In a quiet neighborhood in northeastern Eden Prairie stands a watershed district office and learning center on five acres of land adjacent to the city’s Cardinal Creek Conservation Area.
People go there to learn about rain gardens, cisterns, permeable driveway and patio pavers, wildlife-habitat restoration, and generally all topics related to stormwater management.
It’s called Discovery Point, and it may be the model for another watershed district that is considering the purchase of 28 acres in southern Eden Prairie for preservation but also possible use as an office and learning center.
When the Riley Purgatory Bluff Creek Watershed District’s board of managers meets again on Nov. 16, it will take public comment on a new plan to purchase undeveloped land near the historic Fredrick-Miller Spring and Riley Creek, preserve it as oak savannah and prairie, and further explore using it as a headquarters and “real life lab.” If those plans are realized, the district will be following the Eden Prairie example set by the Nine Mile Creek Watershed District roughly 10 years ago.
It was 2013-14 when the Nine Mile Creek Watershed District moved into a Gerard Drive home donated to the agency by Barbara Kaerwer. Barbara and her husband, Bud, had built the home in 1949. After Bud passed away in 1993, it was Barbara’s plan to give the house and five acres to the watershed districts for offices and education.
In 2010, the City of Eden Prairie made the land-use changes necessary to make that happen, and today Discovery Point serves not only as a base for six watershed district staffers but also as a learning and interpretive center meant to show the public the importance of good water-quality management.
What watershed districts do
In 1955, the Minnesota Legislature authorized the creation of watersheds throughout the state via the Watershed Act. The intent of the act was to create water management policies on a watershed basis, since water doesn’t follow political boundaries. The charge to districts was to protect, manage, and restore the water quality of Minnesota’s lakes, streams, and wetlands.
Portions of Eden Prairie are within three different watershed districts. Most of EP is within the Riley Purgatory Bluff Creek Watershed District, but the northeastern corner is in the Nine Mile Creek Watershed District, and the southern border is in the Lower Minnesota River Watershed District.
All of them are led by staff and volunteer managers, and work on conservation projects but also flood control and land-use issues.
Having a base like Discovery Point where people can learn about being good stewards of water and natural resources is valuable, says Nine Mile Deputy Administrator Erica Sniegowski, because most of the land within watershed districts is privately owned.
“We really see this as a place where residents of the district, stakeholders, can come and see hands-on practices of things that we are implementing in the watershed district,” said Sniegowski. “So, it’s not only things that we as a watershed district are implementing, but things that we are asking community members to lean into as well.”
Added Sniegowski: “A lot of that is education, right? People understanding what are their impacts; what they can do to reduce their impact on lakes and creeks, and how we can work together to solve some of these challenging problems with our urban water resources.”
The Discovery Point headquarters office and learning center are open during regular business hours, generally 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays. But the grounds are open for exploration from dawn to dusk, and people will encounter outdoor interpretive signage about topics such as rain gardens and cisterns. Visitors can also use the grounds to connect to a one-mile walking trail in the adjacent Cardinal Creek Conservation Area, managed by the City of Eden Prairie.
Different process, similar results
Nine Mile Creek Watershed District operated out of rented office space in Edina before moving to the former Kaerwer home, which has been remodeled and expanded over time.
The Riley Purgatory Creek Watershed District also works out of rented office space – in Chanhassen, southwest of the intersection of Highway 5 and Dell Road – out of which it operates some educational programs. But that could change if it acquires the 28 acres of Eden Prairie land along Spring Road that was previously planned for a 50-home development.
The circumstances of how that could happen are quite different from the donation that created Discovery Point. The Riley Purgatory Bluff Creek Watershed District is proposing to purchase the property for an agreed-upon price of $5.775 million, financing the purchase with long-term bond debt, minus any grants or funding from Hennepin County, the State of Minnesota, or other agencies.
District Administrator Terry Jeffery has said purchasing and preserving the steeply sloped property is the primary objective, and using the land and existing home for educational purposes – with the help of partners – is less certain and might be further down the road.
Some City of Eden Prairie review and approval may also be required. “It depends on what they ultimately want to do with the property,” said city Community Development Director Julie Klima.
As with Discovery Point, the Spring Road property adjoins open space already publicly owned: The property is adjacent to the City of Eden Prairie’s 60-acre Prairie Bluff Conservation Area on the river valley bluffs as well as the Fredrick-Miller Spring, which is also on city-owned land. In addition, acquisition of the 28 acres would complete a contiguous corridor of public land along Riley Creek from Lake Riley to the Minnesota River.
As was done by the Nine Mile Creek Watershed District, the Riley Purgatory Creek Watershed District would place a conservation easement on the property to permanently protect it from development.
Nine Mile Creek Watershed District officials say they believe that having a facility that offers public education has benefited not only the district but its residents, especially those in Eden Prairie.
“I think it’s been successful for us,” said District Administrator Randy Anhorn. “I think there’s a lot of benefits to having your own building and creating your own outreach and programs around it.”
“It adds to what you can do,” agreed Sniegowski. “From what we see, it’s really become a neighborhood amenity.”
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