2018 Annual Report

Friends of the Mississippi River

Susan Vento, Chair of FMR's Board of Directors

Susan Vento (by Anna Botz)

Letter from our board chair

Dear friends,

This year, our work was rich and wide like the mighty river we serve.

As a result of your generous support, we restored 1,000+ acres for pollinators and other wildlife, and worked with thousands of people (including 100+ SuperVolunteers) to take care of our river. Together, we transformed farm fields into habitat, and we’re reviving greenspace on Nicollet Island in the heart of Minneapolis.

We weighed in on 35 projects, plans and policies that impact our river, from groundwater protection rules to park master plans. We filled the halls of the Capitol on Water Action Day with attendees from throughout the state. Plus, over 2,000 River Guardians took action when threats arose, helping to save River Heights Park and restore environmental funding among other achievements.

And because the river is for all of us, we worked with North Minneapolis community members in calling for the city to include their voices and visions for a 1-mile stretch of public riverfront at the Upper Harbor Terminal.

Thank you for allowing us to continually turn to you — our community of passionate river friends — to provide the support that the river needs. Together, we can have a transformational impact on our waters and ensure a vibrant community today and for generations to come.

With gratitude,

In honor of our silver year, we shined the spotlight on our beautiful river and dedicated supporters — FMR volunteers, partners, members and advocates like you — in this 25th-anniversary video.

Our work together

In honor of our silver year, we shined the spotlight on our beautiful river and dedicated supporters — FMR volunteers, partners, members and advocates like you — in this 25th-anniversary video.

Our work together

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Together we restored 1,253 acres

of river habitat for wildlife in the metro area


Species of Greatest Conservation Need spotted at our habitat restoration sites 


acres of buckthorn

removed to make way for native habitat 

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pounds of prairie and woodland seeds spread to create diverse habitat

Surveys funded by the MN Ornithologist Union, 3M Cottage Grove, the MN Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund as recommended by the Legislative‐Citizen Commission on MN Resources and completed with partners Carolyn & Denny Emrick and the MN Department of Natural Resources.

This year, Schik analyzed her work and found that the number of bird species at these surveyed FMR-restored prairies has increased across the board.

“It's great to see the number of Species of Greatest Conservation Need grow at our sites. Rare and endangered bird species even showed up at relatively small, 25-acre sites, demonstrating that even small sites can provide critical habitat for prairie-dependent species,” says Schik.

Prairie (by Karen Schik)

This year, birds flocked to FMR-restored prairies

('Henslow's sparrow' by Jim Hudgins/USFWS. CC BY 2.0)

The Henslow's sparrow, an endangered species that relies on prairie habitat, is one of the many birds we found during nesting season at our prairie restoration sites.

As development edges out and fragments natural areas, it's crucial that we work to restore protected land for wildlife. That's our goal when we embark on a restoration project. But how do we know if we're successful?

To find out, FMR Senior Ecologist Karen Schik has conducted breeding bird surveys on several FMR restoration sites for over 10 years. In many cases, we even have baseline data on how many bird species nested in croplands or old fields before we began restoration.

Henslow’s sparrow

In 2018, more than 160 riverfront acres bloomed into prairie for the first time in over 100 years at William H. Houlton Conservation Area in Elk River. But this transformation didn't happen overnight.

We knew this spot at the confluence of Elk River and the Mississippi was special. So in 2014 when it went up for sale, we began to work with the City of Elk River, the Trust for Public Land and others to secure funding to purchase and permanently protect the site. And in 2015, what was known as Houlton Farm — one of the largest, undeveloped family-owned riverfront properties in the metro area — became the city of Elk River's William H. Houlton Conservation Area.

The city chose FMR to lead the restoration of Houlton to high-quality wildlife habitat. With our management plan as a guide, we've been working ever since to control invasive trees and plants, to restore the riverine woodland, and to introduce wetland and transform what used to be 180 acres of cropland and degraded grassland back into prairie. And this year, the prairie bloomed.

became a prairie

This year, a soybean field

Houlton restoration made possible with funding from the Outdoor Heritage Fund and partnerships with the City of Elk River and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Photos by Karen Schik, Alex Roth and Chris Smith.

