surveys with the community there have been a lot of discussions with the staff and the Board of Directors about what River Bend is and what we hope it will continue to be and become in the future.

Our Executive Director, Breanna Wheeler, has talked about gathering more of the history of River Bend and the stories of all the people who helped make River Bend whether they were an early founder, staff, board member, volunteer, or people a part of the River Bend community who have a story to share. So I decided with this week being Earth Week and to celebrate Earth Day today that it is an appropriate time to start a series of posts remembering the people who have made this place River Bend Nature Center. My intention is that this will be an on-going series of blog posts as we find more history and more people who have been a part of the River Bend story because we don’t know every single person who has been a part of River Bend Nature Center right now. Kay Janky had a great quote from the book about this “To begin to list all those who gave significantly of their time and support would most assuredly mean I would miss an important person.” So we ask that you please share the stories you know about the people who helped make River Bend Nature Center with us so that we can share the history accurately on our next blog posts and throughout our 40th Anniversary celebration. We also would really appreciate contact information to be able to get a hold of them in the future. So let us begin this series by learning about some of the early heroes of River Bend Nature Center.

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Orwin Rustad, founder, ribbon cutting ceremony in 1980

Orwin Rustad – “The Father of River Bend Nature Center”

Orwin Rustad had been a native of Faribault and had grown up outdoors. Even before graduating from high school he was fascinated by birds and got his master bird banding permit while still in high school and did bird banding for 40 years recording what birds migrated through Faribault. He then went on to get a Bachelor’s of Arts degree in biology from St. Olaf College in 1942 and then a Master’s degree in biology and science education from the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis and did further studies at Cornell University and Oslo University in Norway. He then went on to teach biology and filed biology collectively for 42 years between Breck High School, St. Olaf College, and Shattuck St. Mary’s and was also Shattuck’s Naturalist after his retirement in 1988. In fact he first tried to get a nature center on Shattuck’s campus before turning to the land he loved to hike on. He was one of earliest founders of River Bend and he spent hours hiking on the land when it was still a part of the Faribault Regional Center. Before there were any committees for the Faribault Bicentennial and Nature Center he led the Faribault Area Committee for Environmental Quality (FACE-Q) on nature hikes. FACE-Q then became the Faribault Naturalists Club and then the core of this group became the group of people who ran and were a part of the committees and campaigns to start River Bend Nature Center and then the Board after it was started. Although Orwin was not well known for being active in committees as Kay Janky states he helped share the dream as the first dreamer and visionary for what River Bend could be. “However, his dream, his influence, his knowledge, his perseverance, his foresight, his unswerving devotion to the dream of a nature center kept us going.” This quote was from Kay Janky in the chapter of Orwin Rustad’s book about River Bend Nature Center. It is because of this and how even after retiring he continued to lead students and adults alike on nature hikes that he became known as “The Father of River Bend Nature Center” and is why the road leading into River Bend Nature Center was named Rustad Road. Orwin  was fascinated by birds and plants and the recording of natural events which led to his book “A Journal of Natural Events in Southeastern Minnesota” and thousands of dollars from the proceeds from this book went into River Bend’s Educational Endowment fund. Orwin Rustad received over the years many different rewards and recognition in honor of all the work he did including the Cum Laude Society at Shattuck-St.Mary’s, the Service to Mankind Award from the Faribault Sertoma Club, the Bicentennial Hall of Fame Award from the City of Faribault, WCCO Good Neighbor Award, and the Meritorious Service Award from the Association of Interpretive Naturalists to name a few. He passed away July 6th, 2008 but his legacy lives on in much of what River Bend is and still does today and all the people it has affected and will affect.

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Charlie Turnbull from a recent editorial about his book “The Lean-To Boys of Bigfork, Minnesota” http://www.southernminn.com/st_peter_herald/news/article_30671e35-863b-58d3-9885-c9f6c73d952c.html

Charlie Turnbull – The Organizer

Charlie Turnbull was the former Executive Director of the Faribault Regional Center and a co-founder of River Bend Nature Center.  He helped acquire the land from the State where the Faribault Regional Center used to be to create River Bend Nature Center on it. As Kay Janky said he “used his political savvy and organizational ability to help spearhead the dream.” In addition to Orwin Rustad, Turnbull was also credited by Kay Janky as being one of the two people who really made River Bend Nature Center possible. Charlie was a local citizen leader in Faribault with a lot of influence that he used to help get River Bend created.  Charlie helped lobby the Minnesota Legislature for River Bend Nature Center.  He also was the first do serve as 1st Vice-President for River Bend Nature Center from 1979 to 1980 and then was elected President and served from 1981 to 1983. During his time as President Charlie along with Ron Osterbauer one of the early Executive Directors of River Bend started the Endowment Funds which to this day insures the continuation of River Bend Nature Center. Additionally it was partly due to increasing these funds that he helped grow the employed staff at River Bend Nature Center from a single Executive Director to also including a secretary and a naturalist. In addition to helping found River Bend he wrote the book “The Lean-To Boys of Bigfork, Minnesota” about deer hunting in Northern Minnesota. Charlie still is alive today and lives with his wife in St. Peter, Minnesota.

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Kay Janky

Janice Kay Janky – “The Heart of River Bend”

Janice Kay Janky who went by Kay Janky was according to fellow River Bend co-founder and Kay’s friend Pat Rice: “Kay was really the heart of River Bend. Orwin Rustad had the original vision for River Bend and he sought out other people to carry his vision forward.” Orwin Rustad had the vision but he sought out people to make this dream a reality and just like Turnbull, Janky was one of these visionaries whose constant work made River Bend a reality. She put in many hours lobbying the Minnesota Legislature along with Charlie Turnbull and Greg Carlson, and reaching out to the community working over the years on different committees and positions to start River Bend. She was known for doing all the little things in between to the monthly meetings that added up and made River Bend possible. Then when River Bend Nature Center was created she served as 2nd Vice-President for the first Officer Board alongside Greg Carlson and Charlie Turnbull.  She spent years into the 1980s first creating the volunteer naturalist program that is still around today and then creating some of the earliest curriculum at River Bend Nature Center for teaching the children of Faribault. She also was a part of the first cohort of volunteer naturalists at River Bend Nature Center. Her friend Pat Rice has commented on how Janky was such a natural when it came to working with children. “She had a good eye to learning for children, could get down to their level and that made her a natural for developing the curriculum.” said Pat Rice in letter about Kay Janky. This letter was written when River Bend was looking for more information about Kay Janky to dedicate a memorial for her. The memorial that was dedicated to honor Janky and all the work she had done at River Bend Nature Center is the Big Woods Amphitheater which became the Kay Janky Amphitheater.

