Monday, March 31, 2014

Snow Seeding at Coldwater Spring

By Neil Smarjesse, Biological Technician, National Park Service

Learning the intricacies of restoring prairie ecosystems can test ones patience at times, but with patience and the right strategies come results, sometimes in breathtaking fashion. One interesting prairie restoration method is snow seeding. 

Does anyone else think it’s crazy to take a bunch of super expensive flower seed, throw it over a snow covered prairie, and call it a day? Before I spent two summers under the tutelage of Private Lands Biologist Mike Malling with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, I would have thought this was crazy too. This spring we snow seeded Coldwater Spring prairie in order to boost forb diversity and you’ll be happy to know, there’s more to snow seeding than just throwing expensive seed in the snow! 
The weather was perfect for snow seeding at Coldwater Springs.

Consider this question;

How does Mother Nature seed a prairie? Or rather, how does seed from prairie plants naturally disperse?

If you said “Into the snow,” you’re on the right track. But why?

Seeds naturally have a hard outer casing. This seed casing softens up, or stratifies, when the freezing and thawing of the spring melt occurs. The weathering action of this freezing and thawing increases germination rates for when the seed finally hits the soil in late spring. 

The more you think about it, the more it makes sense. By seeding over the snow during late spring, we’re simply increasing the odds that more seeds will germinate and take root by emulating the conditions that some plants have evolved to take advantage of. 

Seeds were evenly distributed over the prairie by Jeff Stedman from Prairie Restoration.
The tractor went back and forth over the prairie many times to seed all of it.

Seeding at the right time of year is only part of the equation. The weather conditions need to be near perfect for a successful snow seed. The temperature should be right around freezing so when the seed hits the snow it doesn’t just blow away. It’s also good to have a nice sunny day, which allows the dark colored seeds to warm in the sunlight and sink down into the snow. If nighttime temperatures drop below freezing this cements the seed into place. This cementing, along with the tiny size of the flower seeds, will limit the chance of birds locating and eating everything that was just spread. Here you can barely see the tiny seeds already sinking into the snow after less than an hour of being spread. Hard to spot isn’t it? 
If you look carefully, you can seed the dark seeds on the white snow.

Before snow seeding at Coldwater Spring this March, we scheduled and rescheduled three times before conditions were sufficient. Thanks to the patience of Prairie Restorations who seeded for us, the conditions were prefect. It just so happened, that Mike Malling was snow seeding on the same day in south central Minnesota, and here’s what he said:


Please come to Coldwater this summer and enjoy the view! Remember to walk with care and stick to the trails, as newly planted prairies can be very delicate and even be home to ground nesting birds such as the grasshopper sparrow.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Remembering Bob Gospeter

By Kate Havelin, Community Outreach 

Coldwater Spring has flowed for centuries, but the park's history flows with stories of many people who have lived, worked and cared about this place.

Bob Gospeter's story is part of the history of Coldwater. In 1949, Bob surveyed Coldwater for the Bureau of Mines, so the agency could expand there. Bob recalled that Coldwater looked “like a jungle,” but he and the BOM liked what they saw.

Bob spotted a two-story red brick house on the property that had been an engineer’s house when Fort Snelling used the spring’s water decades earlier.  Housing was tight after World War II, so Bob asked his boss if his family could live in the old engineer’s house. For two years, from 1949 to 1951, the Bob and Mary Gospeter, and their young daughters Mary and Pat lived at Coldwater. Their nearest neighbors were about a mile away.

The family photo album shows normal family life -- at what’s now a public park. Bob, his daughters and their dog Mickey stand in front of a big brick water tower, one of two towers the Army used to store Coldwater’s water. Mary Gospeter tells stories about cooking in a lean-to kitchen, an add-on to the brick house. The kitchen didn’t have a basement so the pipes froze regularly.

While Bob was off at work, Mary would load the girls on a sled, bringing them down to the springhouse to fetch water for the family.  The Gospeters used 2,000 gallons of oil a year to heat their old house, but back then, oil cost just a dime a gallon. 

Long after the family moved out of the old engineer’s red brick house, Bob continued working for the Bureau of Mines.  His many jobs included Chief of Mechanical Services, Safety Officer and Radiation Protection Officer. As Radiation Officer, Bob heard stories about some supposed radiactive bears. He said he heard that during the Cold War, the Veterans Administration had tested radiation on bears. The story goes that a 'hot bear' had been buried somewhere at Coldwater. Bob said that although he and others looked, they never uncovered 
any signs of thew bear. But he recalled other signs of Cold War testing. The VA did Cold War research on dogs, and the Gospeters used to hear the caged dogs barking.

Bob helped shape how the Bureau of Mines Coldwater campus looked. When the Bureau needed to expand but couldn't afford a new building, he helped transport an unused building down from the Iron Range. The building became the Bureau's library, located on what's now the north wetland. 

When he retired in 1978, a coworker painted a Coldwater scene for Bob that has a prominent spot in the family’s Burnsville home. Bob worked at what we call Coldwater Spring for decades, but he said back then, no one called it Coldwater. To Bob and others, the place we call Coldwater was just part of Fort Snelling.   