Videos by Tom Reiter

Listen to the amphibian

chorus at Houlton

Prairie skink

Houlton restoration this summer

Houlton before restoration

Alex Roth, FMR ecologist and Houlton restoration lead says of the early days of the project:

“When I first visited in 2015, it really hit me that the site was a blank canvas to which we could restore the colors and sounds of vibrant native habitat. I knew we had the opportunity to make a lasting legacy here.”

More prairie means more prairie wildlife

More than 20 species of prairie plants bloomed in the first year after our fall seeding, including bluestems and black-eyed Susans. We expect even more plant diversity next summer.

Soybean fields ran right up to the riverbanks. Throughout the past century, farmers grew soybeans and corn here, fostering little habitat for river wildlife.

Alex Roth (by Tom Reiter)

Gray tree frog

Amphibians are finding our newly created wetland

Monarch butterfly

One of many pollinators returning to the restoration site

Prairie skink

This lizard native to MN can only survive in prairie

Gray tree frog
Monarch caterpillar

This year, we found clear evidence that our restoration efforts are working. FMR ecologists and our wildlife consultants, along with local Elk River High School students, have found reptiles, amphibians, and pollinator species that need this newly blooming prairie and restored wetland to survive.

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Together we engaged thousands of local residents to learn about and steward our river

More than 6,000

hours spent restoring and learning about the Mississippi by participants


events held for people to pull or plant, make rain barrels, learn and more 

More than 4,000

people joined in on our volunteer

and educational events

Nicollet Island photo by Mississippi Watershed Management Organization (CC BY-NC 2.0).

This year, volunteers began to restore a beloved urban island

Over 25 volunteers dug in at the first public habitat restoration event on Nicollet Island, right in the heart of Minneapolis. Surrounded by homes, a school, and with downtown towering nearby, Nicollet Island will be a home for even more wildlife. Volunteers planted 90 trees and shrubs, and over 400 sedges, grasses and wildflowers to increase forest diversity and provide high value to pollinators and wildlife.

The event was part of a multi-year restoration of the natural areas on the north half of the island, which will enhance degraded forest areas and benefit local birds, butterflies and other wildlife. Together we’re creating 2 acres of native prairie and recreating a pocket of maple forest historically present on the island. And visitors can already enjoy a new trail through the ongoing prairie restoration.

Project in partnership with Mississippi Watershed Management Organization and partly funded by National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and United States Forest Service. Photos by Will Stock.

We envisioned the future of Nicollet Island

Tim Lynch talking and planting

“I'm happy to be making the island a more vibrant and sustainable place for everyone. It's been fun seeing the whole process.”

Tim Lynch, local high school teacher

“I wish for this tree to stand tall forever.”

—Oliver, a neighbor, who tied a note around one of the trees he planted

Oliver tying a note around a tree
Angie and daughter

“I’m excited to come back in a few years to see what we've done.”

Angie Andresen, with her daughter

It’s easy to walk past a storm drain and not think about where rain and snowmelt go. In most cases in the metro area, storm drains send water directly to the river... and all the leaves, salt, trash and chemicals on the road go with it.

When youth and service groups stencil storm drains with this clear reminder, it’s hard for passersby to ignore potential pollutants or to forget their connection to the river. Our stencilers make a real mark on our water system.

This year, we stenciled more than 2,200 storm drains

This project was made possible with support from the City of St. Paul Public Works Department, District 10 Como Community Council and St. Paul Parks and Recreation. Photos by Kate Clayton.

Artist Gustavo Lira presented his finished creation. You can visit this colorful, water quality-themed mural at Como Lake! (And in 2019, our artists are heading to Lake Phalen.)