Gregory Carlson – the Adventurer

He was originally from Illinois where he also got his Law Degree before moving up to Minneapolis and then Faribault to work for the Rice County Attorney’s Office and then soon after opened up his own practice. He originally developed a love for rivers on the Mississippi in his Illinois and then continued this love in the Faribault area with all its rivers which was part of what drew him to the area. Greg was a passionate environmentalist. He volunteered on many projects to better the environment and community and it was because of all the work he did over the years for the years that earned him the Nature Conservancy of Minnesota Conservation award. He was involved with creating River Bend Nature Center from the beginning by helping build community support and lobbying the Minnesota legislature. Greg was instrumental in the land acquisition from the State of Minnesota for the River Bend Nature Center working with Charlie Turnbull to make this happen.  He served on the different committees Pre-River Bend and the River Bend Board throughout its inception until he died on February 13th 2017. Greg was the first President of River Bend Nature Center and served as president many times after that as well as other roles over the years on the Board. In his first letter as president he addressed the future members explaining what the new board hoped River Bend would become what they were working on and invited them at the end of his letter to “Come Grow With Us. Share Our Dream.” During his tenure as president he used his legal background to help create the bylaws, contracts, and handle other legal problems. He loved exploring the property at River Bend Nature Center and alongside Orwin Rustad and Charlie Turnbull helped cut and make some of the trails that we still use today. He was an adventurer going on many trips with his wife, Suzanne Gagnon Vininski, family, and friends. “Together they shared a common bond of enjoying life and nature to its fullest while raising their combined family. They loved to adventure travel to many unique destinations to experience nature” it was written in the pamphlets they had at memorial at River Bend Nature Center remembering and celebrating Greg Carlson.

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Louise Wright, an active board member and volunteer naturalist

Louise Wright – Founder of the Prairie

Louise Coffey Wright was a member of the Board since its inception, serving as Chairperson for the Dedication and Grand Opening Committee in 1980, second vice-president from 1981 to 1983, secretary from 1984 to 1986, and president from 1986 to 1988. She also was an active volunteer naturalist, sharing her knowledge of nature with thousands of school children putting in hundreds of volunteer hours. She was a mentor and friend as well to many of the volunteer naturalists and teachers who came to River Bend Nature Center. Her friend Bev Finholt described the passion Louise had for educating children, how much knowledge she possessed and shared easily, and how she was never too busy for answering questions. “Louise had a special way of instilling in children, and adults, the desire to learn about our natural environment.” It was while she was president that the prairie was started she helped plant seeds, transplanting native wildflowers, collecting and sorting seeds, assisted with prairie burns, and provided educational materials about prairies for school children. As her friend Ron Osterbauer put it “Louise was at home with the prairie.” She was instrumental in creating the prairie at River Bend Nature Center and because of this in 1990 that the prairie she helped create and care for was dedicated in her honor. To this day a plaque and a bench honor her on the prairie loop trail. Memorial gifts that were received when she past went to her two passions at River Bend the “prairie and educating children about nature.”

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These are only a few of the people off a list of countless people I have to do more research into to recognize the people who help built River Bend and to hopefully record the history accurately. So once again I would like to invite you to share any information you have about the people included above or anyone else you know who should be recognized for the work they did helping make River Bend Nature Center. I gathered my information from a sources listed below which includes RBNC publications and newsletters, articles, memorials, and obituaries. Please let us know if anything should be corrected because we were not using accurate information. So I hope you join us in the coming 2 years as we get ready to and celebrate River Bend Nature Center’s 40th Anniversary and all the people who made River Bend Nature Center possible we could not do it without all your help and support!

Sources

A Journal of Natural Events in Southeastern Minnesota – By Orwin Rustad

Memorial Pamphlet for Greg Carlson Memorial at River Bend Nature Center

Kay Janky Memorial Service & Amphitheater Dedication Press Release

http://www.rbnc.org/history.htm

http://www.rbnc.org/pdfs/newsletters/archive/Newsletter-1980-v2-n2-Fall-GrandOpeningSpecial.pdf

http://www.southernminn.com/faribault_daily_news/archives/article_a40db84a-0b76-54ee-960a-6dc91d15beef.html

http://www.southernminn.com/st_peter_herald/news/article_30671e35-863b-58d3-9885-c9f6c73d952c.html

http://iefworld.org/newslt79

https://rbnc.wordpress.com/2012/11/14/give-to-the-max-for-river-bend/

http://www.parkerkohlfuneralhome.com/obituaries/Gregory-Carlson/

https://www.tributeslides.com/tributes/show/XGTL6YGFYTW8YTDX

http://ads.southernminnmedia.com/southernminn-adportal/listingView.html?id=4439

http://www.rbnc.org/pdfs/newsletters/archive/Newsletter-1998-v19-n2-Spring.pdf

http://www.rbnc.org/pdfs/newsletters/archive/Newsletter-1990-v10-n4-Winter.pdf

http://www.rbnc.org/pdfs/newsletters/archive/Newsletter-1987-v8-n3-Fall.pdf

http://www.rbnc.org/pdfs/newsletters/archive/Newsletter-1981-v2-n4-Summer.pdf

http://www.rbnc.org/pdfs/newsletters/archive/Newsletter-1982-v4-n1-Fall.pdf

http://www.rbnc.org/pdfs/newsletters/archive/Newsletter-1983-v4-n4-Summer.pdf

Taking Prescribed Fires off the “back burner” at River Bend Nature Center

Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Or at least, that’s the idea.

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2017 shapes up to be a successful year for prescribed burns at River Bend Nature Center. This grassland/forest mix behind the interpretive center was one of the first locations burned this last Saturday.
Photo credit: Stephanie Rathsack

In a world where fire is often seen as a danger to life and property, it’s easy to forget that fire is actually a natural part of a healthy ecosystem, and that in some cases, it is necessary for the survival of native plants and animals. This leads many to ask how this could be possible, when the landscape after a fire looks as far from lively as you can get: shriveled and blackened grass, charred stumps, and an ashy sky. It doesn’t exactly look appealing. It takes a closer examination to discover the real benefit of allowing fire to move through our prairies and forests.

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Immediately following a fire, the ground is left dry and charred. But it won’t stay like this for long.
Photo credit: Stephanie Rathsack

Underneath the burned ground, an incredible change is taking place—nutrients that were once trapped inside plants on the surface are now recycled back into the soil. In this way, nutrients are not locked away, but become available for new plants to utilize. This becomes especially true in prairie ecosystems, where grasses are prevalent, dying back every winter and holding nutrients in their dead stalks above the soil line. Perhaps even more amazing after a fire, some seeds buried in the ground begin to stir and show signs of life after what could have been years of dormancy.

