Phalen Effort wins Project of the Year Award

The Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District has worked for more than five years to restore the shores of Lake Phalen, one of our area’s most popular water resources. In 2005, the Minnesota Association of Watershed Districts deemed our effort the most comprehensive lakeshore project in the state by naming the Phalen Shoreland Restoration Project Watershed Project of the Year.

A highly used regional park in St. Paul with over one-half million visitors each year, Lake Phalen has had a long history of shoreline alterations. Phalen Park was created in 1899, and efforts to begin taming the lakeshore began almost immediately. Vegetation in and along the shoreline was removed, and dredge material was used to fill marshy land adjacent to the lakeshore. Soon after, a flock of sheep was introduced to manicure the lake edge. These activities spurred shore erosion and, beginning in 1910, rock rip-rap was used as a fix.

By 2000, 80 percent of the Lake Phalen shoreline was in a highly degraded state. Approximately 60 percent or 1.6 miles of Phalen’s shore was covered with rip-rap. Numerous segments were eroding away making the walking paths dangerous.

Hoping to improve the area, our Watershed District, in partnership with the city of St. Paul, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and others, developed a five-year restoration plan. Using natural methods, the plan aimed to reduce erosion, improve safety, create fish and wildlife habitat and improve the aesthetics of the lake by eliminating rip-rap along the shore and planting native vegetation.

Highly eroded slopes were recontoured and a variety of native plants were introduced to stabilize the shore. Minnesota native plants were the cornerstone to dramatically improving the quality of the shoreline.

Except for the excavation services, all of the labor was provided by our Watershed District, St. Paul city staff, sentenced-to-serve crews and volunteers that included local citizens as well as school groups. Volunteer help alone accounted for approximately 50 percent of the field labor. Since 2001 more than 13 local schools and over 1,600 students have been involved in the project. The Ramsey County Corrections Greenhouse Facility provided over 90 percent of the native plants used in the restoration.

Today, five years after our work on Lake Phalen began, we are pleased with our project results. Over 50 percent or 1.4 miles of the shore have been restored to a natural shoreline. Erosion and safety hazards have been reduced and fish and wildlife habitat has improved. Bluegill fish have constructed numerous spawning beds amongst hardstem bulrush. Leopard frogs have colonized a restored wet-meadow transition zone. Great blue heron and other wading birds are commonly seen feeding on small fish associated with newly established sedges and bulrushes. Butterflies and bees are easily spotted feeding on wildflowers in the transitional and upland plant communities.

The Lake Phalen Lakeshore Restoration Walking Tour and Plant Guide, written by University of Minnesota graduate student Haley Elvecrog and district natural resources specialist Bill Bartodziej, documents the over 100 Minnesota native plant species established on the site. With the clear pictures and maps, it is easy to identify the plants throughout the growing season.

For more information or to order the guide, visit or call the office at 704-2089.

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