In 2012, Bob and is family wanted to learn what the National Park Service was doing with Coldwater. Bob, Mary and daughter Pat were kind enough to share stories and family pictures with us. Last summer, Bob and is family came to Coldwater for our BioBlitz. We toured the property. Even when it started raining, Bob was still smiling, seeing a place that had been part of his life.

Bob Gospeter died on February 22, at age 91. His story is part of the history of Coldwater. We will remember Bob.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Scoop on Emerald Ash Borer

By Maria DeLaundreau, Minnesota GreenCorps

Ash trees are valued for their beauty, shade, and value to wildlife. They are very popular as a street tree, but you might recognize them from a path you like to tread at Coldwater Spring. Near the trail from the parking lot to the spring house there is a small grove of ash trees that provide refreshing shade in the heat of summer. These trees and other ash trees in the national park are threatened by the emerald ash borer, a small green invasive insect native to Asia.

Ash trees near the trail to the spring house at Coldwater Spring. 

There’s been a lot of buzz  about the emerald ash borer this winter. Many hope that an upside to the extreme cold we faced in January and February is that emerald ash borer larvae will freeze and die, potentially saving ash trees like those found at Coldwater Spring. Evidence shows it is unlikely we will get a long reprieve from this pest, even with the cold, because emerald ash borer larvae don’t start to freeze until the air temperature drops between -20 and -30° F, and wind chill does not count because the larvae are shielded from wind by bark. But perhaps the cold will set their populations back by a year or two. From a practical standpoint, this means that emerald ash borer are still here–we might just get a little more time to prepare for them.

The emerald ash borer is a green insect that is smaller than a penny.
This extra time is valuable because there is still much planning and defensive action to be taken against the invasion of emerald ash borer in our national park. There are, of course, several ash trees, like those shown above, that are along the trails and roads on the fringes of the park, but there are also many ash trees growing in the floodplains and bluffs of the Mississippi River. These trees are common in the forested areas around Coldwater Spring, but we don’t yet know how common.

This summer, I will be working with National Park Service staff and volunteers to inventory the trees at Coldwater Spring. The inventory will give us a better idea of how many ash trees are at Coldwater Spring and what the potential impact of this pest may be. This information will help guide management decisions concerning emerald ash borer. This insect is not known to be at Coldwater Spring yet, but it is present in the Fort Snelling area, so we anticipate that if it is not there now it will be within a few years.

Emerald ash borer has been found near Coldwater Spring at Fort Snelling.

Many people around the state are working to limit the spread emerald ash borer. The Minnesota Department of Agriculture is tracking the known locations of this pest on their website. They also have a helpful flow chart  to help you determine if a tree has been infected with emerald ash borer, and from there they provide information on contacting the Department of Agriculture about your find. For more information about emerald ash borer, or to learn what to do about ash trees at your home or on your street, check out the Minnesota DNR website.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Escape into this Wicked River

By Kate Havelin, Community Outreach

Burrowing into books is a cheap and easy escape from endless winter. My latest refuge is Wicked River: The Mississippi When It Last Ran Wild, a lively 2010 book by Lee Sandlin that’s the topic of our first River Readers Book Club. The book club is open to everyone, so come and bring friends. We’ll get together on Wednesday, March 26, 6 PM at the Rice Street Library meeting room, 1011 Rice Street, St. Paul. Check out Wicked River and chances are the story will pull you in, just as it did me and many other readers.
Voyageurs had good reason to call the Mississippi a wicked river. Sandlin writes that the river used to be more than a hundred feet deep, with strong currents and treacherous sandbars. In the 1800s, roughly one out of every five boats headed downriver ended up wrecked. The deep river’s meandering and shifting shape could be deadly. Unlike many rivers, the Mississippi of old didn’t have mountain valleys or a deep channel that forced it to maintain its shape. Instead, as Sandlin says, “The river remade itself every day.”
Sandlin writes that people who made their living on the river were as wild as the waters they plied. Often called “half horse, half alligator,” river men were known for their drinking, cheating and boastful ways. Sandlin paints vivid panoramas of life on the river, complete with floating daguerreotype studios and brothel boats.
By the time the Civil War ended, tens of millions of people were living along the Mississippi. So it made sense the government stepped in to tame the country’s most potent river. Engineers straightened the river’s unruly curves, cleared the hidden snags and trees, installed hundreds of beacons, and created a safe navigation channel. As Mark Twain wrote, “The government’s snag-boats go patrolling up and down, in these matter-of-fact days, pulling the river’s teeth.”
The fierce river Sandlin describes is long gone; but reading this book swept me back to a wilder time and place. Dive into this book, and it’ll carry you on a wicked adventure.
River Readers Book Club

Wednesday, March 26, 6 PM, Rice Street Library meeting room, 1011 Rice Street, St. Paul. The Mississippi River Fund will provide refreshments. For more information, contact