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Large, healthy trees remain undamaged when a prescribed burn moves past. The removal of competition around it will even help it to thrive.
Photo credit: Stephanie Rathsack

In some cases, seeds are even coated with flammable oils to encourage hotter fires. These fire-dependent species require high heat for germination to be triggered, when otherwise it would not occur at all. Plants developed such traits in order to exploit the lack of competition following a fire. With other species removed, new plants that germinate quickly afterwards do not have to fight for sunlight or water with any nearby neighbors. A famous example of this is the Lodgepole pine, whose cones are sealed with a special resin that melts away in the high heat of fire and releases the seeds. There are many ways that plants have evolved to make use of fire—species may rely on fire, smoke, or a combination of both in order to prosper.

1Source: http://www.austintexas.gov/rxfire

This knowledge flies in the face of years of misunderstanding—that ecosystems are always moving towards a state of equilibrium, where nature and all of its components end in harmony. The reality is far different—nature not only utilizes, but requires frequent “disturbances”, whether this be in the form of fire, flood, or landslide. And so rather than thinking of a forest or prairie as a linear progression towards an endpoint, it is better to think of them as a cycle, where plants grow, die, are recycled back into the system, and begin again. This mindset is known as ecological succession—old growth forests will inevitably become disturbed sites where new, younger individuals will emerge and age. In the end this results in a healthier ecosystem, which is easy to see when comparing pre-settlement forests to modern forests. Before human intervention, forests often had fewer but larger and healthier trees. Now, forests have far more trees, but they are overcrowded, smaller, and generally less healthy.

 

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Source: https://www.cs.hmc.edu/~sweil/bio52/3/fireeco.html

 

Ironically, it is the modern, “protected” forests that pose the greatest threat, both to humans and wildlife. When fire is prevented, forests mature beyond the point of being prosperous—food/water amounts and space lessen, and wildlife suffers as a result. Additionally, dead plant matter builds up, which creates more fuel. Eventually, the amount of fuel present in the forest may allow for a larger, hotter, and more dangerous fire to occur.

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Prescribed burns prevent fuel from building up in a forest or prairie ecosystem–the result is more frequent but smaller fires that are less likely to get out of control.
Photo credit: Stephanie Rathsack

And so it all comes down to word choice. Many of us may remember the famous Smoky the Bear phrase “only YOU can prevent forest fires”. This was a great and catchy slogan for a world where fire could cost hundreds of millions of dollars in damages, both to buildings and natural areas. But as we began to learn more about this land we were trying to “protect” by putting out every fire we could find, scientists began to realize that our “help” was actually causing harm. And so rather than advertising a negative image on “forest fires”, Smoky now reminds us to stop “wild fires” instead—that is, fires that are unintentional or out of control in a region where lives and property could be lost. This change of heart helped reduce the misconception that all fire is bad—and that any forest or prairie fire is a villain in an ecological sense.

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Nutrients are recycled back into the soil when dead vegetation is allowed to burn. Even greener patches along the river are able to be burned, as Emily Greger, Resource Manager, helps it along with a torch.
Photo credit: Stephanie Rathsack

But what does this have to do with River Bend? There is one more benefit from fire that River Bend will be utilizing very soon, and that is to use fire as a tool to remove invasive species. While hours of work every year go into removing invasive species from the property, pulling, cutting, and treating, it is not the most effective way to prevent the spread of non-natives. Fire works much faster and far more thoroughly than any “by hand” methods of removal, making it the most effective tool at our disposal. And while historically, prescribed fires have been used sporadically and on small sections of land, we plan to increase the area covered, and also begin burning on a regular rotation. One burn is not enough to bring a habitat back to “pristine” condition—it takes several burns in addition to other treatments, and the entire process might go on for years. However, in the end, after a lot of planning and work, the goal is that eventually we will be left with forests and prairies that resemble pre-settlement—healthy ecosystems filled with a large variety of native plants and animals.

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Visitors can expect to see signs of burning through the end of April, and sites on the list of potential burns are the rain garden, the large prairie by the Interpretive Center, ditches along Rustad Road, the gravel pit, and the prairie on Teepee Tonka.

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Tall grasses burn readily–moving very quickly across a prairie landscape. A “back burn” will prevent fire from spreading to undesired locations.
Photo credit: Stephanie Rathsack

Dates and times of burns are all weather dependent, and all burning will cease before May in order to protect ground nesting birds. Helping us with this process is the Faribault Fire Department, who has been donating their time and equipment for decades.

4357Fire creeps up to the banks of the Straight River which acts as a perfect fire break.
Photo credit: Stephanie Rathsack

And while we cannot ask for volunteers from the public to help with burns, there are several things you can do to help make this process as simple and safe as possible:

Take note of any and all signs posted notifying the public about potential burns. When burning, there will be a large sign posted by the park entrance asking that people stay away from the areas that are being burned, both for their safety as well as the safety of the staff—distractions can lead to dangerous situations. Another way that you can help is by attending several events that River Bend has coming up—the first is an OWLS (Older Wiser Livelier Seniors) presentation given by River Bend’s Resource Manager Emily Greger. The presentation will focus on invasive species, going beyond buckthorn and touching on lesser known species and methods for controlling them. Additionally, River Bend hosts Restoration work days where members of the public can come out and assist with a variety of restoration projects, including removal of invasive species. For more information on these programs and other opportunities please see our website: http://www.rbnc.org/

OWLS – https://riverbend.z2systems.com/np/clients/riverbend/event.jsp?event=1631&

Restoration Work Day – https://riverbend.z2systems.com/np/clients/riverbend/event.jsp?event=1641

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Fire will drastically change the appearance of a landscape, but in just a few weeks, this same location picture in both photos will be green with new and healthier growth.
Photo credit: Stephanie Rathsack

Waste Not, Want Not!

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Reduce, reuse, recycle. We have all heard those words, and we know what they mean, but are they really important? YES!

Every household, every business, every school…everyone creates waste. In this day and age, it is really hard to avoid that. However, there are things we can do to minimize our waste and dispose of it responsibly. I’ll even let you in on a little secret, however first I need to explain where our waste is currently going.  