Volunteers learned about the important connection between our yards, streets, lakes and rivers, then helped paint the mural at Como Park.

Artist Gustavo Lira designed storm drain murals with input and support from the Como Active Citizen Network. The process celebrated the community and our water.

Young volunteers paint the mural
Gustavo Lira with mural
Two sketches of a turtle and a lotus with water

Artists and volunteers visualized the connection between our river and our land

“Volunteering with FMR, I learn new information, visit places that I might not visit otherwise, and work with fellow volunteers who share my values and concerns. And I like returning to sites year after year to see the places come alive with birds, butterflies, the hum of bees and the return of native plants.”
—Laurie Bruno, Veteran SuperVolunteer

This year, we had a record-breaking 105 SuperVolunteers

This year, a record number of our volunteers earned SuperVolunteer status (FMR volunteers who come to four or more hands-on restoration events in a year). More than 100 pulled on work gloves again and again, rolled up their sleeves (or layered up) to ready lands for new habitat, to plant seeds, starts and stakes, and to clean up the banks of our Mighty Mississippi.

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Together we protected the water we drink

and enhanced the river for all


projects and plans

weighed in on by

FMR staff and advocates

More than 2,000

River Guardians

took action when threats

to the river arose

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More than 750

people urged legislators
to protect our water
on Water Action Day

Photo by Audubon Minnesota

Over 750 Minnesotans from all walks of life and every corner of the state came together to speak with one voice for protecting our water. In its second year, Water Action Day grew to include over 38 partner and sponsor organizations that share our clean water goals. A diverse and energetic rally at the Capitol headlined by Winona LaDuke was testament to the power of our collective ask.

Briefings on lobbying 101, trainings, an ask-the-expert wisdom table and film screenings prepared people to meet with their legislators. We set up over 144 appointments with attendees' representatives. And 75 youth participated in a special youth caucus with representatives from Gov. Mark Dayton's administration. We called for groundwater protection, prevention of salt pollution in our water, and a shift toward agricultural practices and crops to improve our river's health.

This year, hundreds gathered at our Capitol to protect our water

Anna Springer near water with a child

“Being a River Guardian is a simple commitment that yields impact! It helps me stay connected with issues that I care about and offers actionable opportunities to advocate for the river and other water quality concerns.”

—Anna Springer, landscape architect and River Guardian

This year, 2,000 River Guardians took action

When threats to the river arise, more than 2,000 people are now at the ready to contact their representatives on behalf of the Mighty Mississippi. This year, River Guardians reined in water quality rollbacks at the Capitol, worked for improved public access to the riverfront in North and Northeast Minneapolis, voiced support for drinking water protection and more.

River Guardians helped save 7.5 acres of open space parkland in Inver Grove Heights. River Heights Park provides much-needed wildlife habitat as part of the river corridor and Mississippi River flyway. When the city council considered carving up the land and selling it to developers, FMR reached out to neighbors. We talked to every council member and the mayor, and so did our River Guardians. After hearing from dozens of community members, the city council unanimously voted to save River Heights Park.

The city then approached us about working together with neighbors to make the park more accessible — adding a park sign, bench and more — and to restore important bird habitat. Last fall, we held our first of many successful stewardship events on the beloved river bluff.

This year, we saved

River Heights Park
(for good this time)

Thanks to the city of Inver Grove Heights and RBC Wealth Management for project support.

Photo by Tom Reiter

Tom Wilkens

“In our neighborhood, we had a strong opposition against the sale of River Heights Park. But I contacted Friends of the Mississippi River and we began hearing voices from all over the community. It's important to have a group like FMR and the River Guardians to speak up for the river and environmental values.”

—Tom Wilkens, River Heights Park neighbor and FMR River Guardian

Photo by USFWS

This year, we initiated a lawsuit to restore our trust

In the eleventh hour of the 2018 legislative session, legislators borrowed more than $100 million from Minnesota’s Environment & Natural Resources Trust Fund without public testimony. We made every effort to restore the constitutionally dedicated environmental funds without success, ultimately initiating a lawsuit with a coalition of other organizations in fall 2018.

