Targeting specific subsets of citizen audiences can be an effective way to build understanding and engagement for protecting water resources. Aqua Chautauqua and Shoreland Advisors are two new efforts led by Karen Terry of University of Minnesota Extension that are reaching audiences in specific geographic regions to focus attention on how they can be a part of restoring and protecting water resources in their areas.
Chautauquas of days-gone-by were traveling shows that set up in rural communities and brought education, arts, history, and culture to citizens. Following that model as well as STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math), Aqua Chautauquas meld the art, history, culture, and science of water to raise the level of knowledge and depth of conversations about water resources. Each program has 20+ learning stations, each with a hands-on component to engage participants such as touchscreen watershed maps, a Water Bar at which guests can sample a flight of drinking water from different sources, a station on aquatic invasive species showcasing the distribution of various invaders, and a model stream where visitors can experiment with the shape of the river channel. Presenters are encouraged to focus on local water issues and emphasize the watershed framework to attendees.
So far, four Aqua Chautauqua events have been held in the Otter Tail River Watershed located in West Central Minnesota. The physical setting for each of the programs is carefully chosen to ensure that the learning stations are arranged in a way where participants never feel rushed to move on and are encouraged to stay at each station and engage with the experts as long as they like. The Fergus Falls programs were laid out along the Otter Tail River, with learning stations set up in three city parks connected by a river walk. The Detroit Lakes programs were held in a county park nestled between two prized lakes in the community. Karen estimates that over 1,000 participants visited these four Aqua Chautauquas alone.
Karen has also been working with Itasca Waters, a non-profit group in northeastern Minnesota, in building a program with the long-term goal of having healthier shorelines on — and cleaner water in — Itasca County’s 457 lakes. To achieve that goal, people are being asked to consider how they manage their lakefront properties. For example, could they consider restoring shorelines to native vegetation? Is surface water runoff being redirected away from the lake? Are septic systems are upgraded to meet modern-day standards? Would homeowners consider smaller lawns and not using fertilizers?
Survey data identified that one of the barriers to property owners implementing beneficial landscaping practices was a lack of information and not knowing where to obtain this information – and from there the Shoreland Advisors Program was born. The Shoreland Advisors are a corps of volunteers who meet one-on-one with landowners who request a visit. The volunteers range from those who are already very knowledgeable about shoreland management to those who are interested in helping but not yet equipped with the tools and knowledge to sufficiently address questions from landowners. Itasca Waters reached out to the University of Minnesota Extension’s Water Resources Team to provide training and resources for those Shoreland Advisors who need it.
The first workshop, Shoreland Property Management for Water Quality 101, was held last spring and was attended by 36 potential Shoreland Advisors. The workshop overviewed the basics of how landscaping decisions affect water resources and addressed concepts and topics such as impervious surfaces, grading, rain gardens, shoreline buffers, and water-friendly lawn care. During the second workshop, also held last spring, volunteers toured sites that are similar to those that they might be asked to visit as volunteers. Landscaping practices were discussed, and the volunteers had the opportunity to practice interacting with landowners in a mock roll-playing exercise.
According to Karen a second tier of training is planned for 2020 and will be more in-depth, including hands-on workshops such as planting and maintaining rain gardens and shoreline buffers. All the training is optional and offered by Itasca Waters at no cost to the volunteers.
Through both of these programming efforts, Karen and others are working to ensure citizens in Itasca and the Otter Tail River Watershed are engaged in protecting and understanding the water resources their local community.
Karen Terry, Associate Extension Professor, University of Minnesota-Extension
Karen has worked as an Educator with the University of Minnesota Extension’s Water Resources Team since 2006. With a B.S. in Fisheries and Wildlife and a Master’s in Education, her area of expertise is natural resources related to water, with a specialty in river geomorphology, ecology, and hydrology. Karen strives to raise awareness and understanding of the relationships between land uses and water quality, quantity, and timing throughout a watershed. Karen provides education primarily through face-to-face workshops, field days, and online teaching.