 Here at River Bend Nature Center, we have a winter educational program that brings us into the elementary schools throughout Rice County. We discuss the importance of managing our waste and practicing the “3R’s” both in school and at home.  This program serves as a good reminder, not only to the students, but to us Environmental Educators as well.  It’s easy to forget how big of an impact we can make. Rice County is not the only county with a landfill, nor is it the only county that produces waste. This information is important to all of us, no matter where we live.  

whats in the landfill

The average landfill has many unnecessary materials. How many of these need to be in the landfill?

 

The landfill that serves the entire Rice County is located in Dundas, at the Solid Waste Facility.  All of the garbage we put at the edge of our cub, or into our dumpsters, ends up at the Rice County landfill.  Our landfill is a way to safely dispose of our waste, and when landfills follow regulations, the environmental impact is minimized. However, it is definitely not the perfect solution. We are still disrupting habitats of animals, and using valuable land for our garbage. So what is the ideal solution?

The 3R’s: REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE!

Recycling is the easiest of the 3R’s, especially in Minnesota. Rather than putting waste in the garbage can, we put our recyclable waste into a recycling bin, and someone else does all of the work.  Our recycling is single sort, which means all we have to do is put it in one bin, similar to our garbage cans. A truck will come and pick up those recyclables, and the facility they are taken to will sort them into the different categories: Plastics, Metal, Glass, and Paper. At the recycling center each of those materials are shredded, melted or broken apart. Then they are sold off to companies that make new items from the broken down materials. The profits from selling the materials helps to cover costs of the recycling center.  Are you questioning if something is recyclable? Check the bottom, and specifically look for a recycling triangle; recycling triangles with any number (1-7) are recyclable, as well as anything made of metal, glass, paper, paperboard, and cardboard. If you still have questions, visit the Rice County recycling page: http://www.co.rice.mn.us/node/2218

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Make sure you know what materials are recyclable!

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The numbers in each triangle explain what kind of plastic it is made up of. In rice county, all plastics are recyclable.

Reusing is the second easiest of the 3R’s.  Reusing involves a little bit of creativity. Rather than sending waste to the landfill, you can create something new from it. In the classrooms we visit, we take toilet paper tubes and make bird feeders. We spread vegetable shortening on the tube, roll it in bird seed, stick a popsicle stick through the base, tie a string on it, and call it a bird feeder. This is a very quick and simple reuse project. The list of possibilities goes on and on and on.  bird feeder.png

Reusing is the second easiest of the 3R’s.  Reusing involves a little bit of creativity. Rather than sending waste to the landfill, you can create something new from it. In the classrooms we visit, we take toilet paper tubes and make bird feeders. We spread vegetable shortening on the tube, roll it in bird seed, stick a popsicle stick through the base, tie a string on it, and call it a bird feeder. This is a very quick and simple reuse project. The list of possibilities goes on and on and on.

Reducing is the most difficult of the 3R’s. It takes thought, time, and planning ahead. This is also the hardest to conceptualize because it is not tangible; it is a thought process.  The main idea with reducing is just that: to reduce, or to lessen, your waste. For example, when you go to a fast food restaurant and order a meal for a child, you get a plastic toy. I remember being so excited when I got those toys because it was new and shiney. But the excitement never lasted, and when I was finished with a toy, or even more often they broke, where did they end up? The landfill. My father often encouraged me to not take those toys, even though they were awesome, because they were just food for the landfill. Another way to think about reducing waste is thinking about a picnic. Packing paper plates, plastic utensils, and paper napkins is very convenient because there are no dishes involved; we can just throw them away and forget about them. But where do they end up? The landfill.  Rather than using those disposable materials, we can use cloth napkins, metal utensils, and plates that we can wash and put back in the cupboard. In that case the only waste we create is food waste which leads us to…
compost

Composting is the bonus word for waste education. 14% of what goes into the landfill is food scraps, which can all decompose and be returned to the soil as nutrients.  However, in the landfill, engineers have discovered that decomposition creates excess gas (methane) which can create explosions and cause serious problems to the landfill.  Because landfills are packed so tightly, there is no air or space for decomposers to break the food down. Compost is broken down by worms living in the soil; they slowly eat things we throw into compost bins, and then they defecate the nutrients, returning them to the soil to be absorbed by plant life.  Rather than throwing food into the garbage and sending it to the landfill, we can put it in our compost bins, and then use that soil in our gardens to help our plants flourish.

Finally, my secret for you: the landfill in Rice County, the landfill that all of our garbage goes to, is going to reach full capacity in 20 years.  In 20 years, we are not going to have any place for our garbage to go. Up until this past year, it was estimated to last about 5 more years. Luckily, the engineers have come up with a solution to extend the life of the landfill, but I am sure we all still plan on having waste in 20 years. And at that point where will we put our garbage? Just about all of our land is currently being used for homes, schools, parks, and farms.  

Here is my challenge for us all: let’s start thinking about what to do with our waste now. Why wait until we have no more room for garbage to create a solution? Let’s focus on what we are doing with our waste now, so we can extend the life of our landfills even longer. This earth is our home, and we need to take care of it.  

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For more information:

Rice county solid waste facility:  http://www.co.rice.mn.us/node/920

Rice county recycling: http://www.co.rice.mn.us/node/2218

Come Check Out the New Mural at River Bend Nature Center!

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Hello everyone! As some of you may know I have been working on designing and painting the prairie mural of River Bend Nature Center’s north wall. The wall is coming along great and we are nearing the end of this project. However, before I go any further I would just like to say a big thank you to everyone who donated paint and helped make this project possible; as well as Anne Foxen, Johanna Beam, Erika Tipp, and Liz Brown for all you help over the last two Sundays with painting the foreground, detail, plants, and animals you all are amazing artists so thank you for helping make the ideas and designs come to life! Below I have included more information of what has been going into making this prairie wall come to life; as well as some sneak preview pictures of the wall. If you haven’t had the chance to come to River Bend Nature Center yet and see the wall I highly recommend it!

Designing the Prairie Mural

When it came to designing the Prairie Mural there were a lot of things I had to take into account. We already had the river mural on the west wall and a small prairie wood edge mural in the Kid’s Corner to the east of the wall so it made the most sense to incorporate these both into the prairie mural so it could flow almost seamlessly from one mural to the next. Additionally we have a beautiful large painting by Dan Milbert on this wall called “Pre-Settlement Spring” – Sandhill cranes, so I did not want to design a scene or landscape that clashed with this painting. Lastly we also have many mounted animals on the wall that we wanted to keep out on display so I also had to incorporate these into the wall, sounds easy enough right?