Fortunately, we were able to work with Gov. Walz and 2019 legislators on a bipartisan basis to fund projects through proper sources, helping to restore our trust and protect the integrity of our constitutionally dedicated funds.


This year, we joined Northsiders in calling for the Upper Harbor Terminal to be developed in the public's interest

For years, we've worked with community members in North and Northeast Minneapolis, whose industrial riverfront offers little green space compared to downriver neighbors'. As the city envisions a transformation for this region “Above the Falls,” one site rose to the fore this year.

The Upper Harbor Terminal in North Minneapolis is a publicly owned former barge terminal stretching along a mile of riverfront. Done well, the redevelopment of this city-owned site could better connect residents with the river and be a model of sustainability and community wealth-building. But the city’s current plan lets private companies take the lead and reap the majority of benefits.

This year, we supported community aspirations for the site and contributed to local organizations’ efforts to push for a better, more inclusive planning process, and a plan that serves residents and our river.

Photo by Tom Reiter

Adair Mosley

“Whether it's migrant or immigrant communities or communities that labored on behalf of this great city, they've always had some sort of connection to the river. However, over time there's been a disconnection that's happened. I really see our work as bringing that back and making sure that everyone benefits from this great amenity, this great natural resource that sits in our backyard and that all can thrive from it.”

—Adair Mosley, Executive Director of Pillsbury United Communities on our work together in North Minneapolis

Photo by Tom Reiter

We worked toward equity and inclusion

At FMR we believe that the Mississippi River belongs to us all, and its gifts should flow equally to everyone in our community. Furthermore, we know that environmental problems disproportionately burden communities of color, indigenous peoples and low-income communities. For these reasons, we are committed to the ongoing work of becoming culturally competent, welcoming and inclusive of all people both within our organization as well as in the range of issues and challenges that we engage in.

This year, to move our intentions into action, we worked with consultants to write our Equity Strategic Action Plan. This plan outlines concrete action steps, timelines and needed resources for achieving our equity goals. Every staff member assessed their own individual cultural competence and committed to ways they could move along the continuum of cultural competency in their work.

Person looking out over river

Photos by Tom Reiter and Grace Bischoff

Prose and poems on personal connections with our Mighty Mississippi

Impactful actions you can take every day

to protect the Mississippi

Everything you need to know to explore FMR staff’s favorite places along the metro river

Keep celebrating with these anniversary features from 2018:

