Despite the wild, wet spring weather, the mood was buoyant at the Master Naturalist conference in Willmar where Carrie Jennings, Freshwater’s research and policy director, gave the keynote presentation and led a field trip. She took them on a deep dive into the ecological history of the area, explaining how the glacial history set the stage for the plant communities that followed.
Carrie’s talk covered how the climate shifted with the retreat of ice and soil developed in the variable glacial parent material. This helped the attendees from across the state understand the unique history of their areas, and a field trip emphasized three distinct glacial landscapes in the Willmar area:
Alexandria moraine complex. This hilly, sandy area was created by the convergence of multiple ice lobes and is home to Sibley State Park and The Nature Conservancy’s Ordway Prairie.
Glacial Lake Benson lake plain. This area has deltas that feed into it from stagnant ice in the moraine complex.
Till plain of the stagnating Des Moines lobe. This area has preserved the very subtle imprint of crevasse ridges near Pennock on Highway 12.
The Master Naturalists Program is a University of Minnesota Extension effort similar to Freshwater’s Master Water Stewards program, though focused on native and invasive species and the ecosystems that support them. At their annual conference, naturalists with the most volunteer hours are recognized and additional training is offered, along with a silent auction, trivia contest, and even karaoke. The naturalists clearly know how to have fun, while still having energy for the 5:30 a.m. bird walk.
The conference offered Freshwater the opportunity to communicate the effects of changes in vegetative cover on water quality — a focus of Carrie’s current work in the Minnesota River watershed — to a wider audience.