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So how I designed the concept sketch and eventually the wall was taking the river from the river wall and having it flow on the wall from the west across the north wall to connect with the river on Milbert’s painting. I then extended the landscape of the forested hills in the back of Milbert’s painting on to the wall and connected it with the landscape in the background on the river wall. After this it got easy. By relying on my knowledge of prairie ecosystems I had a natural change in the landscape between oak savannah, mesic prairie, and wet prairie. I sketched forest along the river and transitioned it to oak savannah as the river bluff got steeper and blending into the rolling hills of the mesic prairie and into the depressions of the wet prairie. Lastly when it came to designing the overall concept of the wall other River Bend Staff and I moved some of the taxidermy around the wall to spots that made more sense for the habitat that species lived in.

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The process of moving the bison head to paint

Then came the fun part compiling lists of the plants and animals I have seen here at River Bend Nature Center or other restored prairies in Minnesota as well as what you would historically find in oak savannah, mesic prairie, and wet prairie. I then divided the mural up into sections and started dividing the different animals and plants into these sections on the wall that made the most sense to see them. This also made it easier to keep track of what volunteers were working where on the mural.

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One of many concept sketches

 

Painting the Landscape

After the overall design was approved I did a rough sketch on to the wall for where things went and then the painting began! I and Jason, River Bend’s Land & Facility Assistant, then primed and painted the wall the base sky blue. From there it was the process of mixing colors and giving color, shape, and shadow to the landscape; and depth to the sky with increasingly darker blues and clouds. Once the rolling prairie was achieved I moved on to the more complicated section of the mural adding the tree covered bluffs and the trees to the oak savannah as well as the river flowing behind them. The landscape has turned out great and I will continue to add touch ups and details here and there but it is the next step that I am really excited for that will really make the painting coming to life!

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Adding the Plants and Animals

So now for the last two weeks Anne, Johanna, Erika, Liz, and I have been working on painting the foreground and adding the detailed plants and animals to the mural. My big project that is pretty much done now was painting a body for our bison head mount which if I do say so myself has turned out very realistic! Depending on where you stand looking at the wall it looks like the bison really is coming right out of the wall which is pretty incredible.

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Elsa finishing up painting the Bison body

Erika, Annie, and Liz worked on adding the detailed grass in the mesic prairie under the bison. Additionally Erika and Liz did all the detailed flowers and plants under the bison, Erika also did a tiger swallowtail butterfly, and Anne painted the rocks and the thirteen-lined ground squirrel. Johanna took on the challenge of standing on a ladder painting a turkey vulture flying over the oak savanna which has turned out beautiful and so realistic!

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Lastly I did the foreground painting of the wetland and today and tomorrow I will be adding some wetland plants to it. The project is almost done with only some more detailed animals and plants that need to be added and each day we work on the mural it becomes more realistic and beautiful! So I hope you come to River Bend Nature Center to check it out as we finish it or when it is done!

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A Day at the River Bend Sugar Bush – part II

We last left off with sliding down snowy and icy paths to collect buckets of maple sap. It’s been a few weeks now, and the River Bend sugar bush is working at full steam. With a total of about fifty trees tapped, we are continuing to collect sap every day with the help of staff and volunteers. On March 6th we collected a record amount of sap for the season—145 gallons! (This was produced by the trees in less than twenty-four hours)

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Photo Credit: Stephanie Rathsack
In a record total for this year’s sap season, we collected 145 gallons of sap in less than twenty-four hours.

With that much sap alone we’d be able to produce about three and a half gallons of maple syrup. Our recent collection runs have been less icy, but far more muddy, making the treks through the sugar bush tricky at worst, and extremely messy at best.  But shoes full of muck is a fair price to pay for the increased sap production that occurs with days in the 40s and 50s.

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Photo Credit: Stephanie Rathsack
With warm weather, sap bags (which hold about 2 gallons) can fill up quick!

And though increasingly warmer temperatures hark the end of the sap season, we expect to continue being able to collect through the end of the week, and into the following week as well. Meanwhile, the maple sap that has been collected up to this point is getting boiled down to begin the transformation from sap to syrup. This process requires high heat over a long period of time, for which we use a maple sap evaporator, which looks a bit like a giant wood burning stove. The sap is fed into the tank via gravity, and heat from the fire evaporates the water out, slowly decreasing the liquid in the sap and increasing the concentration of sugar.

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Photo Credit: Stephanie Rathsack
We let gravity do most of the work, as the sap starts in a bin held high off the ground before traveling down into the boiling chambers.

Maple sap generally has a 2-3 percent concentration of sugar, and this must be increased to about 68 percent found in maple syrup. This immense reduction in water requires large amounts of sap to be boiled for several days before it is ready to be bottled as syrup. Again with the help of volunteers and staff, the evaporator gets up and running early in the morning, and requires constant supervision throughout the day in order to continue feeding the fire, monitoring sap levels, and preventing scorching.  Even after several days on the evaporator, the syrup still is not completely finished—it requires a period of time on a stove top where the heat can be more fine-tuned and the syrup can move through its final stages of processing.

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Photo Credit: Stephanie Rathsack
Sap is “finished” over a stovetop where temperatures and consistencies can be monitored more closely.

As the sap reaches higher and higher sugar concentrations, it must be watched closely until finally after filtering one last time, bottling can begin. For long-term storage of maple syrup, specialized jars are purchased in a variety of sizes. River Bend bottles their syrup in large gallon jars down to tiny half-pint jars and everything in between. These jars of “liquid gold” will make appearances in a variety of River Bend programs and activities.

 

Want to learn more about maple sap production/taste a sample of this year’s bounty? River Bend is offering a variety of opportunities for the public to get involved in the fun of maple syruping:

 

Maple Syrup Open House– Celebrate syrup season at River Bend Nature Center! On March 18th, 2017 from 10:00AM to NOON there will be a variety of fun and FREE activities to participate in. Learn about the maple syruping process with trivia and taste tests and visit the sugar bush to collect sap, and see the evaporator in full swing.

Maple Syrup Fun Run- scheduled for Saturday, May 6th, 2017. Our races include a 50K, 25K, 10K and 5K trail runs (all jumbo clock timed) and a one-mile fun walk on an accessible paved trail (untimed). Race entry fee includes entry to our Pancake Brunch after the Fun Run, and a race shirt.

Maple Syrup Pancake Brunch– Come out to River Bend on Saturday, May 6th for delicious pancakes topped with River Bend’s own real maple syrup. Our pancakes will be cooked by the expert staff from Bernie’s Grill! We’ll also have sausages, coffee, and juice to accompany our pancakes.