Together we celebrated 25 years

of protecting the Mississippi River


river stories


special river places


ways to help the river

Person with camera
Prairie flowers with skyline
Map of Twin Cities

Special thanks to those who gave

in honor of our milestone 25th anniversary

Celebrating 25 years
Leuthold Family Foundation

Ryan & Denise Mallery

Perry McGowan & Sheila Smith

Hokan & Penny Miller

Susan & Bob Morrison

Mortenson Family Foundation

Ford & Catherine Nicholson

Susan Noe & Andrew Dubner

Edward & Charlotte Oliver

Amy & Chip Pearson

Thomas Reiter & Sharon Miyamoto

Paul & Mary Reyelts

John & Marsha Soucheray

Kathleen Stack

Karen Sternal & Lowell Picket

Susan Vento

David Washburn & Meg Anderson

Deanna Wiener & Jim Tilsen

Robert & Teri Crosby

Stewart & Lesley Crosby

Chad & Maggie Dayton

Judson Dayton & Shelley Mydra-Dayton

Edward & Sherry Ann Dayton

George Dunn & Donna Harris

Jeff & Linda Evans

Forrest & Lisa Flint

Peter & Mary Gove

Rochelle Gunn & James Mayer
Hawkins Family Foundation

Diane & John Herman

Chris & Julie Higgins

Barry & Kristi Holden

Jeanine & Zachary Holden

Ruth & John Huss

Shotsy & Ward Johnson

Julia Kaemmer Fund of HRK Foundation

Kathy & Al Lenzmeier

3M Foundation

Acorn Charitable Trust

John Anfinson

Sharon & Terry Avent

Marcia Avner & Wy Spano

Big River Real Estate, LLC

Suzanne Blue

Colleen & Patrick Bollom

Sam Boren & Steven King

Alice & Charles Bresnahan

Ronnie & Roger Brooks

Ellen & Peter Brown

Bruce F. Vento Science Educator Scholarship Fund

of The Saint Paul Foundation

Whitney & Sarah Clark

Cochineal Charitable Trust

Gretchen & David Crary

Ellie Crosby - The Longview Foundation

Photos by Anna Botz

Thanks to our artists

Bao Phi

In September, we celebrated the river and our 25th anniversary with a sold-out crowd at Aria in Minneapolis. Our sincerest gratitude to all those who supported and attended this event.

This incredible evening featured the premiere of our 25th-anniversary video, and performances of river-inspired pieces by local artists, writers and musicians. Relive some of the performances and find out more about the artists below.

Jearlyn Steele
Sandy Spieler
Seitu Jones
Gwen Westerman
Laura Caviani

And we honored our river

Illustration: two hands holding water that becomes a river
Upper Harbor Terminal
Storm drain stencil volunteers
Nicollet Island
Houlton prairie

Without you, we could not have welcomed pollinators and prairie skinks back to a former soybean field, begun restoration of an urban island, engaged thousands of Twin Cities neighbors or supported our communities' calls for access to the river.

This year, and every year,

your generous support acts

as a powerful force for the river


Statement of Financial Activities

*Calendar year unrestricted amounts

Replaced with final audited numbers in August 2019

2018 Expenses: $2,217,783

2018 Revenues: $2,381,838

Photos by Paul Raymaker, Rich Wahls and Tom Reiter

River Guardian
Volunteers at Cherokee Park
Volunteers at Grey Cloud Dunes

Join us in 2019

Sign up as a River Guardian

Get your hands dirty

Become a member

Advisory Board

Paul Aasen

Shirley Hunt Alexander

Michelle Beeman

Peter Bell

Charles K. Dayton

David Durenberger

Ron Kroese

George Latimer

Lynn Moratzka

Dr. Michael Osterholm

Phil Riveness

Sen. Tina Smith

Dr. Deborah Swackhamer

Liz Wielinski

Our Team

Susan Vento, Chair

Ronnie Brooks, Vice Chair

Perry McGowan, Treasurer

Peter Gove, Secretary

Dr. John Anfinson (Ex-Officio)

Marcia Avner

Paul Bauknight

Stewart Crosby

Chad Dayton

George Dunn

Forrest Flint

Diane Herman

Chris Higgins

Julia Kaemmer

Ryan Mallery

Hokan Miller

Deanna Wiener

Board of Directors


Whitney Clark, Executive Director 

Kate Clayton, Youth Coordinator

John Czyscon, Development Associate

Betsy Daub, Conservation Director

Sara DeKok, Associate Director-Development Director

Sophie Downey, Program Assistant

Tessa Enroth, Individual Gifts Officer

Adam Flett, Stewardship & Education Program Director

Sheila Gothmann, Finance Director

Jennifer Schuetz Hadley, Database Coordinator

Barb Heintz, Accountant

Irene Jones, Senior Policy Advocate 

Amy Kilgore, Volunteer Coordinator

Daurius Mikroberts, Program Assistant

Colleen O'Connor Toberman, River Corridor Director

Raynette Prince, Administrative Assistant

sue rich, Communications Director

Ellen Rogers, Communications Associate

Alex Roth, Ecologist

Trevor Russell, Water Program Director

Karen Schik, Senior Ecologist

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101 E. 5th St.

Ste. 2000

Saint Paul, MN 55101