Thank you, youth river stewards!

Four youth volunteers stand in a wooded area holding a large buckthorn branch.

This fall, Farmington High School Honors Society masked up and removed buckthorn at Rambling River Park. Metro youth contributed 142 hours to making way for habitat this year.

This year, FMR found new ways to engage young volunteers through the COVID-19 pandemic. Even though many schools and groups began convening virtually without field trips in early 2020, FMR worked with smaller groups of volunteers and visited virtual classrooms across the metro area.

Thanks to young river stewards from Como High School, Farmington High School, Incarnation Lutheran Church, Macalester College, the University of Minnesota Sustainability Club and countless others for taking the initiative to make volunteering a priority during the pandemic, and for all they contributed through our education and stewardship programs.

Stenciling for water quality in St. Paul

One COVID-safe activity is FMR’s storm drain stenciling kit program. Stenciling kits are available for no-contact pickup at our office in downtown St. Paul for community, school or family groups when temperatures are above 40 degrees F.

This year, over 60 young FMR volunteers stenciled more than 280 storm drains with educational messages, distributed more than 470 related educational flyers to neighbors, and collected trash. A special shout out to the Concordia Saint Paul Football Team and Saint Paul Girl Scout Troop 16728 for stenciling in this year’s October cold spell!

Stenciling messages next to storm drains is an effective way to remind our community that storm drains are directly connected to the river and wildlife.

Seeing "Keep 'em clean, Drains to river" painted on our street corners calls attention to the fact that there is not a magic filtration system under our streets — whatever we see along the curb, gutter or roadside gets carried into the river when it rains and when snow melts. Road salt and cigarette butts are some of the worst pollutants. But leaves, grass, fertilizers, pesticides, oil, gas, paint, antifreeze and everyday trash pollute the river too.

Four people with stenciling kit
In addition to painting educational messages next to storm drains, volunteers clean the area around them and distribute flyers to nearby homes and businesses full of pollution reduction tips.

Invasive species removal

As many FMR supporters are aware, invasive plants have drastically changed Minnesota's landscape. FMR volunteers often remove buckthorn and others throughout the metro area as part of our habitat restoration projects. This year 52 youth donated their time to restore overtaken areas to enhance wildlife habitat. These youth spent 142 hours battling buckthorn and burdock.

Youth work on piles of buckthorn
Farmington Honors Society students spent four hours on a Saturday morning removing buckthorn from Rambling River Park in Farmington. With the ongoing pandemic limiting many social engagements, this was also an opportunity for students to spend time with each other in a safe, socially distanced way.

Classroom education

While we always enjoy the outdoors, FMR spends plenty of time inside classrooms, too. This year, we reformatted several in-person lessons to be available virtually. So far, despite the limitations, we've engaged over 570 students in virtual classroom lessons about watersheds, wetlands, invasive species and erosion. Additionally, the online lessons on our website have been viewed by over 1,100 people and reached at least 180 students in the Twin Cities and beyond.

Team up with us this winter

Even though the outdoor event season is over, if you'd like to connect about a virtual program for a classroom or youth group, let us know! Most programs are 30 to 45 minutes long and include a live demonstration and additional materials for your group. To learn more, check out our menu of offerings or contact FMR Youth Coordinator Kate Clayton at kclayton@fmr.org.