 

Relaxation & Reflection at River Bend Nature Center

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Hello everyone! As promised, here is my blog post about the quiet and less visited places at River Bend Nature Center. I hope your River Bend Bucket Lists are coming along great, and here is a post to help you check off another thing off your list! (https://rbnc.wordpress.com/2017/01/31/let-us-help-with-your-new-years-resolutions/) Recently, there has been a lot of research and news coming out about the health benefits of having quiet time in nature.  I have included links to some of the news articles that cover this research below but overall the research can be summarized into two groupings physical benefits and mental benefits.

The physical benefits make sense and include a lot of effects, from increased exercise outdoors, like a healthier physique, decreased risk for diabetes, decreased risk for asthma and respiratory disorders, and increased heart health. There is also growing evidence to support the mental benefits of being out in nature that may confirm your own personal experience of feeling mentally clear and emotionally better after spending time in nature. The list of mental benefits from spending time in nature includes: decreased risk for anxiety & depression, lower stress levels, increased cognition, and decreased risk for dementia and Alzheimer’s, just to name a few. Additionally, the last link I have included talks about how the brain benefits from silence because I am one of those people who likes to double dip on my health benefits, so in other words I meditate outside in nature.

List of some research on the health benefits of nature by topic

https://www.asla.org/healthbenefitsofnature.aspx

News Articles Covering Health Benefits of Outside

https://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/07/22/how-nature-changes-the-brain/?_r=0

http://www.businessinsider.com/scientific-benefits-of-nature-outdoors-2016-4

http://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2016/01/call-to-wild/

News Articles Covering Health Benefits of Silence

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/silence-brain-benefits_us_56d83967e4b0000de4037004

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Below, I have included some great trails and spots for relaxation and reflection at River Bend. This is by no means a complete list, and each location has its pro’s and con’s. So I have divided them into 4 rough zones focusing more on the central part of the park that is easier to reach. I then have described the noise/traffic, how far/hard of a walk, and seating; and then the elements of the location views, sun, and mosquitoes so that you can pick the spots that fit you. I have also included a link to a map for places to park and trails to take to get to the spots. My personal opinion is that spring and fall are the best time of the year to sit in quiet places in nature because of the lack of bugs, the relatively warm temperatures, and if it’s a little damp in the spot you pick, all you need is a blanket or tarp and that makes it more fun. A quick thing to note is most of the locations I picked had benches, but some did not. When using the park at River Bend you should always use the trails and not create your own so if you plan on sitting on the ground, you can do so next to the trail. Additionally we want you to have a fun and safe time here so make sure to take the proper precautions depending on the time of year accounting for things like mosquitos, ticks, sunburn, ice, etc.

Here is the link to the Google map I have created with the different loops and spots labeled and more details about the spots as well as pictures to go with them when you click on them on the map!

Quiet Places at River Bend Nature Center

Here is an additional link to our trail map to help you find other trails and see exactly where the steep spots are located! http://www.rbnc.org/pdfs/TrailMap15.pdf

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Overlook Loop – Prairie, sunnier, great views, more people, less mosquitos

The trails to the North Ridge Overlook, depending on the day and the trails you pick, can be busy. There is a nice mixture of habitat including prairie, woods, and some bluff habitat that at one time might have been oak savannah but now is a mixture of oak, aspens, and buckthorn. The trails can be a little steeper so you can get a mild work out in on your way up but the loop is only about 1 mile. The spot with the best view is the North Ridge Overlook itself, although close seconds are the Walnut & Overlook intersection and Ash & Raccoon intersection. I always find this loop very inspiring and invigorating and I feel that most of this comes from the views.  This loop gets a fair amount of traffic since most people like a spot with a view so my recommendation is to come during the early morning or work day if you want spots with views that are also quiet. Additional spots along the route I really enjoyed were the spring banding station that is the Ruth Wiberg Memorial, a collection of small hills by the North Ridge Overlook that were already dry after this most recent melt, and a bench hidden beneath some cedar by the Upper Parking Lot.

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Walnut Loop – less people, can have more mosquitos, more peaceful scenery

The walnut trail gets its name from the stand of Walnut trees on the section of the trail that is a part of this loop. Walnut is less used by people so this makes it usually a quieter trail but there can be more mosquitos. The best way I can describe this loop is that the scenery is more peaceful – I always feel a calming effect when walking on or sitting along this trail. The whole loop is about 1.42 miles from the upper parking lot and back and at a gradual to steeper incline. There are also no benches so if you want to stop and sit for a while it will be on the ground next to the trail. There is however some great spots to sit on a blanket right next to the trail, just don’t forget to tuck your pants and wear bug spray!

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Prairie Loop – more people, less mosquitos, sunny, great views

The Prairie Loop that I take has only three bench areas for sitting on, with two in the prairie and one sitting area on the Prairie Pond dock. There are, however, many spots next to the trail to sit down on the grass. The Prairie Pond dock is usually shadier and can have more mosquitos in the summer but in the spring and fall it has just as great views at the prairie spots. The prairie spots while they are the sunnier spots , but are more exposed to the wind and on a beautiful day can have a lot of traffic. This trail is also about a mile loop to and from the main parking lot by the interpretive center and is a pretty easy trail except for one steep part up into the prairie by Prairie Pond. The bench on the hill overlooking Prairie Pond is one of my favorite spots at River Bend Nature Center. It is a peaceful spot and I always have a hard time leaving this bench.

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Cherry & Raspberry Trails Loop – less people, more mosquitos, mixture of sun & shade, great views, lots of peaceful spots

The Cherry & Raspberry trails loop had the least number of people I encountered at one of the peak times for people out in the park which is around 4 to 5 pm when everyone is getting off work. So if you are looking for less people on your quiet walk or coming by your quiet spot, I highly recommend this trail. This loop has a good mixture of habitat but the bulk of it is thick, damp, and shady woods, so the mosquitos can be a nuisance depending on the time of the year and the location so wearing bug spray in the summer is a good idea. Some highlights for this loop is that it takes you through some of the less visited restored prairie habitat and at the bend in raspberry there is a bench under a huge ancient tree that is a very quiet and peaceful spot. However, most of the sitting benches or spots with great views are near the road including the gravel pit, Upper Pond Dock, and the Waterfall. Depending on the time of the year the water falling is so loud it provides great background noise for covering up the sounds of cars. In the heat of summer it is a nice cool spot to visit, though there can be quite a few mosquitos and people there since it is close to the road. The Gravel Pit usually has wind blowing through it that pushes the sound of cars toward the prairie so it is not as noisy as it could be right next the road and it also tends to be more sunny are is one of the best spots for watching the sun set at River Bend Nature Center. This whole loop is about 1.25 miles and a mixture of gradual and steeper trail sections; I found the easier walk is going down cherry and up raspberry back along the road and you can either park at the waterfall or the upper parking lot. I have another favorite spot along this trail, but this one is a gem, so I challenge you to come out and hike it and see if you can find it!

