Par for the course

Revitalized Brown’s Creek flows through two area golf courses

By ANGIE HONG – Featured Columnist

People expect certain things from a golf course. Rolling hills and neatly trimmed grass with a smattering of sand traps and man-made ponds are the norm. You see golfers wearing polo shirts and crisp khaki shorts, and white covered golf carts zipping along on the pathways. A clubhouse is standard, and so too are the nicer-than-average cars parked outside of the building. Would you expect, though, to find a coldwater fishery with naturally reproducing trout and a diverse assemblage of macroinvertebrates?

This spring, the Oak Glen Golf Course in Stillwater wraps up a $300,000 stream improvement project that restores natural habitat along 1,300 feet of Brown’s Creek and convert two acres of land adjacent to the stream from turf grass into a buffer of native plants. The project helps filter out pollutants that might otherwise enter the stream, and also lowers water temperatures, which benefit trout in the stream.

The project was funded in part by a $210,000 grant from the Clean Water Land and Legacy Amendment, with the Brown’s Creek Watershed District providing the remainder of the funding. A similar project, completed at Stillwater Country Club in 2010, has also improved habitat in the area and now keeps 46.3 tons of sediment per year out of the stream.

Brown’s Creek is a designated trout stream that originates from groundwater fed wetlands in north-central Washington County and enters into the St. Croix River just north of Stillwater near Wolf Marine.

In the past, the stream supported a healthy trout population. But in recent years, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has found that only stocked fish are turning up in surveys. In other words, the trout no longer reproduce in Brown’s Creek.

In addition, studies conducted by the Brown’s Creek Watershed District have shown that many of the aquatic insects (macroinvertebrates) that the trout eat can no longer survive in the stream because the water is too warm. As a result, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has classified the stream as impaired for failing to support biological life.

To address this problem, the Brown’s Creek Watershed District approached several landowners along the stream in recent years to complete projects that restore habitat and improve water quality. Designed by local firm Emmons & Olivier Resources, the Oak Glen Golf Course project reduces stream temperatures by shading and narrowing the creek. A constructed flood plain bench defines the native plant buffer along the stream, and constructed riffles in the stream protect the project infrastructure and provide habitat for the trout. According to Brown’s Creek Watershed Administrator Karen Kill, these changes should lower the stream’s maximum daily temperature by six degrees, enough to transform the stream from a fatal environment into a healthy home for trout.

For golfers at Oak Glen, as well as Stillwater area residents and visitors, the changes along Brown’s Creek are highly visible. The area of restoration runs from just north of McKusick Road to the north edge of the golf course along the railroad tracks. It will be most noticeable from holes 10, 15, 16 and 17. In addition to improving conditions for trout and the insects that sustain them, the stream plantings and buffer zone also provide habitat for birds, dragonflies, butterflies and other beneficial insects. It also provides a unique course aesthetic, with enhanced signature holes, and reduces irrigation needs.

Earthwork and major construction for the Oak Glen project was completed last year, and although landscaping and planting is still in progress, there are signs that trout in the stream are already reaping the benefits. Golf course staff have seen trout swimming by and people downstream have been finding the fish alive and healthy, as well. In the coming years, the DNR and Watershed District will continue to monitor Brown’s Creek to determine if macroinvertebrates and trout return to healthy populations. Meanwhile, the restored stream corridor and future signage will serve as an important educational tool for golfers and the general public.

Will natural habitat and high-quality streams become par for the course at golf courses in Minnesota? If more follow in the footsteps of Oak Glen and the Stillwater Country Club, happy trout and singing birds might soon be as common a sight as ladies in pink golf shirts and men wearing visors.

Angie Hong is an educator for East Metro Water – www.mnwcd.org/cleanwater – which includes Brown’s Creek, Carnelian Marine – St. Croix, Comfort Lake – Forest Lake, Middle St. Croix, Ramsey Washington-Metro, Rice Creek, South Washington and Valley Branch Watersheds, Cottage Grove, Dellwood, Forest Lake, Lake Elmo, Stillwater, West Lakeland and Willernie, Washington County and the Washington Conservation District. Contact her at 651-275-1136 x.35 or angie.hong@mnwcd.org.

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