 

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River Trails Loop – less people, more mosquitoes, great river views, shady & cool in summer, calm and peaceful

In all honesty, I did not have the chance to explore the River trails as much I would have liked but they are what you would expect for floodplain forest trails along the river. They have great views and are very quiet. Maple trail seems to be less used by people and same with Trout Lily. In the summer I usually biked down trout lily so I don’t know how bad the mosquitoes were, but even with a good breeze from the river it probably would be a good idea to wear bug spray since it is a floodplain forest. There also are quite a few benches along these trails meaning if someone is on one bench you can walk farther down the trail to another one. The highlights for this loop I felt were the overlook bench on Maple trail above the river, the straight stretch of Trout Lily trail with all its benches where you know from the previous blog post was where the ice dam was located, and the view from Honor Point at the end of Trout Lily trail looking over the river and beach. Overall, this complete loop is about 1.65 miles starting and ending at the main parking lot; however with the multiple maple and owl trails connection to the loop you could break it up into shorter loops if you would like. The big thing to remember with the trails along the river is most of the trails leading down to the river are somewhat steep so it is going to be a work out getting back up to the parking lot either way.

I hope you enjoyed learning more about some of the quiet loops and spots closer to the parking lots in the main section of River Bend Nature. There still are many spots not mentioned here in the main part of the park as well in the outer trails just waiting to be found. So we hope you can come to River Bend Nature Center and explore some of the trails we mentioned and find some of your own favorite spots to read, relax, reflect, meditate, pray, etc. and as always enjoy being out in nature. I look forward to seeing you on the trails in these different spots, and good luck finding my other favorite spot!

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Trout Lily’s Ice Dam

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River Bend Nature Center’s Trail map; Trout Lily is highlighted above in Pink. Copies of trail maps can be found at the Interpretive Center or online at http://www.rbnc.org

Trout Lily is one of my favorite trails to hike at River Bend; the meandering Straight River creates the perfect pal to hike along side.  The sound of the river gently flowing by eases my soul. It also provides a beautiful backdrop to gaze at with a steep slope opposite the river filled with trees. After the sun sets, it is a wonderful place to star gaze being so far from the lights of the city.

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A Stunning view overlooking the river from the Trout Lily Trail

However, being so close to the river provides its challenges for the Trout Lily trail.  This prime location for hiking is also a prime location for flooding and water damage. This last fall, when southern Minnesota was experiencing flooding from the excessive rain, Trout Lily flooded.  The close proximity to the river closed the trail down for a few weeks while the river rose, crested, and finally fell, and then a short while after the flood so that the trail could be restored.

Winter creates a whole new problem for Trout Lily: ice dams.  Ice Dams occur when many pieces of floating ice are carried along the current, accumulate, and obstruct the stream flow.  These ice jams usually are created when temperatures cause alternate freezing and melting of water surfaces. They commonly develop near bends, mouths and slope decreases in rivers. In our Straight River, the river bends right along Trout Lily, giving an ice dam a perfect home, especially with this winter’s fluctuating temperatures.

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The start of the ice dam on the Straight River

This winter, we have a great example and a wonderful view of it along the Trout Lily trail. The ice dam was so large and powerful this winter that it moved part of the ice dam on top of the trail.

This ice dam truly provides an excellent display of how powerful water can be. Some of the pieces of ice that have accumulated are 5 times my size, and heavier than big boulders. The river easily carries the weight of these ice chunks and seemingly gently sets them on the river banks. In some cases, the river can pile multiple ice chunks on top of each other with ease.  This winter, the Straight River decided to set the ice on top of the Trout Lily Trail, obstructing the trail for skiers, snowshoes, hikers, and even our trail groomer.  About 50 feet of the trail was obstructed by this ice dam.

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One of the many huge ice chunks that has been heaved onto the river bank right along the trail.

One afternoon when I went hiking on Trout Lily, after I had hopped over the ice chucks, I came across a large buck. He had found a spot where the river had made a small drinking pool. I scared him and interrupted his drinking, so he took off…across the river! He was able to walk over the congested ice dam safely without even cracking the ice. The ice dam is packed so tightly that it creates a surface thick enough to support the weight of the deer.

The warm weather has since melted a majority of the ice dam as well as the ice that was obstructing the trail. However, you can still see many of the large ice chunks that were heaved up onto the river bank.

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Thousands of chunks of ice gather along the bend in the Straight River to create this massive ice dam.

They are much smaller than they started out due to the melting, but it is still easy to see how large and powerful they can be. River Bend and all of our visitors are very lucky because the ice dam did not cause too much damage to the actual trail; Trout Lily is still accessible to hikers. I would highly recommend taking a jaunt along this trail to check out the remaining ice chunks from the nature-created ice dam, listen to the sounds of the cracking ice, and to enjoy a beautiful hike though River Bend.

 

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The Trout Lily trail gets so close to the river at some points, especially here where you can see how the trail was impeded by the ice dam.

A Day at the River Bend Sugar Bush – Part I

With unseasonably warm weather ahead of us for the next few weeks, the staff and volunteers at River Bend Nature Center are preparing for one of the most exciting times of the year—maple syrup season!

As temperatures rise above freezing during the day, but drop below freezing at night, some incredible unseen changes take place under the bark of our forest’s trees. To understand this change takes a bit of knowledge about a tree’s inner workings as well as some basic knowledge of physics. Trees are composed of several layers beneath their bark—these layers include the xylem (sapwood) and the phloem. The phloem transports nutrients down the tree, while the xylem transports nutrients up. When temperatures rise above freezing, pressure builds up inside the trunk, forcing sap out of any wounds or tapping holes (with spiles as shown below). Alternatively, at night when the temperatures fall, the pressure drops and creates suction, drawing water into the tree through the roots. This suction replenishes the sap in the tree and allows it to flow again during the next bout of warm temperatures.

 

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Source: http://www.rmgmaple.com/ZenCart/index.php?main_page=page_3

 

What is a sugar bush?

A sugar bush is a portion of forest that is utilized for the production of maple syrup. It is characterized by a predominance of maple trees. Other species may be present, but the majority of the canopy consists of a combination of sugar, red, black, and other maple varieties. The trees tend to be older, and the same trees may have been tapped for years. During the syrup season, there is usually a layer of snow on the ground, and light snows may still fall (referred to as sugar snows) during the season. Sap production will taper off as temperatures continue to rise, and the sap is no longer collected when the buds begin to burst. After the syrup season is over, a flush of wildflowers often appears between the trunks of the large trees, taking advantage of the sunlight coming through the empty canopy. In the full green of summer, the sugar bush will be cool and shady, followed by a colorful display of autumn leaves.

River Bend’s sugar bush can be found primarily along the south branch of the Owl trail, and very soon sap collection will be going full steam.

 

 

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Source: Stephanie Rathsack

Today at the sugar bush, the season is just getting started. With a cleaning and inventory of all the necessary supplies, we set out into the woods to visit a few of the larger trees. After sliding precariously down icy paths and heading into the cooler cover of the trees, we reached the River Bend Sugar Bush. And down, close to the river, a few tall black maples stand with distinguishable scars on their massive trunks. These trees have been tapped by River Bend staff and volunteers for years and are a reliable source of sap almost every season. The scars from past years where the holes had been drilled are faintly visible in the bark of the trees. They look a little like tree belly buttons. These old wounds need to be avoided when putting in a new spile, because any scar tissue might have redirected the flow of sap. We measure up and over from the most recent scar before drilling into the tree. The shavings spiral out as we drill deeper, and some look and feel a bit damp—a sure sign of sap beginning to flow!

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Source: Stephanie Rathsack

 

With the addition of a spile and a blue sap bag, the tree is ready for the syrup season.

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Source: Stephanie Rathsack

 

 

This process will be repeated almost eighty times, and we’ll find ourselves visiting the sugar bush every day, stomping through the snow to visit each tree to collect the sap, with a bucket in each hand, continuing a tradition that’s been going on for hundreds of years.

 

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Source: Collections Online                                                   Source: Stephanie Rathsack
Minnesota Historical Society

 

Want to learn more about maple syrup, its history, and the transformation from sap to syrup? River Bend will be offering several programs now through the beginning of April, many with a chance to taste some real syrup, or to tap a tree yourself!

Maple syrup workshops will be offered March 8th and March 11th, the maple syrup open house is planned for April 1st, and the Maple Syrup Fun Run is scheduled for May 6th.

Check our website and Facebook for updates on dates and times. Maple sap is temperature-dependent, so all events are subject to change.

Visitors at bird feeders: Windows on the Wild!

Saturday mornings are often the highlight of the week: whether you’re looking forward to sleeping in, watching TV, having a big family breakfast, or coming to River Bend for a hike, there’s always something exciting to look forward to! This last Saturday, February 4, we had our monthly Bagels & Birds free event, a great time to come to River Bend Nature Center for yummy bagels and cream cheese, coffee and cocoa, and a chance to watch some wildlife through our Windows on the Wild.

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Forgive the poor quality, but here’s a photo of a Cardinal and a Red-Bellied Woodpecker reluctantly sharing the feeder.

I had a great time chatting with the visitors, and listening to the kids pointing out all the birds and squirrels they saw. The adults had a good time relaxing and talking while identifying the birds that came to the feeder, and there were a lot of great sightings! We saw beautiful male and female Cardinals, plenty of Chickadees, Downy, Hairy, and Red-Bellied Woodpeckers chasing each other around, several Juncos searching the ground for good seeds, Nuthatches climbing upside down on the feeders, and even a Blue Jay, who was super focused on finding the peanuts! We also saw several plump squirrels, including both the smaller Grey squirrels and the bigger reddish orange Fox squirrel!

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A very curious Downy Woodpecker.

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This Downy Woodpecker was really happy I refilled the suet feeder!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All of these sightings were great, and it was fun to watch the birds come and go with their treats, and it got even more exciting about half an hour in: one of the guests noticed that the birds were coming for food less frequently, and many were perched in the trees, unmoving. He mused that maybe there was a hawk nearby, so we all started looking; soon, we spotted what looked to be a raptor off in the top of a distant tree! Within a minute of continuing to watch the shape, it suddenly took off and came straight towards the feeders! It must have realized everyone knew it was coming, because it did not catch anything and instead flew up over the building in defeat. But we all kept our eyes searching after that, and saw two distant hawk shapes to the north! They never came closer, so the rest of the birds continued to eat in peace, with a captivated audience the whole time.

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This gorgeous Blue Jay kept coming back to that specific feeder only for the large in-shell peanuts, which you can see in its mouth!

While we only hold Bagels & Birds once a month, our Windows on the Wild are open anytime the Interpretive Center is open, and there’s always something cool to see. Occasionally, the large Pileated Woodpeckers come to visit the feeders, and some of the deer who live at River Bend teach their fawns to come eat at the bird feeders, especially in the winter, so it’s great to see them up close through the windows. Even wild turkeys occasionally try to eat from the feeders, which sometimes results in breaking the feeders with their large size. Regardless of who visits, there is always something neat to watch!

Every month, Paddington’s Seed & Feed makes a generous donation of birdseed to keep the feeders full, and we are very grateful for their support! If you like watching the birds, consider donating seed too!

Finally, if you’re interested in bird watching but don’t want to wait until the next Bagels & Birds, check out Audubon & The Cornell Lab’s 20th annual Great Backyard Bird Count! All you have to do is count the birds you see for at least 15 minutes on one or more of the 4 days between February 17 and 20. You can do this at a park, at River Bend, or in your own backyard! You can even take pictures and enter a photo contest! Whenever you have made your observations, simply enter your checklist online at http://gbbc.birdcount.org/. This is a great way to be a citizen scientist, and help scientists all over North America collect data for their studies!

Thank you for reading this, and we hope you and your friends and family decide to come visit us next month on Saturday, March 3rd to have a yummy breakfast, chat with a naturalist and other nature lovers, and just have a good time watching birds!

All the best,

Katie

Let Us Help With Your New Year’s Resolutions!

Such a great list!

There's No Such Thing As Bad Weather...

1st

With the New Year starting I am sure many of you are getting started on your New Year’s resolutions and I am excited to announce that River Bend Nature Center is here to help you achieve your goals! Maybe this year you are trying to be more active or maybe it is to spend more time with family and friends, you can do this and more at River Bend Nature Center! We have included below some common New Year’s Resolutions and ways you can work toward these goals at River Bend Nature Center. We wish you the best of luck with your resolutions and hope we can help you achieve them!

#1 Be healthy – Get Fit – Stay Active!

2nd

River Bend Nature Center has 10 miles of trails open year round from 6 am to 10 pm for skiing, snow shoeing, hiking, and biking! Starting this spring after the…

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